February 2009


Marley and Me – Better than the preview (which was for a silly comedy) and apparently does justice to the book (which I have not read). More of a heart-warming, life-affirming drama than is usually to my taste, but it was sweet and entertaining and sad.

Yes Man – Better than The Bucket List. And Zooey Deschanel had a nice coat.

The Day the Earth Stood Still – I went in expecting to heckle and although I wouldn’t want to look at the plot very closely at all, I had to admit to Aimee halfway through that I was enjoying it far more than I expected to. As the main character was not required to emote, it was a perfect role for Keanu Reeves (I do like him as an actor, but only in roles which require a flat affect or intense brooding). Jennifer Connelly has been under-utilised in everything since Labyrinth.

Valkyrie – Good enough that after half an hour I didn’t mind that it was Tom Cruise (he’s improving on me) and that by the end, in spite of knowing the ending, I was thinking, “Just this time, please win!”. It never tipped over into a brilliant movie, but it was a good, solid one with some compelling performances.

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Illustration Friday: Instinct (1)

Stories about selkies rarely end happily. They’re as bad as Arthurian legends – I almost always know how they are going to end. In that context the picture above (ink pen and wash, adulterated in photoshop) looks more bleak than sassy, although it was the culmination of a series of scribbles of selkies dive-bombing into the water with their seal-skins tied around their necks like kids playing superheroes. Still, I like it and may rearrange it so that it works as a frame or title.

Just so you’re warned, the second picture contains mild fairytale nudity… (more…)

Ste's Moly - Moly_x_42 - close ups

My contribution to Ste’s moleskine for the 42nd moleskine exchange, in which I sort-of-failed-to-reread-the-theme immediately prior to leaping into the picture. It was meant to be “something from your imagination that isn’t based on anything in the real, physical world”, so I’ve called it “Impossible Tree”.

Ste's Moly - Moly_x_42

Bath Tangle – Georgette Heyer. I enjoyed the characters in this novel – the headstrong (of course), beautiful & independent heroine and the contrast to her much quieter, gentler, younger widowed stepmother who, while reticent and shy and loving a very different life from her stepdaughter, is not disapproved of for that; the magnificent and self-aware vulgarity of the fabulous Mrs Floor, who uses her family’s opinion of her to further her own ends; the silly young lovers, the unwise decisions of older couples, people who were once in love realising slowly that the person they thought they remembered has changed, or never existed. Heyer does write characters very well, and although I wish they weren’t all so unmitigatedly beautiful, quite frequently I end up liking them in spite of that.

Regency Buck – Georgette Heyer. I like the setup of this – brother and sister making their way to set up life in London in spite of the advice of their guardian cross paths with an arrogant and offensive young man on their way and arrive in London to find out that he is their guardian. Enjoyable, although not my favourite (possibly because I did not find Judith, for all her capability and enterprise, as much as some of Heyer’s other heroines) and containing the excellent piece of advice that if you cannot be beautiful, you should be odd. I have noted that Georgette Heyer does seem to have a rather low opinion of brothers. They often turn out alright in the end, but they don’t usually seem to be very admirable characters for most of the book.

Life Expectancy – Dean Koontz. Aimee told me to read this because the family of bakers, web designers, and pet-portrait artists, living their eccentric night-time life, beset by crazed clowns and scheming dynasties of trapeze artists, reminded her of my family. And she was quite right – their dinner time conversations were not at all unlike ours. One line contained in the book, prelude to an account of the perils of unrestrained flatulence, was “Grandmother Weena had a relevant story…” and the day after I read that passage to my parents, my grandmother called and, over speaker phone, actually said, “That reminds me of a relevant story…” and began a tale about being discovered on the wrong plane during WWII. But the book reminded me a of Gaiman, in the accounts of small desperately peculiar lives which appear so normal to the characters in the story.

White Tiger – Aravind Adiga. More mainstream/literary than I usually read, but an intriguing and entertaining book and told from within a culture I’m not familiar with, as all of the books I have read about India have been written from a British perspective. Education, class, murder, entrepeneurship and a series of letters dictated late at night to the prime minister of China.

A Company of Swans – Eva Ibbotson. One of Ibbotson’s adult novels, this is the story of Harriet who escapes her dull and loveless family in Cambridge by running away with the ballet to perform in Manaus along the Amazon River. Although it is not my favourite of her books, I enjoyed it, the beauty and melodrama and exotic scenes, and the fact that although the ballet itself is portrayed as very beautiful, the life and effort of the ballerinas is not completely glamorised.  The morality of this, as in other of Ibbotsons books, is a little peculiar – seemingly amoral and then retreating into fairly traditional endings. I haven’t worked out my thoughts about that yet.

Journey to the River Sea – Eva Ibbotson. A gratifying little book, with more depth than some children’s and YA novels I’ve read recently. By depth I don’t mean “layers” or “themes”, just… meat? A book that’s more like stew than soup? Something to sink teeth into? It’s quite charming and very much in the way of A Little Princess or Little Lord Fauntleroy (the latter features directly) and set again along the Amazon River (a year or two before A Company of Swans but written 16 years later) – it has English governesses and boats and wicked relatives and charming Russian families and giant sloths and museums and opera houses in the middle of the jungle and traveling theatre troupes and missing heirs and oppressed orphans. Great fun.

Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine. I’ve only seen the movie once, and a few years ago now, but it put a big block in front of my enjoyment of the book on its own terms. Also, I was trying to read it as a Diana Wynne Jones sort of story and as Aimee pointed out later it is more of an Eva Ibbotson tale, even though it’s in a fairytale setting. I did enjoy it, and I liked the characters much better than in the movie (Ella more put-upon and more capable, Char not at all annoying), but I wanted it to be a little deeper (although that is very likely a hangover from the blithe superficiality of the movie).

My God, It’s a Woman – Nancy Bird. Not an autobiography to read for its literary quality, but one which related a fascinating time and lives. It is not so much an account of Nancy Bird Walton’s life as a survey of the early years of aviation in Australia and around the world and is full of accounts of planes found nose down in Chinese vegetable gardens, of pilots navigating through bushland by telegraph lines (because if you got into trouble you could land on the cleared strip, climb a pole, cut the line and wait for a technician to come and rescue you), of hair-raising landings, of lives and loves lost without a trace over oceans, of thrilling air-races, planes that were known to fly backwards during sandstorms, the forgotten women pilots of WWII, of Thai princesses smuggling persian kittens into the planes of pilots, of pilots lost and found in New Guinea, of the surprise of a farmwife at having two women land in her paddock and come up to the house for morning tea, of heroics and politics and a young woman trying to make a living as a charter pilot in outback Qld and NSW during the 1930s. It did not have an index, which would have helped a lot as the structure of the book is sometimes confusing, but it did have an excellent bibliography which I am tempted to read through.

Tender Morsels – Margo Lanagan. I’m surprised at how controversial this book has been, particularly given the novels of Sheri S Tepper, McKinley, etc. I think a distinction can be drawn between Horrible Books in which Things Happen, and Books in which Horrible Things happen, and this was one of the latter, although unlike some in that camp I would still recommend it (with caution) to those I know who are particularly sensitive to those things. I thought it was a beautiful book, inspired by the strange weirdness of the fairytale of Snow White and Rose Red and spinning that into a weird and poignant story all of its own which reminded me of Tepper’s Beauty in the uncomfortable edges of it and the way Lanagan made something wholly separate from and yet true to the original tale, and of McKinley’s Deerskin in the way the wonder and sorrow and beauty and love grow from something terrible, and (surprisingly) of Diana Wynne Jones or Hayao Miyazaki by the end in the strength of the characters which emerge and the way people must learn to make lives in spite of, and because of, being human and in a broken world.

Also: Ezra, Nehemiah, Matthew, Acts

Here is a very small glimpse of some rough sketches I have been working on for a project:

Work in progress

Top row: scratchboard with colour added in photoshop (red and blue from an acrylic painting)
Middle row: pencil with digital colour, pen & ink with digital colour, texture in third from left is from old paper
Bottom row: first on left is pen and ink messed with in photoshop; second is two layers of pen & ink with texture from old paper added in photoshop; third is brush and ink.

It’s still at the thumbnail stage. I would not usually do this many thumbnails to this stage but I have been having so much fun sketching in colour and scratchboard and working out ideas that way and having an excellent reason to break out the sepia ink / sketch freehand in scratchboard, etc.

More in the fullness of time.

Oh, and in other work in progress news, I have sent out ‘E&tF’ again. So that’s two submissions this year (same story, but recycling may save the planet).

Celebrate - blue

For this week’s Illustration Friday topic, a scratchboard illustration messed with (as usual) in Photoshop. I used a sample from a scan of an old painting as the texture/colour in the image above and as the background in the version below. Both are test cases – I wanted to trial some techniques for another project that is happening (of which more in the fullness of time… but if I am more difficult to pin down than usual, this is probably the reason).

Celebrate - colour

I will review Terence Haile’s 1962 novel Space Train in my February reviews, but you can get a pretty good idea of the story from these extracts. The whole book is like this. I’d say this post contains spoilers but I’m not entirely certain that’s possible.

The Blurb, which has been called the best part of the book:

He caught sight of a gigantic claw, then a scrambled vision of crab-like features [I want to use this description of someone one day, but I do wonder about the background of a character who can instantly recognise a crab’s features – especially scrambled] passed over the window. To his astonishment, other crab-like shapes appeared from all sides. But such crabs! [Best line of book] They were as large as buses, and a distinct brown colour [I love the abrupt mundanity of this detail] in the reflected light of the rocket’s [=train] interior illumination.

Due to the Current Economic Situation, supplies of apostrophes are limited – please restrict use of contractions:

“Mr. Glyce, you are a brainy man I can see!” he said still somewhat overwhelmed by the immensity of the project. “If this thing comes off you will receive the title of genius!” p88

In which bystanders fail to say “old chap”:

Several disingusihed-looking [sic] city gentlemen exchanged apprehensive glances. “I say, where has this absurd story come from?” p104

Sole instance of humour, deployed in entirely the wrong circumstances:

Pandemonium broke loose. Crowds ran over the lines, round the platforms, climbed the bridges and generally showed the kind of behaviour usually associated with well-drilled football multitudes. It was an awe-inspiring sight, but Alice and Mrs Glyce just felt sick and empty. p105

I don’t think vacuums work like that:

The cloud of foul air hung in space, and Mike wondered, idly, if some future generation of space-adventurers would find that tiny pocket of air in the gigantic vacuum of the universe. It might even be the means of saving someone’s life! 117
He could see sunshine, filtering through the crab’s claws on the window. Had they landed? On earth? It was too incredible! It couldn’t be, surely. Yet that was sunshine, and he was thinking clearly.
p145

Or science:

And, knowing all the secrets of this engine, he could have rapidly established a position in which he would have been supreme scientific dictator! [Mwahahaha] p154

Or magnets:

When he switched off the magnetic-track control in the sealed room at the London station, to which only he had admittance, knew that no one would ever connect him with the rocket-train’s disappearance. Released from the magnetic pull, the rocket, at its terrific speed, had soared upwards out of this world forever, in Mediu’s [I knew he was the bad guy because he has a foreign-sounding name] estimation. He had expected the whole thing to disintegrate in space; so that, when he replaced the magnetic-track control switch in its correct position, he had not anticipated that the action would have an immediate effect on the Glyce rocket, exerting its powerful pull on the heavily magnetised under-track of the train.
By a queer trick of fate, the moment of arrival on the track of the ‘space-rover’
[I wonder what the earliest use of that term is] had been a second or two before the arrival of Mediu’s own train on the spot. This was explained, in theory, by Mike’s formula, which Aubrey Bender had partially worked out the night before the return of the wanderers.
Like poles repel; unlike poles attract. The trains were unalike because of the ‘Crab-ballast’ carried by Mike’s rocket. Otherwise, there would possibly have been no smash.
p154-155

Or politics, but it’s an ill wind that blows no good:

So, in spite of everything that had gone wrong previously, Mike had indirectly wrought a fundamental change in the pattern of British politics! p155

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