September Book Reviews

Adventures in Two Worlds – A J Cronin: Autobiographical, but not dry facts and memories – so far to the other side that at times it was like fiction and at other times maudlin. But while the beginning and end tended towards the overblown, the rest of the chapters were beautifully written scenes of life as a doctor in Scottish villages, Welsh mining towns and the wealthy and poor streets of London: entertaining, romantic, endearing and occasionally reminiscent of James Herriot. I read a few chapters – about the district nurse and her bicycle, daft Tam and his houseboat and the widow on her farm – to my parents and predictably we all got choked up.

White Rabbit – Bruce Marshall: A biography of Wing Commander F F E Yeo-Thomas, of whom I knew a little from his appearance in the pages of Leo Marks’ Between Silk and Cyanide. Cloak and dagger adventures in occupied France during World War II, parachute runs, double agents, escapes in and from p.o.w. and concentration camps, fleeing through Germany – fascinating and gripping, though with too many French phrases for me to attempt reading it out loud with anything like confidence.

A Room with a View – E M Forster: Gentle and very enjoyable, although the end takes a sudden literary turn and all the characters change their apparent character which although Meaningful isn’t necessarily Fun. But I love the slightly erratic, slightly socially-misplaced, loving and expansive Honeychurches, and their difficult relatives.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy: A father and his son’s journey on foot through the ash of a long-burned-out America. Bleak, occasionally frightening, occasionally hypnotic, with a placidly mundane streak of horror. Literary science fiction which is a genre that is usually like an unsettling dream (and, if you are used to the other sort, leaves you wanting detail of exactly how the disaster took place, and the science behind all the after-effects – but plenty of post-apocalyptic nastiness and survival on the edge of everything). Neatly and elegantly worded.

Serena – Sylvia Andrews: I brought this on myself, but I was out of Heyers and there were two regency romances in the 50c bin out the front of the Annerley community bookstore and – I still hurt a little bit, although not as much from this one as the other (which caused me to wish physical injury upon myself, of which more next month). This had all the requisite melodrama, hijinks, disguises, passion, rage, betrayal, compromised innocence &c, &c, but… it was about the romance, and written to that end (whereas Georgette Heyer is like DWJ – her stories are fabulous and cumulative disasters, of which an occasional romance is only one of the many unlikely by-products). Anyway, back to Serena: Beautiful (of course) young (white) woman from the West Indies (non-slave-owning!) who thinks she is plain (she isn’t) and old (she isn’t) escorts her younger (sillier) niece to London to give her a London Season (because you’re worth it) and while they are in boot camp in the country she isn’t allowed to ride alone so she dresses up as a boy and meets a man who finds out she is in disguise but they like each other so they keep meeting and then they meet in London but he gives her the cold shoulder when he finds out her name because his brother went to the West Indies with his wife when Serena was 14 (remember this) but Serena’s brother stole his wife and the wife told her husband she didn’t want him and so he committed suicide and then Serena’s brother told the wife he didn’t want her so she went back to England and told everyone that Serena had led her husband astray and then jilted him (I told you to remember the 14 years old part) and then had a baby who is actually Serena’s nephew but our hero (who naturally is brooding and cannot trust a woman) thinks is his nephew and is raising but his (evil, Irish) mother is convinced he is sickly and won’t let the boy walk anywhere and his terrified that Serena will expose her secret and so she enlists help (from evil! Irishmen! and our hero’s sometimes-jilted mistress) and then there are kidnappings and faked compromises of virtue and…

Worldshaker – Richard Harland: A steampunk novel, set in the claustrophobic, stratified, artificially-maintained Victorian society of the great steam-powered juggernaut/mobile city Worldshaker, which rolls across the countries. A coming of age story, and a what-is-humanity story, an above-and-below decks story, a British Public Schoolboy story and a story of revolution, violence and retribution. I would have liked to have been a bit more convinced of the feasibility of the juggernaut and the whole system and society, but this wouldn’t have bothered me at all if I hadn’t been aware of the juxtaposition of the two rival sides of the genre: the Victorian-inspired, cogs&gears fantasy on the one hand, and the questions of class and imperialism and colonialism and very real violence and death on on the other. I know Richard Harland is very aware of those two aspects, and so I suspect that dissonance was deliberate. I am keen to see how he rebuilds in the sequel what was torn down in this story (but still wanted more of the nuts & bolts of how the cogs & gears worked).

Illustration Friday: Fast

Illustration Friday: Fast

But of course.

Three layers of graphite pencil rendered unrecognisable in Photoshop.

Painting session

Usually I work in pen and ink, markers and scratchboard with digital colour, but I want to learn to paint. Now that I have a house with room to move I am making myself pull out the paints and brushes, even though the “studio” is currently storage for extra chairs and the paints are old and it’s chance as to whether the tube I think I want will be dried up.

At the moment, I’m just trying to loosen up and to learn to think in terms of painting instead of drawing+colouring. Yesterday afternoon I painted this – acrylic paints on an offcut of matt board.

Learning process

I decided not to use a pencil first – I end up keeping too close to the lines. I’d gessoed the board a few years ago so I rubbed crimson over it and then did an underpainting in crimson+pthalo blue, and then painted over the top. I really like the colour of the crimson wash – it is the same colour geranium petals make when you scrub them on concrete (misspent youth).

Other projects continue. My sister is sending me pictures of wild dogs and I finally found the toy rhinoceros I misplaced (it was in the bag with the abacus beads), but I have not yet organised a knitting reference photoshoot.

Bookplates and World Records

I’ve been working on a bookplate design for Gillian Polack, so that she can offer people signed bookplates for her latest novel, Life Through Cellophane (which is a very enjoyable, gentle horror story) if they can’t get to her – I managed to buy it at the launch, spend a whole weekend in her general vicinity and still not get my copy signed, so I will be asking for one.

I posted some early ideas a few days ago. This is a collection of the final pen and ink drawing (top left), a series of variations, and the final bookplate (bottom right):

Bookplate progression

Now, because my mother (of all people) tells me off for not writing enough about my life, I will tell you some highlights of the last week:

  • My mother has been at the coast for a week. My younger sister and I spent the weekend, walked along the beach (the sea and the sky there are always shell-coloured), read, drank pinacoladas and got caught in the rain. I managed to go into antique, retro and second hand book stores and escape only with two books (on Australian aviation, unsurprisingly).
  • My sister’s boyfriend was driving us to the station on Monday morning. We usually loop around a traffic circle instead of turning right across traffic, but as we came up to the traffic circle (two lanes) there was a huge cloud of brown dust – a rubbish truck had lost its skip. Fortunately, we were in the ute so we hopped the median strip and retreated.
  • Tuesday I saw Astroboy, which was intellectually insulting. I also had a KFC Zinger Works Burger which was very good – I’d been looking forward to it for ages, but the KFC at Indro is the world’s slowest and usually out of chicken.
  • Yesterday I went to the QUT Writing Gala (university awards and launch of their journal Rex) at the Gallery of Modern Art, talked to people about the secret Brisbane which exists in backyards, then on my way out was forcibly diverted into the gallery theatre where a world record breaking comedy attempt was taking place. I stayed for over an hour and my copy of Rex was appropriated and used in part of the act.

Here is my sister asleep while my mother read Dean Koontz out loud, and Lindsay Webb’s comedy attempt:

Page 1

ETA: Unless it’s a convention and I figure they’ll find me anyway, I sometimes email people a copy of the sketch of them – I just had an email back from Lindsay Webb’s team and apparently they put the sketch up on the screen at the back of the stage!

Oh, look!

I just found the cover of Greer Gilman’s Cloud & Ashes in the Locus Directory of Cover Artists (over halfway down).

Issue 41 of Andromeda Spaceways is now available in PDF. It comes with two versions of my name, so it may be a collector’s item :)

And Issue 2 of Exhibition Hall  (steampunk fanzine) is up at It has a review of Continuum which includes one of my sketches.

And last month’s book reviews will be up… soon. I’m aiming for before next month.

MX42 / Illustration Friday: Frozen

MX 42 / Illustration Friday: Frozen

Jadis of Charn, the White Witch of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I’ve defined the nose a bit more since scanning this. Also, I’ve learned one lesson from my painting attempts – I can’t expect to work at the same scale and level of detail as I can in pen and ink!

This is for both Illustration Friday and for Lady Orlando’s “Witches” themed moleskine for the 42nd Moleskine Exchange

In other news, here are three discarded designs for a bookplate (the final will be revealed once it is finalised):

Fan 1

Pen and ink:
Fan 2

Scratchboard again (with garish colours for kicks):
Fairy Godmother

Illustration Friday: Flying

Illustration Friday: Flying

This is a product of my reading habits this year, the sudden surge of interest in steampunk (it’s Steampunk Month on if you’d like more information on that), living under a flightpath (for really small planes – it’s like living in a WWII movie) and a song that was the soundtrack to part of my college career (it’s bizarre and will start playing without warning: Moon Song).

A very quick piece in between 32 translations (and counting), work and picking my sister up from the station. Pen and ink with digital colour.