movies


A big, brief, catchup post, but here are some Cold Comfort Farm sketches to brighten it up. Also, I’m starting to keep track of books read on Goodreads as well.

kjennings-coldcomfortfarm

Books

  • Crusade – Peter M Ball (part 3 of the Flotsam Trilogy omnibus)
  • Bone Swans – C. S. E. Cooney: Such beautiful novellas. I wept. I drew fanart.
  • Tempting Mr Townsend – Anna Campbell
  • A Few Right Thinking Men – Sulari Gentill
  • Madensky Square – Eva Ibbotson: I had not read this Ibbotson and it is enchanting! A romance of pre WWI Vienna.
  • Winning Lord West – Anna Campbell
  • Pawn in Frankincense – Dorothy Dunnett
  • Q’s Legacy – Helene Hanff: So charming! So tiny! The follow-up to 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. Has influenced my driving.
  • The Ringed Castle – Dorothy Dunnett. Suffocated sounds of distress.
  • The Foundling – Georgette Heyer: Perhaps a new favourite.
  • Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons: The first time I’ve read it, and I finally read it due to being presented with it at breakfast as a fait accompli by my landlady at a Devon B&B. I read it as a science fiction novel set in the world of The Fantastic Mr Fox, which was certainly memorable. I love her sheer disregard for agriscience.
  • The Tree – John Fowles
  • Stranded with the Scottish Earl – Anna Campbell
  • The Summer Bride – Anne Gracie
  • A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald – Natasha Lester
  • [Can’t tell you about it yet but very good]
  • Cotillion – Georgette Heyer
  • The Devil’s Delilah – Loretta Chase
  • Marked for Death: The First War in the Air – James Hamilton-Paterson: Fascinating WWI aviation history.

Movies & theatre

  • Captain America: Civil War
  • The Nice Guys
  • The Hunt for the WilderpeopleThis is really, really good, people, I highly recommend it.
  • Something Rotten (musical)
  • Shuffle Along (musical)
  • Fun Home (musical): Helpless crying.
  • Ghost Busters 
  • Love & Friendship: A remarkable study in telling only the connective tissue between big events, which works because it is all about the main character’s continuous, inventive self-justification and repositioning.
  • Sully
  • Star Trek: BeyondSuffered for being seen between Sully and Deepwater Horizon, in both of which people try to actually do a headcount of surviving passengers and crew.
  • Bridget Jones’ Baby
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In which even the contemporary Australian noir fantasy has a Regency connection.

Books

April-reads

  • [Lady Helen and] The Dark Days Club – Alison Goodman: Regency urban fantasy, with a beautifully precise approach to research and a heroine who doesn’t actively dislike her ladylike life (even if she doesn’t get much chance to commit to it), but I may never forgive Alison Goodman for opening my eyes to the true horror of Regency presentation gowns. Also I really, really like the typography on the cover of the edition I have. Here is Angela Slatter’s interview with her (which I illustrated): Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club: Alison Goodman
  • The Grand Sophy – Georgette Heyer: A re-re-read, and out loud to my dad. This time it struck me that Sophy is basically a Regency Pippi Longstocking, down to the absent indulgent father, the vast bank-account, the horse and the monkey. If you haven’t read it, Mari Ness’s reread on Tor.com (while of course containing spoilers) also discusses the, ah, problematic issues of the book and will give you a fair idea of whether you want to read (or re-re-read) it.
  • The Seduction of Lord Stone – Anna Campbell: I… did not read this one out loud to my father. Though I must give a general cheer for forthright, determined heroines and negotiation of relationships (and while it exceeds my tolerance levels for certain content, since I belong to the ‘curtain blew across the screen’ school of romance, I do enjoy Anna’s writing in all the other scenes).
  • Exile – Peter M. Ball:  You may think I broke my Regency streak with these two, but the main character reads Persuasion on stakeouts. Myth-heavy hardboiled Gold Coast pre-(assorted)-apocalyptic fantasy. It resonates with the parts of my mind where American Gods took up residence.
  • Frost – Peter M. Ball: See above – I’m reading the third now and will report in the May read.

Movies

listing_the_boss

  • The Boss: Disappointing. It was two movies: a mildly crude disgraced-business-mogul-turns-good farce, and a violent-angry-girl-scouts classic comedy. Either could have been strong, but it never committed to one or the other. Which is a shame, because I like Melissa McCarthy, enjoyed Spy and I’m fairly sure would have adored the movie the end credits promised. Although we knew from Hotel Transylvania that good end-credits can retroactively ruin a decent movie.

Books

March Books

  • How to Edit a Novel – Charlotte Nash: (full disclosure, I was given a review copy and am friends with Charlotte) A very plain, step-by-step, mechanical approach to editing which is VERY USEFUL as it is easy to get caught up in high-concept flights of editorial lyricism. I’ve been editing a manuscript and used a lot of her pointers, which successfully calmed me down and got the new draft quickly finished.
  • Hellboy: The Chained Coffin, and others – Mike Mignola: I loved this so much. How have I managed not to actually read Hellboy before? It is laconic and wry and yet with a kindness, for all the bloody myths and tales. And the art which is so simple and weighty and full-mouthed.
  • The Rabbits – John Marsden and Shaun Tan (illustrator): This book! The art is so rich. It glows, it looks flat as a mosaic and then the shapes resolve into sails and landscapes, the regimented patterns move with meaning, there are more stories in the tiny details. It has less than 250 words, and they are the high, clear bells chiming out a fine melody over Tan’s orchestral compositions.
  • Edward Grey, Witchfinder, Vol. 1: In the Service of Angels – Mike Mignola and Ben Stenbeck (illustrator): I enjoyed it, and would read more, but it suffered by following immediately on the heels of Hellboy and being so earnest.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay: This is such a good book, still, and I don’t know how? I thought it got away with not solving the mystery by not being about the mystery but about the people left behind, and yet on a reread she keeps pulling it back to the investigation as well? It’s a book about the ripples caused by an unsolved mystery, and about the little things that change lives as well as the big things, the weight of something vast and inexplicable on the world. It’s also a reimagining of The Little Princess and The Secret Garden, and beautiful and dreadful. It’s also made me think that the very end of The Lovely Bones weakened that book’s impact.
Picnic at Hanging Rock sketches

Picnic at Hanging Rock sketches

  • The Elusive Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy: C.S. Pacat and I stumbled upon a bookstore which was full of sequels we’d never heard of to very famous books. Now, the Pimpernel sequels are certainly generally known to exist, but this was the first I’ve read. It was a much smaller story than the first, really a battle between two wills, which is something I appreciate in sequels (instead of just making the antagonising forces bigger and badder). Also my personal theory is that Marguerite is the opposite of the cleverest woman in Europe, and in her Paris days people only called her that as a joke BUT Chauvelin, who was in love with her then, thought they were serious, and because he keeps so drastically overestimating her, the Blakeneys continue to triumph.

Seen

March Movies

  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (movie): Twice. We had so much fun. It was silly, but smartly so (new lines frequently taken from other Austen writing), and the production values were solid. I want to watch the outtakes just for more Bennett sisters as a team. I love Pride and Prejudice and many of its revisions, and a couple of these castings and scenes were extremely gratifying additions to the mythology.
  • From Dusk till Dawn (movie): Rooftop cinema. I still don’t know how this movie manages to form a coherent whole.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (play: Malthouse Theature): For such a visual book, it was fascinating to watch it staged with familiar descriptions but a minimalist, slate-grey set and almost none of the familiar imagery. The night-on-the-rock sequence was fabulously suspenseful, and Amber McMahon’s turn as Michael Fitzhubert was mesmerising.
Amber McMahon

My rough sketch from memory, and Amber McMahon (photo by Pia Johnson from ECU Daily).

  • The Rabbits (opera: QPAC): Affecting and gloriously textured interpretation of the book (see above).
  • London has Fallen (movie): Exactly what I expected, having seen Olympus has Fallen.
  • Zootopia (movie): Another fun movie, surprising, endearing, quotable and honestly the most convincing integration of mobile phones I’ve seen.
  • Hail Caesar (movie): Odd, though frequently gratifyingly so, and less a story than a ‘day in the life of’. I wanted more but also more of this. Peter M. Ball wrote up his thoughts: Would that it were so simple?

 

Murder! Heists! Creativity! Secrets!

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Twitter etc

  • Monsters! This new, Karen Beilharz-helmed anthology of comics (with sea monsters by me) is now funding on Pozible. It’s all written and illustrated but we need the pre-orders to get it printed. Rewards include a map by me. (Because it’s been asked, and Pozible isn’t entirely clear on this: if you want to help, but don’t necessarily want a book, you can enter an amount here: Pledge amount). The first comic, “Monster Hunter”, has been posted already.
  • Rapunzel: Fablecroft is publishing Kate Forsyth’s PhD exegesis The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden in the Tower (background pattern and cover art by me).

Rapunzel-Cover

  • Deep Dark Fears: Late to this party, but Deep Dark Fears is deliciously evocative and unsettling, and I have ordered the book.
  • Pride & Prejudice & Zombies: Went twice, went with incredibly low expectations, had a ball, see it while it’s in cinemas. It’s also got a number of Easter eggs for long-term Austen fans. But I mistook Sam Riley for Kris Marshall and was confused (although not unpleasantly so).

  • Science! If you like science communication and illustration, the #sciart tweetstorm is currently on.
  • Two new books:
    • The first translation in over 100 years of Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff, from Eagle Books (a new imprint of Christmas Press), with illustrations and gold-edged pages and just the right size to fit comfortably in the hand and handbag.
    • The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the way Home, the last book of Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland books, which I will buy but which I am afraid it will hurt to read because they are so perfect in themselves that I am sure the ending will be like a knife.
  • Coffee in Oxley: If you are ever in the western suburbs of Brisbane, check out Re/Love Oxley on Blunder Road – a good little cafe with an industrial shed of old and kitschy things, including pyromaniacal sewing machines.

  • On looking too long at art reference: Seals are really weird and if you look at them too long it is like staring too hard at the word “walk” or “amongst”. They cease to be unique functioning objects and become gaps in the world, free-floating black holes, units of the matter before eternity. They refuse to be what you desire or believe them to be. If you gaze too long into the seal, the seal gazes back into you.
  • ‘A Plot for the Annoying of the King of Spain’ – this whole stream of tweets is delightful:

  • Style: Peter de Sève on artist’s style, although I believe it applies equally to any creative endeavour:
    “An artist’s drawing is a catalogue of the shapes that he loves. When I’m drawing something, I’m trying to find the shapes that please me. I believe that’s what makes up what people refer to as a style.”
  • Lessons learned: One thing I am repeatedly learning this year is how little you can get done in a day, and how much in half an hour.

 

 

January-books

Books finished

The Accidental Creative – Todd Henry: Read on Peter Ball‘s repeated recommendation, and proving very practical as I sort out how this year is working.

The Black Sheep – Georgette Heyer: I’d forgotten I’d read this book until I reached the last few chapters (of which I’m rather fond). Mari Ness’s write-up of this on Tor.com (Almost Slumming It: Black Sheep) is, as usual, thoughtful and thought-provoking: “Miss Abigail Wendover, the protagonist of Black Sheep, is under the very understandable impression that she is in a Georgette Heyer novel.”

The Scarecrows – Robert Westall: courtesy of Kelly Link

The Seance – John Harwood: recommend and lent by Angela Slatter, with a gorgeous Niroot Puttapipat cover.

Radiance – Catherynne M. Valente, with a Will Staehle cover which perfectly captures this “decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own”

The End of a Fence – Roman Muradov: I still have no idea what happened in this little graphic novel but I liked it, and the author has confirmed that is the point. It operates slightly below the conscious level, is very beautiful, and without looking in the least like it reminded me slightly of the world of Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing.

Claiming the Courtesan – Anna Campbell’s debut novel

Assorted books in progress

Making Your Own Days – Kenneth Koch

Boy, Snow, Bird – Helen Oyeyemi

The Memoirs of Harriet Wilson – Harriette Wilson

Chocolate and Cuckoo Clocks – Alan Coren

Movies and music

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

The Big Short

Joanna Newsome concert

Thoughts

A pattern I noticed across many books I read this month was that of lies, duality, falsehood and their power to create truth, or something new and true and separate from the truth they started off from…
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Books

  • Trouble in Triplicate (“Before I Die”, “Help Wanted, Male”, and “Instead of Evidence”) – Rex Stout: More Nero Wolfe (but mostly, more Archie Goodwin). Very enjoyable, although they don’t stand out particularly in my memory.
    • I continue to be charmed and amused by the women in these stories, particularly seen against current discussions on representation in shows and stories written now but set then. While not unproblematic, there are a LOT of them, and very different, even if Archie is judgemental. I spend a lot of these books going, “Oh, ARchie!”
    • I love too how Archie’s point of view, even though he is the first person narrator, is not uncritiqued by the author.
  • Middlemarch – George Eliot: I read this to do an illustration of it for Litographs! Some of my thoughts on it are in that post (Middlemarch illustration). It’s a study in the gentle weight and power of cumulative, well-written volume. I really, really liked it, and am not sure I can fully distill my thoughts yet. Three aspects I’ve been referring to frequently, of late, are:
    • the *smallness* of society in the book;
    • the way it captures how consequences in life frequently seem inevitable and acceptable when you experience them even though a bland description of them would be melodramatic; and
    • how Eliot doesn’t pretend not to be writing a historical novel, and alludes at times to events “then” or “in those days”, etc.
  • My Antonia – Willa Cather: After Middlemarch, this was beautifully slim (pages) and crisp (the sentences). Not a criticism, just a contrast! A fascinating view of a predominantly immigrant culture, of a world moving between raw survival and ‘civilisation’.
    • Really interesting to read only a few months after Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, because it is set perhaps 50 years later and the lifestyle, landscape and some events resonate (I also just realised Burial Rites takes place the same year as Middlemarch, speaking of small societies and consequences).
    • And speaking of small societies… oh, the agoraphobic smallness of prairie towns!
    • It is also roughly contemporaneous with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood (and Seven Little Australians, although written earlier than the first and later than the second), and it is fascinating to think of these frontier childhoods happening at a time when Alcott and Coolidge’s comparatively urbane stories would have been out for several years.
    • Basically, it was a book I liked far more than I expected to: adventurous, charming, intriguing, awful, vital, gentle, uncompromising, and with plenty of story.
  • A Certain Justice – P. D. James: I… neither loved nor hated this? Possible I have been spoiled by the Sarah Caudwell novels. I could appreciate the masterly writing and observation, but I didn’t want to get into the world, so it wasn’t quite my brand of murder mystery.
  • Pegasus – Robin McKinley: Not my favourite McKinley, either – too much beginning. I had a similar issue with A Darker Shade of Magic, so your mileage may vary. It was interesting to compare McKinley’s deliberate, patient, pearl-like building of the world with the all-show-no-tell-no-time-to-explain-get-in-the-war-rig approach of Mad Max: Fury Road (shut up they are both stories which in their own ways are entirely of and about the world created).
  • Black Dove, White Raven – Elizabeth Wein: Goodness, everything suffered from comparisons in April, at least at first. In case it isn’t clear, this is a recommendation.
    •  Black Dove, White Raven was not as violently, sense-assaultingly stunning as Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. It skews younger and is paced slower, and I was expecting to be picked up and dumped by it like the other books. But once I realised what a different book it was, I did really enjoy it.
    • I fell in love with Ethiopia, and never realised how little I knew about it, or about the late years of the ’30s. And the fact it is a war novel tied to the currents which would become the Second World War, but before that war happens makes the politics fascinating and the tensions unpredictable. Mostly, though, I just want to know a lot more about Ethiopia!
    • Also of note: Wein does not write her characters as being particularly extraordinary (although they are!). Momma’s unconventional life and marriage is never presented as such, Teo and Em use other people’s expectations but never fight against their own perceptions. These aren’t “girl power!” books, they are just books about girls (and now Teo) who happen to be doing things. In planes. In war.

Movies

  • Dior & I – Charming, fascinating, human, unglamorous documentary of people management and fashion. I could watch people working competently indefinitely. There is something very beautiful about people who look normal, and think of themselves as normal, but who are doing fascinating things well as a matter of course (see Black Dove, White Raven above) and due to the little choices they have made, working in the milieu in which they find or put themselves (see Middlemarch).
  • Fast & Furious 7 – I was looking forward to this as much as Cinderella (last month) and for very similar reasons. These are such winsome films, and the found/made family so endearing. Also: cars and stunts.
  • Age of Ultron – Not hugely disappointing, but a little bit.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road – Not disappointing at all. I was sitting in the cinema grinning wildly, thinking, “stylish and classy are not words I expected to apply to this film”. Many, many people have written about the movie, and I recommend Tansy Rayner Roberts‘ thoughts as a starting point. My enduring impressions are:
    • It is a marvellous example of consistent, wildly inventive, contained, restrained story design. Lots of people have said there isn’t much story there, but there is. Most of it, however, isn’t spoken.
    • More than one of anything is powerful. Having more than one woman takes the pressure of representing (yet standing apart from) all women off a solo character, and means they can be individually awesome, weak, human, furious. But having more than one good man does the same for him. Neither Max nor Nux represent all men. They’re just… them, flaws and all. (I mentioned Rex Stout critiquing a character from within that character’s first-person viewpoint, and he largely does this by having two very different detectives).
    • This is the third (but most extreme) recent example I can think of, of people just deciding to love something loudly on the internet, and that is so much fun.
    • The thundering, crazed poetry of certain lines.
  • San Andreas – Exactly what you’d expect. Exactly what I paid to see.

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