Books read, things seen: June 2021

Drawing of mermaid sitting in water reading.
From the February 2021 calendar/print

Books

  • Blue — Pat Grant. (Comic) Striking style, and belongs to a particular Australian style weird-wonderful take on the bleakly awful parts of the country. Interesting history of local surf comics.
  • Tempting the Bride — Sherry Thomas
  • Slippery Creatures — KJ Parker
  • Burger Force volume 1 — Jackie Ryan. (Comic) SO MUCH FUN. And with a very particular (and stylish) style — and approached more as film than comic, when it comes to its creation as sequential art. And odd. And mod.
  • The Bone Lantern — Angela Slatter. Not published yet but as lovely as all her Sourdough-world tales, with interfolded enchantments and interleaved tales, and cruel and kind and pragmatic travellers with tangled histories, so keep an eye out for it!
  • Cousin Kate — Georgette Heyer. An occasionally almost anti-Gothic Gothic, with a stately pace common to this era of Gothic novels and a resistance to melodrama, which makes it an interesting read after the heartily Gothic aspects of The Quiet Gentleman (which somehow feels less Gothic). Some splendid people, though.
  • Gaudy Night — Dorothy Sayers. A reread for bookclub — I just love the Wimsey/Vane books so much, and it’s honestly SO indulgent, mimicking restraint and then having her characters essentially write fanfiction of scenes, but by this point authorial indulgence is all to the reader’s benefit.
  • Busman’s Honeymoon — Dorothy Sayers. A reread — see above — also I was getting very strong Diana Wynne Jones resonances from these two books (especially Deep Secret and Howl’s Moving Castle, but others as well). The milieus from which they emerge, a generation apart, are very obviously the same, and there are the John Donne quotes and so on, but there’s more there, and a deep delight.
  • Dungeon Critters — Natalie Riess & Sara Goetter. (Comic) This had been well-reviewed, but I was resisting it unfairly on the basis that it is cute and it is D&D-derived (nothing against D&D, I just stumble over some of books more obviously based on it). But this comic was having so much honest fun with the adventures of the critters, and the bad puns, and the melodramatic body language, and the little text jokes of e.g. certain names having to be pronounced (and therefore lettered) OMINOUSLY, or always being covered up by an interrupting word balloon.

Not books

  • CHESS (QPAC). The best of musicals, the worst of musicals.
  • The Broken Machine (by Liz Duffy Adams, reading by Magic Theatre online). Delight.
  • The Sleeping Beauty (Queensland Ballet). Cotton candy, in the best way.

South of the Sun update

The printed copies of South of the Sun are rumoured to have arrived in Australia, so there are now plans for an online launch on Friday 2 July 2021. There will be readings and a sneak-peek at the illustrations, with more online previews over the weekend (see the anthology’s pages on Facebook and Twitter). You can find the launch event details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/293740192287594/

And pre-orders are available from Serenity Press: https://www.serenitypress.org/product-page/south-of-the-sun!

Books read, things seen: May 2021

Books

  • Emporium of the Imagination — Tabitha Bird. Magical shops and enchanted telephones in Boonah, Queensland. (We were on a panel together at the Brisbane Writers Festival — notes on that here)
  • Claudia and Mean Janine — Raina Telgemeier / Ann M Martin. The Baby-Sitters Club is solid and Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel adaptation is lovely. I might have cried.
  • [Title TBC], Corella Press. Three 19th century ghost stories — more information in due course!
  • The Bee and the Orange Tree — Melissa Ashley. Salonnières and murder. (We were on a panel together at the Brisbane Writers Festival — notes on that here)
  • The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen — Krissy Kneen. Family secrets and the Alexandrine women. (Krissy moderated our panel at the Brisbane Writers Festival — notes on that here)
  • All the Murmuring Bones — Angela Slatter. Of course I loved it but I was reading it while thinking about a drawing for the cover of the limited edition hardback, and forgot to tell the author so she only saw my frowning spatial-reasoning face. The paperback is out now from Titan and the limited edition hardback will be from Tartarus.
  • Kiki’s Delivery ServiceEiko Kadono
  • Batman: A Death in the Family — Starlin, Aparo, DeCarlo
  • The Rock from the Sky — Jon Klassen. One of my sisters described Klassen’s ‘hat’ trilogy as “Cohen Brothers for kids”, so if you image a Cohen Brothers science-fiction picture book…
  • Craft in the Real World — Matthew Salesses. A really interesting and useful re-approach to workshopping writing. Dense with thoughts and techniques. I also really appreciated the structure which, instead of fitting ideas to the shape of standardised non-fiction chapters, moves from commentary to dot-point lists, to collated thoughts, as most relevant and efficient for the material.
  • The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes — Neil Gaiman, art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III and Robbie Busch. A reread. That vigorous, untidy, grungy, horrific, insinuating, baroque, beautiful art still gets me by the throat.
  • Provocation — Meg Vann. The first of Meg’s chapbook thrillers from Brain Jar Press. Murderous happenings in the State Library…

Movies

  • Wrath of Man
  • Those Who Wish Me Dead

Books read, things seen: April 2021

A hand holding a tiny silhouette drawing of a mermaid reading a book
Big month, tiny mermaid.

Books

  • Mr Invincible — Pascal Jousselin — (comic) both wildly unlike Memento, and yet very like it in that I couldn’t read stories properly for a while afterwards, and started to resent the fourth wall.
  • The Family Tomb — Michael Gilbert — murder and intrigue in Florence in the 1960s, and for some reason I do enjoy stories of British expats being flamboyantly awful.
  • The Swimmers — Marion Womack — I’m used to books doing direct rewrites of their inspiration, and it was refreshing to read a book that took an influence (Wide Sargasso Sea) and simply ran with the elements and flavours that intrigued the writer, rather than attempting any sort of correlation.
  • The Black Moth — Georgette Heyer — I have a friend who talks about “historical smugness” in historical TV shows, e.g. “the issue of the week and how we would have handled it better now”. Heyer’s early Georgian novels sort of do the opposite — pick up the social mores which didn’t stand the test of time and then lean into them. Usually leads to vigorous bookclub fights.
  • A School for Unusual Girls — Kathleen Baldwin — Apparently I’m about to start on a Regency fantasy-romance kick again.
  • Death of a Ghost — Margery Allingham — I also like murder mysteries in which the writer has clearly been personally victimised by dramatic bohemian types
  • Fun Home — Alison Bechdel — A classic for a reason, and yet somehow I hadn’t read the whole book before (also the stage musical is magnificent, unexpected, and somehow implausibly inevitable).
  • Elmer — Gerry Alanguilian — (comic) Still a bit stunned, but my goodness, the clouds
  • Newt’s Emerald — Garth Nix — Luminous green magic!

Movies and theatre (I’m in Queensland, it was safe and legal)

  • King Kong vs Godzilla — in Gold Class, because where else
  • Come From Away (at QPAC) — I cried through most of it and it took ages for my mask to dry afterwards.

Exhibitions

  • “Creatures” — Shaun Tan (Beinart Gallery) — the lines, the paint, the eyes… Shaun is a magnificent artist, illustrator, and writer, and getting to just stand close and look at the texture is a treasure
  • She-Oaks and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism” — (NGV) — A wonderful exhibition, and a chance to see many favourites (Tom Roberts, in particular, influenced what I was trying to do with descriptions in Flyaway). Seeing them all in one place was illuminating. In some rooms, there were pictures that seemed backlit, shining off the walls, so I was puzzling over that. I worked out, too, that while I generally prefer paintings of green landscapes, that does not hold true for Impressionism, where my heart gets pulled out of my chest by dust and light, yellows and ochres and luminous flickering violets. And of course I reinforced my love for the smallest, sketchiest of paintings, where one or two dabs of paint are a bolting horse, or a girl holding her hat down, or the tiniest dog in a patch of sunlight — see, for example, Allegro con brio.

Books read, things seen: January, February, March 2021

Brush drawing with digital colour of a person with a showercap reading in a blue bath in a green bathroom

Three months of books and comics read (and a few movies)! So apparently I have been accomplishing something.

JANUARY

Books and comics:

  • First Class Murder — Robin Stevens (book 3 of Murder Most Unladylike)
  • Miss Astbury & Milordo — Irene Northam (a Women’s Weekly Library paperback found in a storage bench in a hospital in Ipswich)
  • Something Light — Margery Sharp (1959 — a pet photographer who spends too much time looking after the men in her life decides to find a man to look after her, and works her way through a list…)
  • The Case of the Missing Marquess — Nancy Springer (Enola Holmes #1)
  • The Case of the Left-Handed Lady — Nancy Springer (Enola Holmes #2)
  • Start Finishing — Charlie Gilkey (mostly I read self-help and time-management books for cathartic aggravation, but although not the most slickly written, this one has turned about to be extremely useful — especially for managing multiple projects)
  • Marry in Scandal — Anne Gracie
  • Indistractable — Nir Eyal
  • Marry in Secret — Anne Gracie
  • The Absolute Book — Elizabeth Knox

Movies:

  • Wonder Woman 84
  • Promising Young Woman

FEBRUARY

Books and comics:

  • The Practice — Seth Godin
  • Faro’s Daughter — Georgette Heyer
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel — Baroness Orczy
  • Jane, the Fox, and Me — Fanny Britt, Isabelle Arsenault (Isabelle Arsenault‘s art in this book is just enchanting)

Movies

  • Pixie

MARCH

Books and comics:

  • Aster and the Accidental Magic — Thom Pico and Karensac
  • The Waxworks Murder — John Dickson Carr (1932, Henri Bencolin #4(?) — I enjoyed this tremendously, perhaps because it’s a murder mystery that manages to be more Gothic in aesthetic than the murders it’s about)
  • The House Without the Door — Elizabeth Daly (1950, Henry Gamadge #4)
  • Skip — Molly Mendoza
  • Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur #6: Save our School — Brandon Montclar, Natacha Bustos, Tamra Bonvillain (Bustos and Bonvillain’s art in this is so energetic — the body language vivid and hilarious)
  • Grave Sight #2 — Charlaine Harris, Bill Harms, Denis Medri
Brush drawing with digital colour of a person with a showercap reading in a blue bath looking up, startled, and hearing the word "RUSTLE"

The Tallow-Wife arrives!

Cardboard box with bubble-wrapped parce.

Look what’s arrived from Tartarus!

Spread of three copies of The Tallow-Wife, on top of bubble wrap. The first is open to the story "Embers and Ash", with a drawing of a ship half-sunk in a cliff. The second has its dust jacket on. The third shows the foil-and-purple cover design on the boards under the cover.

It’s Angela Slatter‘s extremely beautiful The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales, which is now available to buy in a limited edition.

The spines of The Tallow-Wife, with hand-lettered title printed in foil on a purple ground.
(Photo from Tartarus Press)

It is illustrated throughout with vignettes and spot illustrations in the same style as The Bitterwood Bible.

Hand holding two pens and several folded sections of drawing paper, on the top page of which is written "The Tallow-Wife & Other Tales by Angela Slatter", with drawn ornaments of candles, branches, and moths.
A Staedtler Pigment Liner 0.05, and a Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pen Warm Grey 272, on Canson Illustration paper.

It’s a loose, conversational, first-impressions style that I love working in. It’s so first-impressions that the label for my sketchbook notes for the project became not only the title page, but the spine lettering and the basis for some of the cover ornaments.

Title page of the book with sketches of candles, floral flourishes, and moths.

First impressions isn’t the same as easy. Here, more than any other style, is where I can feel all the work of observing (the world, how I work, how other people solve problems) and sketching pay off.

I particularly enjoy working this way because it catches that first response of an early reader, the images that intrigue and charm me, the conversation I wanted to have with the stories when I was first exposed to them. And also because, while there’s a lightness to the style, there’s also a lovely weight of quantity — spooling out wavering lines in response to the stories as they unfold, questioning and reacting and correcting.

More commonly, illustrating a book involves reading through, responding, making thumbnail sketches, having those approved, refining pencils, having those approved, and then working on the finals (subject to approval). For The Tallow-Wife, the selection process was simply the appeal of the text (and the limits of my abilities!), and the taste of the author and publisher as they select and place the final collection of drawings.

Page of black and white line sketches of wine, a boy bowing, ghostly dogs at a cathedral, etc.

The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales is a companion book to Sourdough and Other Stories and the World Fantasy Award-winning Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. The limited edition is now available to buy from Tartarus (while the print-run lasts).

If you need reasons to buy this, apart from the obvious (Slatter, Tartarus, enchantments), I have posted An Incomplete List of Reasons I Have Bought Illustrated Books, in case any of those excuses resonate with you.

An incomplete list of reasons I have bought illustrated books

Close up of a drawing/watercolour painting of a girl with short-fringed purple hair and a red pinafore over a stripey topy, holding a book that says "MAPS"

I keep buying illustrated books thinking, hmm, what an interesting compendium of mark making, technically this is a reference text…

Continue reading

2020 reading

KJennings-JanuaryBookSketches
Sketches from January

I finished approximately 79 books, not including manuscripts for illustration (or at least, the ones I couldn’t talk about yet). You’ll see I got through a lot of 2020 on midcentury murder and Regency and adjacent romance. 15 books were rereads, and many of those were Heyers. It doesn’t include a lot of art books, although I do want to sit down and read them more traditionally more often.

I wrote about some of the patterns in what I was reading — particularly the “romance (and tragedy) of the navigable world” over on Meanjin: What I’m Reading — Kathleen Jennings.

I was trying to do sketches or fanart for each book, but that thinned to a single broadly thematic image over the year. I still like the idea of doing it, but we shall see.

Here’s the list, including links to the individual “Read and Seen” posts, some of which include fanart and occasionally some thoughts on the books (they also show up in Observation Journal posts from time to time).

The *asterisks are for books which did something (style or trope or idea) I’m still thinking about.

Beautiful Australian Gothic Books

Gouache painting in pinks, purples, blues, and greens, of standing boulders, grass, birds flying against clouds
Painting by me, after a trip to Hanging Rock, while working on Flyaway — more on those illustrations at Illustrating Flyaway

Tor.com (who published Flyaway) asked me for a post for their Five Books About… series. I promptly forgot how to count, so here are:

Six Stories for Fans of Beautiful Australian Gothic

Read and seen — December 2020

A photo of a hand holding a cut-paper silhouette of a woman dressed in a moth-costume.

A strong commonality among the December books was a twinned sense of costuming on the one hand, and becoming more who you are on the other. How that turned into a moth girl I’m not entirely sure, but that was where the associations started.

Books

  • Borrowed Dreams — May McGoldrick (romance, villainy, benevolent interference)
  • A Skinful of Shadows — Frances Hardinge (ghosts! the English civil war!)
  • Powder and Patch — Georgette Heyer (Georgian makeover montage — I always thought this was a silly book, and it is, but I liked it so much more on the reread)
  • Reading Like a Writer — Francine Prose (appreciating sentences)
  • Every Tool’s a Hammer — Adam Savage (this was about more than just fitting your studio space to the way you work instead of the other way around, but that was the main revelation for me)
Screenshot from the ebook of Every Tool's A Hammer with the following highlighted: "you don't want to just store stuff, you eventually want to retrieve and use it as well."
From Every Tool’s A Hammer: an epiphany

Other

  • The Happiest Season
  • Darren Hanlon’s Regional Xmas Tour — The Majestic Theatre, Pomona