Facts and questions

courtesy of Peter M. Ball

The Rules:

  1. Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me!”
  2. I will (probably, in my sole discretion, and reserving the right not to – can you tell I’m a lawyer?) respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
  3. You will post the answers to the questions (and the questions themselves) on your blog or journal.
  4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
  5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions. And thus the endless cycle of the meme goes on and on and on and on…

1) How do you think your art practice affects the way you write?

It’s a great distraction. But it’s also complementary, because with writing  it can be a really long time until you get an idea of what the finished project will look like. With art, you can get a finished product – or something that approximates it – a lot sooner, and see the skeleton any fleshing out will hang on. So art satisfies my need for (slightly more) instant gratification. But it is also another way of storytelling, and it is so much fun just hinting at things through pictures (Gorey is amazing at this) and that is something I find I am doing more with my writing – hinting, leaving gaps for the imagination to fill. Because I am interested in storytelling through pictures and words, I find that many of the lessons I learn in one bleed over into the other.

2) What’s the greatest book cover you’ve ever seen?

These are really interesting questions! Greatest… hmm. My favourite is one of the old covers to The Horse and his Boy, but greatest… That would be (for the moment) Petra Börner’s cover to Susannah Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu. It’s simple and classic and captures the deliberate manner of the book perfectly. It also reminds me of the ornate covers on Edwardian school prize books (I treat myself to a few of these at the Lifeline booksales). Petra Börner’s website is down as I write this, but there are more of her bookcovers here.

3) You achieved a somewhat insane wordcount during last years Nanowrimo – what’s can you tell us about the novel draft that resulted from such a flurry of wordcount?

It isn’t finished yet and I don’t know what’s going to happen next! But a lot more happened than I thought would and I’m getting the characters into increasingly hot water. It takes place in an England that never existed – the England that exists in the head of someone who grew up reading The Sword in the Stone and Robin Hood and His Merry Men and Ivanhoe. So far, it contains retellings (direct, indirect, discreet, alluded-to and threaded-through) of Robin Hood, Sleeping Beauty, The Princess and the Pea, Baba Yaga, the Norns, more than one ghost story, The Goose Girl and several riddles and ballads. It is ahistorical in every way I can make it, and I keep reading history to make sure of it.

4) If given the opportunity to write for a magazine, or illustrate for a magazine, which one do you choose?
Ouch. That’s a hard one. Illustrate. But that’s because I have an insanely uncomfortable chair and I get to move around more when I’m illustrating. Ask me again when I’ve got a better chair.

5) Which three illustrators most inspire you?
Pauline Baynes. Maurice Sendak. Shaun Tan.

via the fabulous Leah Palmer Preiss, whose art is lovely, dark and deep. Feel free to list your own (I’m a fan of self-tagging).

  1. I did School of the Air, with a Flying Doctor Radio and everything!
  2. I’m more scared of standing on a balcony than of clinging to the side of a cliff, and more scared of riding with a saddle than of riding bareback.
  3. I generally try not to kill insects unless they are actually out to get me, which sometimes causes ethical dilemmas around unidentified Big Black Hairy Spiders (I have a soft spot for Huntsmen).
  4. Laura Ingalls Wilder (panthers), Sherlock Holmes (Hound of the Baskervilles), Azaria Chamberlain (who wouldn’t have been far off my age) and a t-shirt with a giant carnivorous zombie kangaroo (I think – it was a long time ago and the impression is stronger than the image) put me right off being outside in the dark in the Australian Bush (where, I must point out, it is Extremely Unlikely that anything will get you). Oddly enough, Wolf Creek has had no discernible effect. I think I am more scared of the highly improbable (and/or cryptozoology).
  5. I used to be able to hear songs – usually hymns – being sung when no-one wasn’t singing. Quite clearly, but quietly and easily drowned out by other things and very peaceful.
  6. I used to spell colour “coulour” and call diapers “dappies” in an attempt to keep both parents happy.
  7. I once chased a snake across the yard with an axe and cut it up into inch-long segments.

Illustration Friday: Climbing


This is a quick (<1hr) scratchboard & digital illustration. I was going to do an illustration for Jack and the Beanstalk, even though it doesn’t have scissors in it, but reading Nancy Bird Walton’s autobiography (between her and Isabella Bird any hypothetical children I may have will be lucky not to have Bird as a middle name) and then watching Valkyrie this evening swung me in favour of early 20th century aviation, about which I would like to learn more and get hold of some model planes for reference.

Here are some progress shots:

Climbing in progress

Best Books of 2008

I’m disappointed by the number of books I read last year. I have to remember it doesn’t include short stories, articles and the large sections of books I’ve read to my father (speaking of which, I think Pride and Prejudice should be on here – I’m fairly sure we read the whole thing, if not in order). But most of them were very good, so this is a close-run thing.

Today I choose:

Continue reading

2008 Aurealis Awards

Aimee and I went to the Aurealis Awards this weekend and had a great time. We went to the (blessedly airconditioned) Judith Wright Centre early for the launch of Trudi Canavan’s The Magician’s Apprentice and the awards began at 6.30. Congratulations to all the winners and nominees! It was lovely to congratulate some of the winners in person, and to be gratified by the judges’ choices of my personal preferences (e.g. Shaun Tan’s win) and to talk to judges and hear about what goes into the decisions (a lot of reading and customised bookmarks).

Edited to add: the Governor of Queensland attended this year, which was lovely!

The highlight, of course (apart from the airconditioning) was just being able to catch up with old friends and acquaintances and make new ones and put faces to Facebook profiles. I got to thank Ron Serdiuk of Pulp Fiction (Press and Bookshop) in passing (he moved around a lot) for his efforts as coordinator, meet Lynne Green in person, after a few minutes where we sort of hedged around trying to work out if we were the person in the Facebook photos (mine is a drawing and hers is psychadelic), and many of the Vision and Clarion South people who were there, and spent most of the evening sitting cross-legged on the floor near the bar talking with John Catania (who was a judge in the childrens’ section) and Patrick Jones. We had a very good reason for sitting on the floor in the busiest area of the venue, but I recommend it generally – you can hear the people you are talking to so much better down there! Even so, they both thought I said we usually had a pajama party after book readings at Avid Reader (when in fact we tend to go to the Punjabi Palace).

The following morning (hot, humid and very rainy) there was a recovery breakfast at the Stamford Plaza, where survivors of the night before ate far too much and talked about teaching and books and Trudi Canavan’s builders and Alex Adsett meeting DWJ, and Aimee and I started reading aloud Space Train, which Peter M Ball kindly brought along for me (although he assures me the desire to read it will wear off after the first few pages).Then Robert Hoge convened an industry discussion panel at the Metro Arts Building, which this year focused on copyrights and contracts.

Nicky Strickland, Damon Cavalchini, Peter and I stopped at the Belgian Beer Cafe while Aimee went to the art store. Then Peter, Aimee and I had coffee at Aromas before heading off separately to the Valley where Margo Lanagan was reading from her new novel, Tender Morsels in the humidity on the back verandah at Avid Reader to a packed-out crowd (I had my knees in Angela Slatter’s back (I didn’t really get to talk to her properly this weekend, but she had a lovely red rose in her hair) and was probably distracting Jack Dann (to whom many congratulations) with the fan Aimee talked me into carrying around (although otherwise I’m glad I did). I bought a copy of Tender Morsels and Margo wrote that if I found any sentimentality in it I should let her know and she would have them all pulled.

Aimee and I are holding our own Australia Day/post-Aurealis Weekend recovery at the Coffee Club on Monday at the moment, where it is nominally airconditioned.

This is us at the awards (I have a fan here too but it is behind my back):

Aurealis Awards

I’ve put the winners here because I don’t know if the official page is a static one. There are probably more detailed write-ups all around the web if you want the gossip, who cried and who didn’t fall down the stairs on the way to collect their award.

Best Science Fiction Novel: K A Bedford, Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing

Best Science Fiction Short Story: Simon Brown, ‘The Empire’, Dreaming Again, Harper/Voyager

Best Fantasy Novel: Alison Goodman, The Two Pearls of Wisdom, HarperCollins

Best Fantasy Short Story: Cat Sparks, ‘Sammarynda Deep’, Paper Cities, Senses 5 Press

Best Horror Novel: John Harwood, The Seance, Jonathan Cape (Random House Australia)

Best Horror Short Story: Kirstyn McDermott, ‘Painlessness’, Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD), #2

Best Anthology: Jonathan Strahan (editor), The Starry Rift, Viking Children’s Books

Best Collection: Sean Williams & Russell B Farr (editor), Magic Dirt: The Best of Sean Williams, Ticonderoga Publications

Best Illustrated Book/Graphic Novel: Shaun Tan, Tales From Outer Suburbia, Allen & Unwin

Best Young Adult Novel: Melina Marchetta, Finnikin of the Rock, Viking Penguin

Best Young Adult Short Story: Trent Jamieson, ‘Cracks’, Shiny, #2

Best Children’s Novel: Emily Rodda, The Wizard of Rondo, Omnibus Books

Best Children’s Illustrated Work/Picture Book: Richard Harland & Laura Peterson (illustrator), Escape!, Under Siege, Race to the Ruins, The Heavy Crown, The Wolf Kingdom series, Omnibus Books

Peter McNamara Convenors’ Award for Excellence: Jack Dann

December Short Movie Reviews

Australia. My sister hates it when I begin reviews of movies by saying, “Well, I wanted to like it.” She says, “Did you like it or not – yes or no?”. She liked this one. I… well, it’s more complicated than that. Usually when I want to like a movie it is because it has something – heart, story, special effects, a Big Idea – which deserved a better package. In Australia’s case, I think it was the country that didn’t quite get what it should have. The movie falters. It is sometimes cringe-worthy and sometimes stunning and sometimes painful and sometimes breathtakingly beautiful (the highlight for me was Daisy, riding in her yellow dress) and sometimes unexpectedly effective. Australia is the movie Australia couldn’t make in the ’50s: an epic, beautiful, elaborate, musically rich film that isn’t Bleak and Gritty and Worthy. I hope it does well enough that people aren’t put off trying to do something like this again because the materials are there. But I also think this particular movie would have worked quite well as a miniseries.

Gallery walk. Angela H and I went on the Paddington Gallery Walk – one Saturday in December, seven Paddington art galleries stay open until 9, with wine and beer and cheese. It’s a lovely evening.

Four Holidays. I quite liked parts of this and was touched by two scenes: the very female-centric comedy of the relationship between the sisters, and the scene where the various families are playing word games and the brother and his wife – shown so far as very unappealing people – win hands down because they know each other so well, while the protagonists know very little about each other. It reminded me of my parents who once won a game of Pictionary because my dad drew a palm tree and my mother guessed pinacolada.

Madagascar. Silly. Not (usually) good silly, either. There were some priceless moments with the penguins, but not nearly enough quality lemur scenes. One of those movies where I come out wanting to shake the people responsible and say, “durnnit! you had so much to work with! how hard did you have to try to get the script completely wrong?!”

Twilight. Not as bad as I expected it to be. A few cringe-worthy scenes near the beginning (which aparently make more sense if you have read the book, but are still cringe-worthy), and what I suspect was meant to be the contrast between characters dealing with serious emotional issues and flippant teenagers usually came off as a contrast between overly angsty main characters and teenagers just acting like teenagers, but in general – although not rising above what it was – it wasn’t actually painful.

Frost/Nixon. Great movie and definitely up there with my best for the year. It is based on a stage play and I think this shows in the way everything is heavily dialogue driven – it’s a slightly different dynamic than usual in movies. It was solid and interesting and also entertaining, and there aren’t enough movies like that. It made me want to watch All the President’s Men again.

Illustration Friday: Pale

Pale, with colour

It’s all about the scissors this week. I could have done something simpler (e.g. Ann Boleyn) but I wanted to illustrate Famous Scissors of Fairytales three weeks running, and yes, the scissors play a legitimate role in this fairytale which is, of course, “Snow White and Rose Red”.

You can see a close-up on Flickr.

Here is the black and white version, cleaned up slightly in Photoshop.

Pale, with black and white

And here is a progress shot. You can see poor Ann Boleyn with “her head tooked underneath her arrrrm” at the top right of the page of sketches.

Progress shot

December Short Book Reviews

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman. I grew up on The Jungle Book and I really liked the nods Gaiman gave to Kipling’s story in the structure of this book, the echoes of Mowgli’s childhood in that of Nobody, though this is not a retelling. It’s an independent story of a boy brought up by ghosts in a graveyard, and it charmed me. I found myself annoyed that the story didn’t go further or deeper, but although it was the sort of annoyance that reflects well on the book I really wish this could have been a much larger story – a book that starts and ends in the same place but covers much more ground, just like The Jungle Book does, where Mowgli’s story is only part of a much larger world full of stories, some of which link and others of which do not. Gaiman can do this  – he does in Neverwhere and American Gods – and it can be done in (so-called) childrens’ books too. I just bought a copy of T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone for my nephews, The Hobbit spins off into a bigger world all over the place, even little books like The Book of Three (leaving aside the series) have the feel of being a much bigger story than they are. So I was disappointed that The Graveyard Book was just a little book on its own. It was a very good little book on its own, but knowing what Gaiman and the genre are capable of I am feeling a bit sad for what it might have been.

Size Twelve is not Fat – Meg Cabot. An ex teen pop star working as a deputy dorm supervisor in a college in New York investigates a series of student murders. This was very, very, very light read: fast paced and enjoyable, with Cabot’s breezy first-person style in full evidence, but in retrospect a bit cloying, like something too sweet eaten too quickly. I’m saving the sequel till I’ve recovered. (Aside: My favourite Cabot is still All American Girl – mostly for the horse shampoo).

Fables 9: Sons of Empire – Willingham et al. The art and story both picked up from volume 8. I really like how at times you can see threads that are going to be woven into a larger pattern, or suddenly realise that a consistently minor character is about to become (or always has been) very important. A nice mix of dark and light and mystery in this volume.

Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson. The Hacker Revolution crossed with The Hunt for the Red October meets Little Brother crossed with Between Silk and Cyanide (and I strongly recommend all four of those books to you). With helpful diagrams on the effect sexual activity has on the mathematical ability of cryptographers. Although unrecommendable to mothers, etc, for many passages associated with the last comment (although I read extracts to her), this was an odd, entertaining, elaborate, glittering monster of a book, and I tore through it. It covers codes and the development of computers, programming, hacking, the fall of Singapore, the Kokoda trail, earthquakes, insurance, data havens, data cables, Brisbane during WWII, the role of a glockenspiel player during an air strike, the practicalities of burying treasure and dealing with it once you dig it up, the correct way to eat cereal, how to repair a pipe organ and the idiosyncracies of small fictional British islands.