Author/Editor conversation: Angela Slatter, Cath Trechman, and me

Link to Author/Editor Episode 5 on the BWF website

The Brisbane Writers Festival and the Institute of Professional Editors have put together a series of conversations between authors and editors, and ours has just been released! This time, it’s editing relationships all the way down — Cath Trechman is Angela’s editor at Titan, and Angela has edited me, and I’ve had tangential kind-of-sort-of editorial conversations with people from an illustrators perspective…

You can buy single-episode on-demand access or season passes here: Author/Editor Episode 5

And you can see the other episodes (released and forthcoming) here: Online events and series.

IPEd tweet: Award-winning gothic fantasy author Angela Slatter discusses creative processes with her #editor at Titan Books, Cath Trechman, and her illustrator, Kathleen Jennings, also an award-winning gothic fantasy writer whose works have been edited by Angela.

The Path of Thorns — Brisbane launch 17 June 2022

Photo of hand holding The Path of Thorns book with purple foil lettering

A. G. Slatter‘s newest novel, The Path of Thorns (available to pre-order) is being officially launched in Brisbane at the

BRISBANE SQUARE LIBRARY
on
Friday 17 June 2022
at
6PM
registration required (but free)

Angela will be in conversation with me! There will be a signing, and books for sale, and you will see us talking elegantly (Angela says bickering).

About the event:

Asher Todd goes to live with the mysterious Morwood family as a governess to their children. Asher knows little about being a governess, but she is skilled in botany and herbcraft, and perhaps more than that. And she has secrets of her own dark and terrible – and Morwood is a house that eats secrets.

With a monstrous revenge in mind, Asher plans to make it choke.

However, she becomes fond of her changes, of the people of the Tarn, and she begins to wonder if she will be able to execute her plan – and who will suffer most if she does. But as the ghosts of her past become harder to control, Asher realises she has no choice.

Angela Slatter is the author of the gothic fantasy novels, All The Murmuring Bones, The Path of Thorns and the Verity Fassbinder supernatural crime series. She has won several awards including a World Fantasy, British Fantasy, Australian Shadows, Ditmar and Aurealis Awards.

Join Angela in conversation with illustrator and writer of Flyaway, Kathleen Jennings as they discuss her latest novel Path of Thorns.

Books will be available for purchase on the day or bring your copy from home to be signed.

Presented as part of the Lord Mayor’s Writers in Residence series.

Registration is through Eventbrite (required but free).

Handouts as a structuring principle, mockups for getting things done

Mock-ups of a book of map making instructions

For the 1-hour drop-in map workshop at BWF, I made little zine-fold (aka 8-fold) booklets, which I put in little mermaid-stamped envelopes with little pencils and little pieces of nice drawing paper. (I think I learned this in primary school, but there are plenty of instructions for this sort of booklet online, e.g. wikiHow.)

Above, you can see the mock-up process (the easiest way to turn a vague idea into something real: Mockups and outlines).

Photo of yellow envelopes stamped with a linocut mermaid, with versafine clair stamp pad and hand-carved stamp in foreground
  • I folded a piece of paper into a booklet and really quickly, without thinking too hard, scribbled the whole layout into it. Then I went back over and drew all over that with arrows, moving things around — but that hand-drawn version has almost everything in it.
  • Then I drew up a template in Photoshop, with shading for margins and areas that wouldn’t print, so I knew what I had to work with.
  • I put the main text roughly into place, and then put in the example images I already had (I’d deliberately drawn some calendar pages and other illustration to give me examples for map workshops — see for example Tiny Forests and Banners).
  • I printed that out, and used it as a template to draw all the extra details around, like the map and lettering on the front cover.
  • Then my housemate and I proofread it a few times, and I spent some pleasant hours cutting and folding and listening to music.

Was this overkill for a free one-hour drop-in workshop? Yes. Was I overcompensating for my own uncertainty as to the exact venue constraints and whether this workshop could be done in an hour? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes.

Designing and folding the booklets took time, but it was proportionate to the result. People enjoyed them (they were awfully cute), and said it was good to have for such a short class, and to be able to take away if they had to leave early (since it was drop-in). And I really liked have a physical object to give people, so I knew they left the workshop with something.

The biggest lesson for me was how useful this sort of booklet/zine/object was in planning and giving the workshop. It’s easy to just go wild with handouts. But this was a single, self-contained object, with a size appropriate to the length of the class (three double-page openings and a wrap-around cover — the flip-side of the paper was blank for people to use as scrap paper). It was something that constrained my natural urge to put ALL THE INFORMATION in a talk, but it was also a prop I could talk to and scale my time around.

It might not apply to every format, but I’d like to experiment with similar (if less-illustrated) scaled handouts as a central structuring object for other workshops.

Photo of whiteboard with very scribbly fairy-tale map on it
The whiteboard by the end of the workshop

I’m adding this to my running list of lessons I’ve learned for giving workshops and presentations (see e.g. lessons for presentations and conferences). I should probably do a master post at some point, but for now the main lessons I have learned (your mileage my vary) are:

  • Use a handout scaled to the workshop size.
  • Do an initial outline very quickly, before overthinking.
  • If a presentation is image based, arrange images in the slideshow first, print them out 9-to-a-page to keep track, then just talk to/about the pictures. Minimal script needed — often any title-slides and maybe one or two scribbled notes of phrases to remember are enough.
  • If a slideshow is image-heavy, export a copy to PDF and use that if the tech set-up allows — you can zoom in on a PDF in ways a Powerpoint doesn’t easily allow.
  • If a script is necessary, use cascading dot-points — this makes it easier to edit for time (skip up to high-level dot-points) or elaborate (by referring to the low-level ones), as well as to navigate quickly.
  • If it’s a creative workshop, get people making things as early as possible.
  • If you want people to interact, get them to share their thoughts/activities in smaller groups, then pick on the groups for any ideas that emerge (giving everyone safety in numbers/plausible deniability).
  • If possible, mixed-age workshops can be great. Adults mellow the kids, kids loosen up the adults, everyone seems more willing to show their work, and if you need someone to act out an implausible action for art reference purposes, young joints are better suited.

Brisbane Writers Festival 2022 very brief recap

Bookmarks with suburb names from old estate maps
Suburb bookmarks from the State Library Bookshop

I had a lovely three days at the Brisbane Writers Festival! I had hoped there would be more days, but was miserably unwell during the week, and only just managed to claw myself back to being able to go in on Friday.

Unfortunately, this meant I missed hearing the readings and seeing the announcements of the winner of the Wordplay Microfiction prize on the Thursday, but I was permitted to read all the finalists’ stories after the event, and was enchanted with all the elegant, eloquent, unexpected ways they riffed on the inspiration image.

I can’t find a list of the winners online yet, but congratulations!

Cut paper silhouette swirl with fish, birds, person with paper planes
A particular shout-out to the student who made this image about soft-serve icecream!

On Friday I chaired the “Debuting in a Pandemic Panel”, with Jacqueline Maley, Sophie Overett and Lyndall Clipstone.

The three books were very different: Jacqueline Maley’s The Truth About Her is a novel of guilt, journalism, love and motherhood. Sophie Overett’s The Rabbits depicts of stifling Brisbane summers, and the damage and enchantment that can exist between generations. Lyndall Clipestone’s Lakesedge is a gothic, romantic fantasy, with more than a touch of the fairytale.

And it was lovely to bring together all the experiences which went into bringing these books into being, editing and launching them during the second year of a pandemic, and finding space and peace to write — and books to vanish into!

On Saturday I gave a one hour map illustration workshop.

Mock-ups of a book of map making instructions
Mocking up the handout booklet

It was actually really fun to see if this workshop could work in 1 hour (it did! although of course you can dive much deeper and do a larger map with more time) and to put together this little zine-fold instruction book which I hope to build on for future projects. This, although brief, was a very large and lively workshop between LoveYA events at the Brisbane Square Library.

Photo of whiteboard with very scribbly fairy-tale map on it
Crowd-sourced map of Little Red Riding Hood (the version with the zombie giraffe on a floating island)

After that I was on a panel with Lynette Noni and C. S. Pacat, chaired by Samantha Baldry, called “Sweet, Sweet, Fantasy”.

Book covers: The Gilded Cage, Dark Rise and Flyaway
The Gilded Cage, Dark Rise, Flyaway (although I was there as an illustrator, too)

We got very intense about research and making things up, getting things written, planning, exclaiming over each others’ writing processes, etc.

Sketches of people waiting in a book signing line
The trick at a book signing is to sit near people with long queues and sketch their fans

And on Sunday, I gave a three hour workshop on observation journals, honing skills and pursuing creative fascinations.

It was a smaller group and a long delightful workshop, wide-ranging and intense, and everyone dug thoroughly into the exercises, which was fascinating for all of us, because a lot of the point of this approach is that it will vary as people chase down their own processes. It was lovely to see how many pages of exercise, thoughts, ideas, plans and even drawings everyone left with.

It was lovely to update and expand this from the version I gave for the Queensland Art Teachers Association Conference last year, and bring in more focus on writing.

I have no photos of the session because I was bounding around talking and chatting for three hours and forgot

And around all the presenting and planning there were wonderful conversation with friends new and old, writers and publicists, publishers and agents, readers and fans, librarians, waiters, volunteers and BWF staff and board members, poets and musicians.

I might update this post with some photos if I come across them.

Brisbane Writers Festival — Workshops and panels!

The Brisbane Writers Festival 2022 is happening the first week in May, and I will be there!

I’m on two panels:

  • Debuting in a Pandemic with Jacqueline Maley, Sophie Overett and Lyndall Clipstone on Friday 6 May
  • Sweet Sweet Fantasy (sold out) with Lynette Noni, C.S. Pacat, and Samantha Baldry on Saturday 7 May

And I’m giving an observation journal workshop and a brief drop-in map workshop!

How can keeping an observation journal level up your practice as a writer? Join author and illustrator Kathleen Jennings as she demonstrates how a creative journal can awaken your creativity and helps you build a repertoire of exercises that will refine your ideas, techniques, and creative skills.

Every good fantasy adventure needs a map of the world the reader will be journeying through. But have you ever thought of creating your own? Award winning author and illustrator, Kathleen Jennings takes you through a brief introduction to creating a fantastic fantasy map.

And don’t forget entries to the Qld schools Wordplay Microfiction competition (art prompt by me!) close this Friday 22 April 2022.

Cut paper silhouette swirl with fish, birds, person with paper planes

Students are invited to respond to the image in no more than 120 words, using any written format (verse / prose). Shortlisted entrants will be invited to present a reading of their microfiction at the awards ceremony during the Festival.

The winner will receive a cash prize of $1000 thanks to UQ, and a book pack featuring every Word Play 2022 title for their school. 

The award information is on the BWF website here: https://bwf.org.au/whats-on/word-play-2022/microfiction-competition

And the entry form is here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BWF2022MicrofictionCompetition

Oz Comic-Con sketches

I spent last weekend at Oz Comic-Con. After a panel with the very excellent author Trent Jamieson (on “Pinning Magic to the Page” with Trent Jamieson, hosted by Angela who did a fabulous job interviewing us both), I spent most of the weekend at a table selling books and stickers and some little original pen and ink drawings. It was a really lovely, convivial weekend.

And of course, my table was prime real estate for being able to sketch passers-by (the only drawback was that the table blocked my view of feet when people were close by). It was further enhanced by being next to Thor of Oz, with whom people kept stopping to pose for pictures.

So here are my sketches of various cosplayers from Oz Comic-Con Homegrown Brisbane 2022, beginning with a close-up of the only sketch for which I interrupted a conversation: Kermit holding Mjolnir.

If you’re in these pictures and would like to repost the picture of you online for personal use, you’re very welcome to — just please credit it to me (Kathleen Jennings — I’m @tanaudel on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, tanaudel.wordpress.com or kathleenjennings.com otherwise). But if you’d like to buy me a virtual coffee (see below), that is very welcome, too!

If you’d like to follow me / support artists (me) / buy things with (my) art on them here are some options!

At Oz Comic-Con this weekend!

I’m going to be at Oz Comi-Con in Brisbane this weekend! 26 and 27 March 2022.

I’ll have books for sale, including a few copies of Flight and some TV sketchbooks (!), along with Flyaway and Travelogues. I will probably spend my time sketching passers-by, and am going to be on a panel with Trent Jamieson at 10am on Saturday, discussing “Pinning Magic to the Page”.

There’s going to be a fun group of local writers there, .

You can find out more about the event and buy tickets here:

Oz Comic-Con Brisbane Homegrown

Podcast episode: conversation with Amanda Niehaus

art by Kaylah Del Simone

My episode of Science Write Now’s Conversations podcast is live! I had lovely conversation with Amanda Niehaus about observations and story textures and narrative moods, and some of the topics touched on in the observation journal essays they reprinted in Edition #5.

You can listen on their website, or on Google, Apple or Spotify.

2021 summaries — workshops, lectures, panels

I took a break from regular class tutoring this year in order to meet art and writing deadlines, and also it was, well, 2021, so this was a fairly quiet year on the workshop front. However it is virtually impossible to get me to shut up, and I did have the opportunity to present workshops to some excellent people.

I’ve linked to posts about the workshops. This list is subject to update, because I’m sure there were more panels.

Pen drawings with bits of maps, clouds, compass roses. A sheep on a solitary island with "Map of the Last Lonely Island". A stag running down a beach with a label that leads to "Elsewhere".

Workshops and lectures

Photo: State Library of Queensland

Conferences, panels, readings, sketchings

Concordia Lutheran College residency

The girls’ boarding houses used to be behind the school, so I was not used to seeing the actual front of the school (Redlands House) every day

One of this year’s big projects was the week I spent up at Concordia Lutheran College in Toowoomba as artist and writer in residence.

It was a new experience for all of us, and as a result turned into an extremely intensive but very entertaining week. 11 workshops for students and a talk to parents and teachers was… a lot, but I learned so much by doing it, and had a great time.

The giddy exhaustion was compounded by the surreal quality of being back at my old boarding school, and how little had changed. The uniforms and computers were different, but the Year 12s were still discussing Green Day in the corridors, and the art hallway smelled as it always had — of soapstone powder.

The magic lantern (left) was probably the most useful object I took with me.

Some general notes

  • I ran the workshops at a fairly high level — trying to keep them accessible and useful, yes, but also giving students a crash course in what I do for a job.
    The students were absolutely up for this — the year 10 and 11 fine art students bravely went through a compressed illustration process (with demanding art director), the year ten English students (while in some cases physically climbing onto each others shoulders) got deep into the guts of the gothic, and the year 4s broke down the phrase “rust-scumbled silos rapunzeled by vines” like nobody’s business.
  • I did learn quite a bit about running school workshops vs more self-selected sessions, and also the approaches needed for over 30 participants (better suited to a talk than a workshop, because there isn’t time to interact the way I like to) and under 10 (which allows more tailoring around what the individual students want to learn). The students and teachers were universally engaged and involved (and the librarian marvellous!).
  • It is SO NICE having mixed ages in workshops, whether combined year levels or having a teacher sit in as a participant — it shakes everyone’s self-consciousness out a little bit AND it means I have someone not a student I can call on for the first example, which gratifies the students. (Thank you to the teachers who walked into that trap.)
  • The observation journal provided some incredibly useful activities and material for workshops, and the short stories I send out to some patrons were the perfect length for examples and demonstrations — another benefit of doing lots of small things regularly.

Monday and Tuesday

Dragon-powered magic lantern

On Monday and Tuesday I was on the primary-school campuses. I gave two 2-hour workshops each day: year 5s in the morning and year 6s (with a couple of very dignified 4s mixed in) in the afternoon. The student drawings with this post are from the year 5s on the first day.

This workshop was on “Making the Mechanical Fascinating” and included:

  • Terrible speed drawing
  • What is machinery?
  • What is the fantastical?
  • Finding (and swapping) the best examples
  • Recombining objects
  • Why is a bulldozer like a dandelion?
  • Creating poems
  • Terrible and Wonderful inventions.

There were so many fabulous ideas and a LOT of energy, and a surprising willingness to break down a sentence or two I’d prepared earlier (Travelogues does a lot of what we did in this workshop, so I mined it for examples). 

My sketch based on an idea by one of the Year 5s: A ghost with a clock where its face should be

Wednesday

On Wednesday I did Narrative Recombination with Year 11 English for nearly 2 hours. This included:

  • Choosing stories with personal “mythic resonance”
  • Close-reading of some paragraphs and pictures from my work (where I do this)
  • Breaking scenes down
  • Building scenes and stories back up again (in groups)
  • Identifying the mood-movement of a story (to hack beginning/middle/end)
A ballpoint pen lying on a very tiny 6x6 grid of drawings of map elements

I also took ALL the year 7s through Small Drawings, Big Ideas, a reworking of the workshop I did for Words Out West. It involved:

  • What is a story (an extremely broad definition that included sports matches and building a house — necessary with a group of people who haven’t chosen to be at a creative workshop, but also useful for the rest of us)
  • Your favourite things (vs other people’s)
  • How to draw small and fast
  • Coming up with new favourite things
  • Creating stories you like
April-calendar-Art-LowRes

Then in the afternoon I gave the year 11 art students a Gothic Birds Accordion Book workshop. This was based on the “Book of Marvellous Birds” workshop I’ve given before, but targeted to people who should know how to draw, and also very genre-specific.

While many of the other workshops incorporated free ideas and mixed up art and writing, this workshop was an introduction to working as an illustrator of other people’s stories.

Topics covered included:

  • Drawing fast and bad
  • What is Gothic imagery, and how to tweak it
  • Kathleen ad-libs a short Gothic story, and an art brief
  • Identifying scenes to illustrate
  • Thumbnailing
  • Rolling an image between genres
  • Adding more story to an image
  • A quick art show (such fun)
All the activities were versions of approaches I use on projects

Thursday

In the morning, I did an Australian Gothic Birds writing workshop with the year 10 English students. This had a lot of elements (‘sustaining cultural context’, the Gothic, Australian Gothic, birds, writing…), and it was the workshop I worried most about. Fortunately (given the principal sat in on the whole workshop!) the kids took it and ran, and it went very well. It featured:

  • Identifying the Gothic (and your favourite bits of it)
  • Involving Australian birds (there was a surprisingly strong anti-emu contingent)
  • Combining elements (with examples)
  • How to cheat at writing setting (i.e. close-readings of paintings)
  • Rolling a scene between genres
  • Story patterns
  • How to quickly build up a story from your idea (there were some lovely ideas, but the most memorable one involved the Prime Minister turning out to be a murderous kookaburra sleeper agent)

The year 8s, a smaller group, got a slightly calmer reprise of the ideas workshop I did with the year 7s the day before.

Then, with the year 10 art students, I did a slightly more intense version of the Gothic Bird Book I’d done with the year 11s — the year 10s having already had a crash-course on the Gothic that morning.

Then on Thursday evening I gave a presentation and Q&A over wine and cheese to a group of teachers and parents, who were lovely, welcoming and very interested in the possibilities for children who want to get into the arts (me: it’s hard work, sure, but I can’t say it’s harder than law).

Friday

Glimpse of observation journal — I was colour-shifting steampunk approaches

Finally on Friday I had a very small session with some self-selected year 9s. It was a lovely casual session, combining mechanical and fantastic elements.

Sketches from the quad

Then I had a smidgen of time to sketch students over lunch in the quadrangle, before going back to my motel and falling deeply asleep.

In summary, it was a great week, with fantastic and supportive students and teachers and librarians. I was able to test and develop a number of ideas and workshop approaches, and it was lovely to go back to a place that had once been, for a few years, home.

I used to be library monitor here and water the plants with a hook-topped watering jug, so this was cool.