June & July Short Book Reviews

Not much of a show for two months’ reading. I started a number of anthologies and histories which are progressing slowly, and there were a few events which made it simpler to just stick with short stories and magazines which I don’t usually review.

Horn – Peter M Ball: I heard Peter read part of the original short story aloud two years ago. I am happy for him and Twelfth Planet Press that it has now seen the light as a novella, but I do not know if it is a good thing for the world. At the launch party we were told this was a dreadful novella, and I can’t think of a single person I could possibly recommend it to*. I’m struck, though, by how the tropes of a standard visceral police procedural, when combined with those of urban fantasy/fairytale can be just so wrong. It was, however, well written and otherwise exactly as advertised.

Lud-in-the-mist – Hope Mirrlees: Now, this was gentle and mysterious and unsettling. Quite reserved, very visual (the colours!) but restrained – a fairytale of forbidden fruit, of joy and reserve and government and death. It was really delightful, and I can see why Gaiman likes it. It also reminds me of Susannah Clarke’s Ladies of Grace Adieu in the tone and that slightly out-of-kilter British fairytale world, and the threat, and the way it is perfectly acceptable to have as protagonist a comfortable, middle-aged bureaucrat with wife and family.

Making Money – Terry Pratchett: This didn’t strike as clear a note as some of the other Discworld novels – the machinery of the story seemed muddy (when usually Pratchett can make a completely irrational explanation seem self-evident) and several of my favourite characters felt like impressions of themselves. But then, I’ve never not enjoyed a Pratchett, so although this wasn’t my favourite this isn’t a damning criticism

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Seth Grahame-Smith: I love Pride & Prejudice (although I argue it isn’t a romance – it’s a brilliant novel about a large group of people, many of whom I like a great deal, and all of whom would probably have got on pretty well with their lives even if Darcy and Elizabeth *hadn’t* married). I am not, however, a purist – I enjoy all the variations I have seen of P&P: Olivier’s spoiled-child Darcy is my favourite, Bride & Prejudice has a wonderful Collins, I think what Bridget Jones’ Diary did with the basic storyline and the hype surrounding the release of the BBC series (which is when the book is set) was brilliant, although the movie cheapened and bleakened it. And I burst out laughing when I heard Pride & Prejudice & Zombies had been written. P&P&Z did not meet expectations. I love the gimmick – take the novel, abridge it and shoehorn zombie fights, sushi and ninjas in – but it never went beyond being a gimmick. I wanted to be able to say he left no entendre undoubled, but the very few puns were obvious and repetitive. Jasper Fforde can do ridiculous things with classic novels (“Miss Dashwood! Does your mother know you smoke?!”) and yet make them into new, good stories with characters you still care about. I wanted to tell SG-S to take this back and do it again – once more with feeling – because it could have been a good crazy book, but it then end it’s only as memorable as its cover.

Paper Cities – Ekaterina Sedia: A strange and beautiful collection of speculative stories set in cities real, imagined and in between. Because they were short and I am writing this some time after reading it, my dominant impression is one of wet blue tile and moss, but there were cities of ash and sand. I love the title of the collection, and the idea of it – I like this subgenre and its very visual nature (probably why my favourite comics – a Blackman B&W short and two Sandman issues – fall into it). My only complaint has nothing to do with the anthology and everything to do with the genre “Urban Fantasy”. Sedia uses it to catch stories about or set in cities – whether in our world or others. Most people now use it to describe something with very heavy ties to paranormal romance – heavy on the werewolves, vampires and tight leather pants. I’m sure it used to be fantasy set in cities in our world (even if the cities themselves were sometimes fictional) – Charles de Lint’s Newford novels, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Ruth Parks’ Playing Beatie Bow (arguably), DWJ’s Fire and Hemlock.

All but a Few – Joan Aiken: It’s got a story about a Parrot Pirate Princess! This was – I think – a garage sale acquisition (more of those coming up) and was a lot of fun. Aiken’s short stories belong to that school of light hearted, knowledgeable and absolutely ridiculous British fairytales which are tremendous fun if you remember to kick that part of your brain out of gear which has been trained to expect a certain progression of events, world building or – indeed – logic. It has plagues of unicorns, mythological ocean beings with a fondness for ballet, the difficulties of being charitable to old fairies and the mysteries of whether civil service employees die, and where they go.

*Well, actually I can but I’m pretty sure they’ve (a) already read it and (b) were at least partially responsible for furthering its publication.

Illustration Friday: Caution

Illustration Friday: Caution

I’ve wanted to start painting again for a while, especially now that I am living in a whole house instead of an annex. Last night the usual movie outing didn’t happen and my sister was at a fashion show so I rummaged around until I found some of my paints and various battered brushes, spread newspaper on the folding plastic table (the only one we have), opened the windows to let the heat out (it’s August!), put on Radio National (Background Briefing on Denis Rohan, and The Book Show on P.L. Travers (I knew she was Australian, but not that the the illustrations for Mary Poppins were done by Ernest Sheppard’s daughter)  and Lisa Lutz’s Spellman novels) and set to.

I own canvases, but I feel obliged to do a good job if I’m using something I bought for that purpose. Instead, I repurposed one of the few boxes I’ve actually unpacked (it was probably full of dictionaries).

Illustration Friday: Caution - lid

It was painted very quickly in cheap acrylics: white ground, image sketched in black paint (the usual model – a photo of me in the lounge room and a photo of my boots at the train station on my way home) and then coloured in. I added the text in Photoshop – the texture is from the upper left of the blue-green background. The layout is a trial of one I want to use for a personal cover project.

Illustration Friday: Caution - close

Illustration Friday: Wrapped

Illustration Friday: Wrapped

A (semi) autobiographical sketch. Pen and ink with colour added in Photoshop. There is a larger version here.

ETA: It’s my mother’s birthday today so I might make this her card.

Continuum 5 and Ekka 2009 sketches

Request: If you recognise someone in one of the Convention sketches and I haven’t labelled them, would you please let me know? If you want to see more detail, clicking on a picture will take you through to its Flickr page, then you can click on “all sizes” above it.

On Wednesday last week I went to the Ekka (Brisbane Exhibition = Queensland Show = State Fair), and on Friday morning Aimee and I flew to Melbourne for Continuum 5 (had to get up incredibly early – I booked my tickets when I lived closer to the airport).

The loop train which runs to the exhibition grounds was a steam train! Also, I love the boat at top left – it is always moored near the city botanic gardens and looks like the wooden shoe from ‘Winkun, Blinkun & Nod’.

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They are redeveloping the RNA Showgrounds and this is the chairlift’s last year. I took it and it was a wonderful slow ride over the halls and the stalls and the rides.

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Sheepdogs are difficult to draw. If you blink, they are suddenly in the same pose but a different position.

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Lots of dogs! I almost lost my heart to a greyhound. The tiny little dog at the bottom right is from Pompeii. That is Aimee getting stuck into the icecream.

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The Pompeii exhibition at the Melbourne Museum had a number of the plaster casts. The most affecting part of the exhibition for me was looking at a display on the history of the archaeology, and seeing drawings of Victorian (era, not state) children looking at some of the same casts we had just seen. We also saw Phar Lap and the mechanical chicken, from Cole’s Book Arcade, which – according to the caption – “boasted 5 mechanical hens to enliven the shopping experience”. Cole seems to have been the Willy Wonka of bookstores.

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If you want to sketch fast, sketch fencers! These are mid-battle-between-airships. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was the international guest of honour. Those backs at the bottom right belong to Marilyn Pride and Lewis Morley.

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Maskobalo! I am still twinging from dancing all night (except, obviously, for when I was sketching). I wore the dress I wore to the Regency banquet in Canberra a few years ago and will post photos when I track some down.

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Juggling. Too early. Too much chasing things across the floor. Lucy Sussex has edited a book of Australian travellers’ diaries which should be out later this year and sounds fascinating. Jack Dann set up the direction of the panel to allow Gillian Polack to lower the tone of the panel on history :) Later, Gillian, Aimee, Julia and I saw an exhibition of Regency dresses at the art gallery. Most were of their era, but Aimee swooned when Julia pointed out Colin Firth’s costume from the BBC P&P.

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Rachel Holkner was c0-chair of the convention. On Monday, Aimee went to see a Star Wars exhibition. I went to St Kilda by tram, then back to the city.

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There was a Dali exhibition at one of the galleries, but I didn’t go in. I looked at the collections and found the little Madonna Joan Lindsay wrote about her husband (who was director) acquiring under the Felton Bequest. There were some excellent exhibitions on at the State Library (also, a churros cafe nearby!) including Changing Faces of Victoria, where I saw Ned Kelly’s armour, and Independent Type which had an incredible array not only of Australian books and early editions and paintings of authors, but manuscripts: Peter Carey, Manning Clarke, Ned Kelly, dozens of others, and even one of the “original” Ern Malley poems with the telegram indicating it might be a hoax.

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Continuum 5 is over. Talked out, overfed, underrested – all as it should be. I have several pages of sketches to scan and upload when I get home (which is late tomorrow, so sometime after that) and will locate photos as other people post them (I’m not traveling with a camera lately).

Illustration Friday: Electricity 2

I completely forgot that I’d forwarded Emilly links to some of my older sketches (posted for Illustration Friday back in May last year) and so was pleasantly surprised to see them in the con program book!

Also, as Gillian mentioned, I am working up ideas for a small-scale project for her (elegant but with whimsy, boldness and feminity, which will be fun).

In the interim: Cookies!

(Or biscuits, but I reserve the right to draw on the vocabulary of either side of the family).

Jason Nahrung is leaving Brisbane and, in an effort to avoid mopping the floor (I’ve bought a mop!), I made sugar cookies to take to his farewell party (slash garage sale – I came home with several pieces of furniture and an arrangement regarding two pews). These are iced with “good bye”, “bye”, “farewell”, “adieu”, “ade”, “aufwiedersehen” (that was difficult to fit on) and “good riddance”, among other things.

Farewell Sugar Cookies

One of the other things:

Vulcan Sugar Cookie

And last month I made these for a Christmas in July dinner: gingerbread dough rolled quite thin (I didn’t have a rolling pin at the time and had to use a short tumbler) so it baked in about 3 minutes, most iced with a star and a silver cachou in the middle but some left plain and iced with dark chocolate on the back:

Starry night cookies

I’m in Melbourne for Continuum 5, but will be back next week with sketches of the Ekka and, I hope, Melbourne.

Illustration Friday: Impatience

Illustration Friday: Impatience - colour

Freehand dip pen and ink (and brush), with flat colour added in Photoshop. I haven’t edited out the texture of the paper in this one.

Here is the original:

Illustration Friday: Impatience.

As is often the case, the original is much smaller – I drew her on a scrap of paper that had managed not to be invaded by clandestine rhinoceri. But that’s a story for another time.

I do not yet have internet at home, but I have organised it and am catching up on news and uploads. In addition to the wedding illustrations yesterday, there will be cooking and, maybe, a stray rhinoceros. Oh, and book reviews.