November 2009


Total words: 60942, (personal goal was 60,000) and I am two scenes away from the end of this stage of the story – it would be nice to think I could wrap that up in another, say, 2000 words. Maybe tomorrow.

Middle words: and walked (this phrase is used 16 times)

First line: Marion woke up and it was all a dream. (I’m going to lose this, but I’ve wanted to start something that way for a while).

Last line: Marion said, “I am sure that when the idea occurs to them, poison will take their fancy.”

Most pointless adventure: Duplicated a character and had to kill off one version with a carnivorous waterhorse. This failed to make the surviving half any more interesting.

Favourite part: Bloodthirsty rose maze.

Favourite story-within-story: A ghostly version of LRR in which the grandmother gets to say, “My, what big eyes you have!”.

Worst parts: Aimless angst.

Best realisation: That there were some themes emerging – paths between worlds, beast-people and truth-despite-love.

Part that would probably be the most embarrassing to read out loud: any of the indirectly reported lyrics.

Best lesson: Lay clues, foreshadow, and give ominous predictions. These are more fun if you have no idea what they are clues to, and prove invaluable down the track. The double-sided coats and talkative convent students and wolf-faced old women and mysterious cups that I littered through the story last year for no good reason (other than having no idea what was happening) turned out to tie in with curses of truth, and timid teenagers, and roads that go through more than one forest, and lost daughters and pied pipers and tides of gnawing, chittering things. Maybe next year they will even feed back into the main plot.

Secondary lesson: If you mention archery in the working title, it is pretty much a given that you will never, ever be able to get anyone in the story anywhere near a bow and arrow. Well, someone found a golden arrow in their roast, but that only happened last night, and out of desperation.

Things to do once November is over: Write short stories! Read novels. Talk to people. Answer emails. Tear out all the secret-project-scribbles and pin them to corkboards around the house. Be civilised. Take the plastic wrap off the mop. Rearrange chairs. Sketch in my sketchbook. Design Christmas cards. Not resent mealtimes. Move. Look at photos of tiger farms in Brisbane and wonder whether I can work that into a secret project. Eat vegetables. Not feel guilty about working over lunchtime instead of writing. Go to movies. Think it’s realistic that I might go to bed at a reasonable time. Remember the existence of things like “editing” and “proof-reading” and “spelling”.

Illustration Friday: Entangled

It can be metaphorical, if you like. Mostly I’ve just been reading too much of The Faery Reel and think Moreton Bay Fig buttress roots look prehensile. Pen with colour added in Photoshop, and you can see a larger version here.

This may end up becoming the December blog header, which is the reason for the shape.

Life through Cellophane – Gillian Polack: It was described on the cover as “part horror & part gentle love story”, but I’d rephrase that as “part gentle horror and part love story”. It’s about growing up in middle age, about being alone when surrounded by people (and vice versa), and about how, even when your family is made up of friends, you can’t always choose them or how they’ll behave. Also ghosts and ants and lots of food and Canberra and escaping from the public service. I really liked it.

The Impetuous Countess – Barbara Cartland: I mentioned in my review of Serena last month that there was another Regency to come. I was reading this book on the train and wanted to hit my head against the window in rhythm with the train because the writing. had. a. paragraph. break. at. the. end. of. every. sentence. and it drove me batty. It also made it difficult to assess the book beyond that, but it was in some ways closer to what I should have liked – innocent, flamboyant, melodramatic. And yet it was thin and silly, and I have a theory that this is because it concentrated on just the romance and the erratic behaviour and missed what make Heyer’s and Jones’ and Bujold’s romances so much fun: that those books aren’t primarily about the romance, that while what romance there may be is inevitable it’s almost a bonus. Plot: Young girl running away from home falls in with dour but handsome count, carriage is overturned, she tells the people who takes them in they are married, forgetting they are in Scotland and that means that now they are married and then they… go to France, I think, and there are balls and misunderstandings and Napoleon and rooftop escapes and pretending to be servants to escape from Paris and then getting smuggled back to England and finally realising they love each other. It could have been fun if it wasn’t *so* cringe-worthily over the top (and the heroine so hilariously naive). Or maybe if it had just had longer paragraphs.

The Two Pearls of Wisdom – Alison Goodman: My diary says “It was sort of like… Prince and the Pauper meets chinese chequers meets The Grinch who stole Christmas. All in a good way. (P&P for opulence, deception & protocol, CC for world buildng & border decoration & Grinch for the denouement).” All of which is true, but not necessarily helpful, because regardless of how that sounds it is a good book, with a strong formal structure (which suits the world), a very ordered world (which suits the story), lots of elegant action, complicated politics (both government and gender), beautiful description of trappings and action (both fighting and smaller actions – a lovely way with the folding of hands), and dragons. My personal tastes trend more towards fairy tale retellings and chaos-with-a-heart than such beautifully thought-through worlds and systems of magic, and while I don’t have the background to do it myself I’d like to see a take on this looking at the cultures that inspired the world, but I am looking forward to reading the sequel.

Fables 10: The Good Prince (issues 60-69) – Bill Willingham, et al: My note on this simply says, “Gentle, for all the fighting”. James Jeans’ cover painting still makes me sad. Old enemies, new heroes, baseball in the Frog Prince’s lands, foresworn knights and families slowly growing. The individual issues of Fables form a much more discrete storyline than the enormous mythology of Sandman, for example (a large part of their respective charm) but I am still blown away by the ease with which mood changes to model itself to each episode – fun and childlike, austere and tragic, heroic. It’s a beautiful series, and my copies have been in fairly high rotation.

The Pipes of Orpheus – Jane Lindskold: This was like the Famous Five in Dante’s Divine Comedy written by a late 19th century fantasist and Christian Anderson, but with a dash of PL Travers, more human sacrifice, and a strong dose of Stoker in the last third. It was – I’m not sure. It had the same effect on me as a lot of late 19th century fantasy, which is admiring puzzlement, and I think this is because the story doesn’t neatly fit the modern structure of such stories. Essentially, it is the story of the surviving children the Pied Piper in his madness lured away, and of their journeys through Hades, Transylvania and Olympus to free the spirits of the dead. It features a gorgeous description of a tenuously existing world being rolled up, and some Muses who appeared to be Welsh. The relevant entry in my diary reads “I finished Pipes of Orpheus on the way in [to work]. I am still puzzled”. It is, however, one of those books I will recommend because I would like to discuss it – don’t, however judge it by its cover!

Four and Twenty Blackbirds – Cherie Priest: I have not read a great deal of Southern Gothic fantasy, but I think I might like it. Tor gave out some free books at… Conflux last year, I think, and I finally read this one. It is gripping from the beginning, full of ghosts and family secrets and murderous cousins, swamps and alligators and monks in disguise, blood memory and old murders, the lies of those we love and the occasional kindness of enemies (such a small part, but it stuck with me). But I particularly liked the heroine, Eden, who is… kind of awesome, not because she is Feisty(TM) or Strong(TM), but because she just does things. She’s not superhuman, she knows which fights not to pick, she’s physical but not exceptionally powerful, not angsty (!), not polite or relying on hints, prepared to do something, even if it might not be wise, rather than do nothing. It is such a relief to read a story which appears to be shaping up to be an impenetrable web of untold family secrets and have the main character give up on being polite and just ask the questions outright. I’d like to read more of the stories about Eden, but also some more of the genre because it interests me not just for the books in it, but for the sort of fairly location-specific genre, and because of recent conversations about whether parts of Australia have or could support something similar.

Just sayin'

Just sayin’.

Still aiming for a second goal of 60,000.

Illustration Friday: Music

Pen lines with colour added in Photoshop. Based on a photo of me in a tree, aged about 3, and a very grainy video of me hamming it up on the piano for reference purposes the other night.

I maintain that all children should be forced to learn the piano – after that, you can read the music for anything else.

Illustration Friday: Unbalanced

A little cotton-candy circus fantasy for Illustration Friday. You can see it larger here.

The panels were done in Inkscape, the lines with a pen and everything else in Photoshop.

The texture in the background is from the endpapers of my great-grandfather’s autograph album, which as best I can tell was in use from at least 1908 to 1913 and contains signatures and poems and paintings and such sentiments as:

Fall from the hill tops,
Fall from above
Fall from every where
But for Heaven’s sake,
Don’t Fall in Love.
Janey McHough – 11.12.08

Good boys love their sisters
But far better have they grown
That they love other boys’ sisters
Far better than their own
ELS – Oct 24 1907

To Willy:
“Be Good.”
Yours “The Egg”
31st May 1907
HMS Orient

Illustration Friday: Blur

Larger version here.

Pen line work with digital colour and editing. Part character test, part messing around with thaumatropes (and dirigibles). The reason for Gwen’s expression in the last panel is because she is actually doing something subversive (more on this in the fulness of time).

The two separate pictures are of a dirigible and (if you turn your computer upside down) a seated man who has just dropped a bowl. Together they are *meant* to look like a rudimentary and possibly unfeasible aircraft. Still working on the optical illusions here.

Edited to turn one of the images the right way up – I kept waking up last night with it bothering me.

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