March short book reviews

Illustrating Children’s Books – Salisbury. Part how-to, part survey, beautifully illustrated and quite inspiring.

The Great Hunger – Cecil Woodham Smith. A compelling and illuminating history of the Irish potato famine, pulling in the history of Ireland, England, Europe and America, issues of politics, theories of trade, medical knowledge, economics, personalities, revolution and an immense, relentless and lingering tragedy. This was a more harrowing read than her The Reason Why, but an equally wide-ranging and thought-provoking book.

The Dolphin Crossing – Jill Paton Walsh. I hadn’t read this short novel for years. It is a story of two high school boys who take a boat and join the relief of Dunkirk, and is both more innocent and more moving than I remembered.

Miracle and other Christmas Stories – Connie Willis. On the one hand it was Christmas stories, and on the other – Connie Willis! The scales tipped onto the side of Connie Willis, so I bought it and thoroughly enjoyed it: ghosts and detectives and alien invasions and family newsletters and love stories and a thoughtful introduction and very useful appendices of recommended Christmas books and movies.

Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K Dick. I’m sure I’d read this before, but surely I would have remembered the ‘disemelevatoring’. Simpler and wierder than Bladerunner.

70 Years a Showman – ‘Lord’ George Sanger. This was brilliantly entertaining – the simple, non-literary, anecdotal autobiography of a colourful character, whose career covered the span of Queen Victoria’s reign and features acrobats and magicians, peep shows and escaped lions, wolves in the streets of London, starvation and tricks and battles and pageants and parades, along with some unexpected but interesting observations on the changes in society, law, order, red tape and town planning law during a long life. This edition also had a lyrical and nostalgic introduction by Kenneth Grahame. Like many of the best books, a Lifeline booksale purchase.

The Southern Cross Story – Charles Kingsford Smith. Record setting flights! Death defying feats! Tigers in the jungle! Turkish prisons! Crash landings! Near starvation! Planes disappearing without a trace! Obviously, this was written before his disappearance, but I still tensed up whenever he flew over the Bay of Bengal. A good, interesting, surprisingly level-headed book, and the day after I started it, it was reported that the Lady Southern Cross may have been found.

Early Birds – HC Miller. A memoir of the author’s involvement in aviation from before the first world war. Full of people who have now become names, box-kites, tri-planes designed by quixotic Russian counts, sudden death, unexpected survival, mysterious scarfed socialites, back-yard aviation, daring stunts, barnstorming and cars that could only cross the Blue Ranges if you put them in reverse and pushed. Miller is much more of a raconteur than Kingsford Smith.

Avalon High – Meg Cabot. Like The Dark is Rising with !lipgloss! and !cute! !boys!. Arthurian romance in an American highschool.

Victoria and the Rogue – Meg Cabot. Few of the things I like in my regencies and most of the things I don’t like in my romances. Not my favourite Cabot.

Also: Exodus, John, Job, Luke, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians

Falling off of chairs: More about the Cloud & Ashes cover


I have mentioned Kelly Link before now. As well as being a wonderful author (I have plans for a costume based on one of her stories), she and Gavin Grant are the editors of Small Beer Press. Kelly and Gavin were meant to come to Australia to tutor at this year’s Clarion South workshop but circumstances conspired against them.

In February (days after the first of the posts alluded to above) I received an email from Kelly. In spite of being able to sit fairly calmly (I think) in a pub after realising we had unintentionally sat down at the next table to Neil Gaiman, I can be a fangirl when the occasion demands. I had checked the email while standing up, and I nearly missed my chair when I sat down again (this is pretty excitable for me).

Kelly asked whether I would be interested in doing a book cover for Greer Gilman’s new book Cloud & Ashes. I was quickly convinced, especially once I realised it heavily references one of my favourite poems, Hopkins’ ‘Spring and Fall’. So I accepted.

The book, by the way, is dense and beautiful and very redolent of the poem, which is impressive given that it runs to about 400 times as many pages.

Kelly sent through details of what they had in mind, the dimensions and extracts from the book as well as some reference images. Some of these were Samuel Palmer’s art, and others were works of mine that had liked (there were some surprises there, but I often cannot figure out other people’s tastes). She also sent through the font they were thinking of for the cover.

I had a few ideas and techniques I wanted to try running through my mind, so I rummaged around to find some references, printed the pictures and stuck them up around my desk.

Cloud & Ashes: Reference 2

Cloud & Ashes: Reference 1

Next: Roughing out of thumbnails

Illustration Friday: Theatre

Illustration Friday: Theatre

I sketched this straight onto the back of half a sheet of A4 drawing paper and cut it out with a craft knife, then photographed it mostly by staging it on a pile of books under my desk, turning off the ceiling light, lighting the theatre with a desk lamp under my chin and lying stretched out on the floor to take a photo without a flash. My housemates took this remarkably calmly.

Then I played around with Photoshop.

This is another version with part of the pile of books:

Illustration Friday: Theatre

And here is a less tampered-with photo of the theatre.

Illustration Friday: Theatre (original)

Red Chair and Honey

Page 34

I’m still uploading the last sketchbook – only a few pages left to go. The scanned ones are in a set on Flickr. The left page is my beautiful, red, desperately uncomfortable Ikea chair (in the rental house in Auchenflower) and the right page is my father’s hands and a view past him to the living room (in my parents’ house in Hattonvale).

I have been house hunting, and on Tuesday morning before work I inspected a house which had bees living in its back wall, crawling in and out between the fibro near the rear door. You could smell the honey. The previous owner had “liked having them there” and his successors are trying to get the bees humanely moved out.

They were European bees, but when we lived out west we had Australian native bees – tiny and black and stingless and with a sad tendency to drown in the butter on picnics. My father, who was always acquiring interesting injuries while working, once drove up to the front gate with the chainsaw to cut down a dead tree that had the temerity to try to drop a branch on him. He came back a short while later with his arm – black and dripping – held out the window. My mother was used to him returning in this state, but was surprised when he held out his arm and said, “Lick this!” The tree was full of honey.

I’ve been keeping most things to the bare minimum lately, due to house hunting, but that seems to be coming to a head so I will soon put up:

Illustration Friday: Impossibility

Illustration Friday: Impossibility

“Impossibility” made me think of those poems of impossibilities, like “Scarborough Fair” and John Donne’s “Go and catch a falling star” (which is of course featured in both Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle and Neil Gaiman’s Stardust).

As usual, I modelled for myself, holding a desk lamp with a velvet shawl over it and balancing the camera on a box of sketchbooks. Then I did a pencil sketch and put clean (well, it was when I started) drawing paper over the sketch on the lightbox and drew it in black ink. I managed to shake the ink this time, but this ink gets thick and gluggy very quickly and started clogging and then blotting everywhere, so in the end I did some scratching back with a craft knife. Then scanned, cleaned up and colour/text added and bad jokes removed.

I kept the joke in the colour version, where I took the “falling star” and went sideways (there is a shop at South Bank in Brisbane that sells ‘sale’ signs, and it amuses me that it exists).

Illustration Friday: Impossibility (colour)

Cloud & Ashes

First Sighting: Cloud & Ashes

First sighting of the cover of Greer Gilman’s Cloud & Ashes (on the immediate relevance of which will be expanded on in due course, with extra material. Also, a bit of my desktop background, which may give a hint…

Oh, found another one on Library Thing:

It is being published by the excellent Small Beer Press.

Illustration Friday: Fleeting

Illustration Friday: Fleeting (black and white)

Fleeting, in more sense than one. The paper boats are made of copies of Masefield’s poem “Cargoes”, executed in my Moleskine in dip pen (and finger tips) and the serum-like substance that you get when you don’t shake the ink bottle.

This one is a musing on the mutability of fashion (a.k.a. watching BBC miniseries) in art pen and Photoshop:

Illustration Friday: Fleeting

If anyone came here from the “impossibility” topic, I promise faithfully that by all my clocks I posted this while it was still Friday!

Back on schedule next week.