Taboo — Kim Scott (Picador in Australia, Small Beer Press in the USA). Luminous, unsettling, with a subtle approach to time. Stunning opening. If you’ve read The Mere Wife, I particularly recommend checking this out. (Not just if you’ve read The Mere Wife, obviously.)
The Lady Eve. (Not in a cinema, but as an arranged outing at least.) I do like old-fashioned screwball comedies (although I like them better at the caper-end of comedies of manners). This is charming but did not make nearly enough use of its snakes.
Jenny Clement has been filling my arms with interwar women’s fiction and mid-century murder mysteries. The Flowering Thorn (1934) is one of the former, and belongs to that class of books in which wickedly inclined (although never actually very bad) party girls of the 1920s go back to the land and grow stout on fresh food and country living. It’s a story with an ever-smaller compass, and with a firmly held point of view on such things, but it was lovely. An Afternoon to Kill (1953) is one of the latter. It’s fascinatingly nested and does something I’m not even mad about, although I faintly feel that I should be.
All the books will probably show up directly or indirectly in future thoughts & projects.
Walk into a fairy tale world that’s not quite what you might expect.
Lara’s life of lonely drudgery changes when she gains an unlikely friend and learns that acts of kindness can bring their own rewards. High-born Niamh knows the kennel boy is her soulmate, but when she seeks help from the Otherworld, her future takes a surprising turn. Bella runs away from home on a stormy night and finds shelter in a strange old house, where she meets a shy kitchen hand, his autocratic mother, and a mouse. Young soldier Katrin makes her weary way homeward after a terrible defeat. A chance encounter with an old woman plunges Katrin into an adventure involving dogs, treasure and a lost tinder box.
These four tales celebrate courage and kindness. They are about being to true to yourself and recognising the good in others.
Mother Thorn is for readers aged 12+. Adults who love fairy tales should also enjoy this book.
I’ve been designing bookplates for Tansy Rayner Roberts, for her (successful!) Castle Charming kickstarter (I previously posted about the enamel pin design for that).
Here is the first glimpse of the bookplates back from the printer (Tansy arranged all that end of it — I do particularly enjoy the moment where someone else takes art away and brings it back as a shining object).
It’s pen and ink with ink washes.
And here are a few of the sketches from which it began:
Books are fascinating as design elements. They seem so potentially decorative and yet they’re very… boxy, and make you make style decisions around e.g. perspective, and how shabby to make them in order to get some texture going.
Some of my favourite books covers are early 20thC school prize book editions. Mostly because of their spines! But the other sides are marvellously textured (and the insides are gorgeously mottled — blank pages in Mr Dalton and Janet have provided many of the textures I use with digital colour).
Sisters of the Vast Black — Lina Rather. Nuns! In! Space! and much more earnest and focussed and charming than that sounds. But also: nuns in space!
Lord Ashwood Missed Out — Tessa Dare. The high glee of Tessa Dare’s romances is very welcome in difficult times.
A Lady by Midnight — Tessa Dare. See above. I started a list of “unlikely abrupt intense proximities” in lighter-hearted romances at about this point.
Delicious — Sherry Thomas. Something about Sherry Thomas’ books always makes me feel like I’ve run into someone who agrees with me about certain decidedly unromantic historical novels. It also prompted me to work out my thoughts about food magic (this will probably show up at some point in the observation journal posts).
The Monster of Elendhaven — Jennifer Giesbrecht. Nasssty oily murderous far north industrial gothic fantasy, my precious. Lovely writing.
You Let Me In— Camilla Bruce. I quite liked the origin of the fae in this one.
Chalk — Paul Cornell. Argh! Also it was interesting reading it beside You Let Me In, working out the boundaries of folk horror and my own tastes. Also loved opposing magics (earth vs ad-hoc pop magic).
Thus Was Adonis Murdered — Sarah Caudwell. (Reread). The straight-faced flipping of steretypes. The wine. The legal humour. The first line. “Scholarship asks, thank God, no recompense but Truth.” The beautiful Ragwort…
Black Sheep — Georgette Heyer. (Reread). There’s a trick played at the end of this book that I always kind of forget is coming.
For obvious reasons, I didn’t get to a cinema in May, and I hadn’t been in the habit of recording other things I watched.
The Time Traveler’s Wife — Audrey Niffenegger. There’s some intriguingly ominous pacing in this one: the awareness of something bad that will have happened at some unspecified point. It reminded me of the countdown effect to some great termination or absence in Three Days to Never by Tim Powers, and also of how these are both in a way holding out on the effect in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which you’re just outright told what will happen, and then get to watch in horrified fascination as it inevitably unfolds. And the way other genres (mysteries, romances) expect the reader to know (to an extent) how the story will then, which make the thrill about the getting there. I read a few very centre-of-genre romances recently which managed to have me on the edge of my seat about how the characters would ever manage to resolve their situations.
Upright Women Wanted — Sarah Gailey. Librarians of the Wild (again) West! The Handmaid’s Tale meets Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Red, White & Royal Blue — Casey McQuiston. Like reading a very explicit Meg Cabot for adults. It belongs in its own way to a very charming subcategory of romantic comedies set in a fantasy of Washington DC (All American Girl, Dave, etc).
N or M — Agatha Christie. There was a scene in this, in which you know something bad has happened to a character (A). The following scene is of other characters playing cards, while waiting for character A. It’s incredibly tense, because it is so mundane and you’re waiting for it to be shattered, and then it… just doesn’t happen. Nothing intrudes. It’s surprisingly stressful. Not unlike parts of Picnic at Hanging Rock.
A Civil Contract — Georgette Heyer. I liked it so much more this time around.
Ceremonials — Katharine Coldiron. This is “a twelve-part lyric novella inspired by Florence + the Machine’s 2011 album” and one of only two Gothic-adjacent books I’ve read (in the last year, too) to draw their mythic resonance from the story of the Minotaur.
Mistletoe Wishes: A Regency Christmas Collection (The Winter Wife, Her Christmas Earl, A Pirate for Christmas, Mistletoe and the Major, A Match Made in Mistletoe, The Christmas Stranger) — Anna Campbell. Look: people getting locked in a closet together is never not going to be funny.
I’ve previously mentioned incorporating Austin Kleon‘s “things to steal” into my general Todd-Henry-based note-taking structure (Patterns/Surprises/Likes/Dislikes/Steal — see Bookmarks & remarks). It’s also become an occasional feature in the Observation Journal.
I used to make a note of things that were merely “interesting” or “to try”. What I like about phrasing it as “steal” (yes, obviously not plagiarise) is that, as well as adding a touch of glee, it forces me to immediately think of ways to transform whatever it was I was admiring.
The “five things” also fills the page usefully. It’s a nice length, easy to remember, and usually makes me either think just one or two steps beyond the obvious, or distill my very favourites.
Here’s a close-up of the right-hand page: FIVE THINGS I WANT TO STEAL FROM EMILY CARROLL’S THROUGH THE WOODS (a wonderful collection of… comics? illustrated stories?)
Her use of endpapers. This tied into broader thoughts on surface decoration, and a general reminder (and licence) to draw on everything. I’m working on this for some projects now, in a completely different style and for a different purpose.
Using white outlines for only certain characters, with notes on the ethereal effect, and a desire to try to achieve this in prose (I think I wrote a paragraph or two to experiment with this; I also have a continuing interest in how authors get specific art styles into purely prose pieces — among others Dorothy Dunnett’s buttery Rembrandt light; Mirah Bolender’s Ghibli-esque curse motion in City of Broken Magic; and a very Hellboy-esque lighting setup in a novella I read recently and can’t find again).
Her use of different colour schemes in the same scenes to show brief flashes of memory. Again, I wanted to try this in prose, but also to see how to get away with the effect in (for example) black and white.
The variable structures of the stories, panels, style, and whether this could be replicated with e.g. subtitles in a purely prose piece. I have some story ideas I want to recast and plan to revisit this (in combination with some mythic/folk horror scene transition/viewpoint gymnastics managed by Paul Cornell in Chalkand Maria Dahvana Headley in The Mere Wife).
The last one is the only observation without a specific adaptation, and it’s mostly a reminder that the ordinary and extraordinary both gain power when they’re mixed.
Also some tree-appreciation — “Einar?” was a late-night misremembering of Eyvind Earle.
The last point, a “question for later”, led to playing with some small creepy stories in other formats, inspired by other books.
I enjoy this format, and what it’s led to. I’ll probably post some more examples later.
Find something you admire in another field than the one you work in (a movie, a book, a comic, a painting). List five things you like about it. Try to work out how you could steal each of those elements and convert them into something in your own field.
And in case it needs to be said: Don’t plagiarise!
The Ocean at the End of the Lane — Neil Gaiman (annual reread for Genre Fiction class)
Permafrost — Alistair Reynolds
Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears (I am very glad this was my last movie at the cinema — it was also interesting for the clarity with which it stated, affirmed, and stuck the landing of its genre/aesthetic choices)
Several of these show up again in my Notes on Books in the observation journal, so I might have more to say later
A little sketch for a little project of mine I hope will be coming out later this year (in the end, not illustrated).
It is in several ways (more than are visible here) an example of the overlap between sketching and writing. But it’s also illustrative of the dangers of reading poetry (in this case, Judith Wright’s “The Idler”), which tends to then seep back out into everything else.
Last year was a little chaotic, between travel (ah, remember the days), conferences, deadlines, and several bouts with my back, so I didn’t keep the blog entirely up to date with new projects (although they showed up in plenty of other places!).
But very excitingly, I got to work with Walker Books UK for the first time, on a set of pen-and-ink illustrations for the 10th anniversary edition of Clockwork Angel (to complement the 10th anniversary of City of Bones — both also have beautiful portraits by Cassandra Jean, and cover and title page illustrations by Will Staehle — the lovely cover is by Dan Funderburgh).
I will do a process post (possibly for both books! nothing like having a backlog of material) in due course. In the meantime, here are a couple teasers. (Also, when the physical store is back open, I thinkBook Moon Books in MA, USA might still have some of the original illustrations for sale).
And you can find the book from all good booksellers (and a lot of local independent stores are working very hard to keep getting books to you!)