This Saturday! Festival of Cancelled Events at Avid Reader

This Saturday 9 October 2021, Avid Reader is holding a Festival of Cancelled Events for authors who had books out in the last year (and I’ll be reading!): interstate authors will be reading online (with a watch party at the shop) from 4-5pm and local authors will be reading in-person and online from 6-7pm AEST (NB for those watching online, there is no daylight savings in Queensland!)

Bookings need to be made separately for each event, and links to the Avid Reader events pages are below:

Join our interstate author guests Bri Lee, Amani Haydar, Fiona Murphy, Jenny Valentish, Caroline De Costa, Clem Bastow, Nicola West and Sophie Green for an afternoon chat about launching new books during a year full of lockdowns.

Join our local author guests Mirandi Riwoe, Kay Kerr, Trent Jamieson, Kathleen Jennings, Christine Jackman, Laura Elvery, Claire Christian, Hugh Breakey and Anita Heiss speaking into the night about their latest books.

(We’re watching outbreaks so all events are, of course, subject to the obvious possibility.)

Observation Journal — Getting meta with story shapes

On this observation journal page I had intended to play more with previous thoughts on story structure, treating them literally as the story. The idea becoming the thing.

It’s not uncommon, of course — consider the Discworld’s Narrativium — but I suspect I had been thinking in particular about how Diana Wynne Jones occasionally literalises some aspects of genre her books (see e.g. aspects of the Gothic in Time of the Ghost and Aunt Maria, and of course the mythosphere in The Game).

Left page: “A scrabbling in the ceiling”. Also, the diffuser has fallen off the bathroom skylight, so sometimes on full moon nights it projects a perfect circle of moonlight onto the bathroom floor.

That was the plan.

Instead I got distracted by some theories of narrative that were working for me, and wondering what they would look like AS a narrative.

It has similarities to the pick-three-pictures-and-match-them-to-a-movie game (for a more involved version of that see: The Deal with Dixit). It’s a way to shuffle stories I already know into new configurations, as well as to draw out directions I’d like to pursue.

So:

  • Story takes shape of its container” becomes… well, at it’s mildest it’s just “grow to fit circumstances”, but actually it becomes several VERY GOOD books I have read since writing this page. But I can’t tell you what they are because this would be a spoiler. Impressionable things that become good (or feared) because of who took them in, and all the violence and generosity and assumptions involved.

The main lesson: Nearly anything can be a story-shape if you’re deliberate enough about it.

Writing/art exercises: Made-up rules

  1. Theory into story: If you’re familiar with theories and guidelines in your field, pick one theory of writing or art composition that you often work with (the rule of thirds? the rule of threes?).
    • Alternatively, pick some personal beliefs about what makes a good story/picture (velvety moss? forward motion? girls with swords?) and rephrase it “all stories/pictures should do XYZ”.
    • Treat that theory TOO literally. To what extent can you make it become the story? Does alluding to something three times have an actual magical power known to people in your story? Is this a painting of a world in which all girls MUST have swords, whether they want to or not?
    • Do a quick written/drawn sketch.
  2. Found theories: Or instead, pick an object lying nearby A bowl of receipts? A fork?
    • Convert that into your new theory of story/composition. “All stories/books should be like a bowl of receipts”. “A good painting should comply with the Fork Theory of composition.”
    • Now see if you can (a) work out what that might mean and (b) sketch out a story/image adhering to that theory. (An ornamental framing device for a found-text piece?)
    • (NB I think it’s Loomis’ Creative Illustration that deals with randomised compositions.)
  3. Bonus:
    • Did you think of any existing stories/pictures that fit that theory?
    • Make a few notes on what went hilariously wrong, and if anything worked unexpectedly — to what extent do formal guidelines vs freedom vs deliberateness suit you?

September 2021 — round up of posts

Here is quick summary of the September blog posts (not including Patreon posts).

The starred posts have art and writing exercises (tags: writing exerciseart exercise), but most of the observation journal posts can generally be adapted for those purposes too.

Posts over on Patreon, at various tiers, included: resources from a guest lecture, advance glimpses of silhouettes, sneak-peeks at a project in progress, stationery (manicules!), and a Dalek-ish take on Heyer.

 Note: If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like these about it, patrons at (patreon.com/tanaudel) get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee or two at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and I get through quite a bit of coffee).

October Calendar — Bats!

Note: This calendar is supported by patrons, who get it a little bit early, along with other sneak-peeks and behind-the-scenes art: patreon.com/tanaudel, and also by those very kind people who throw a few dollars towards it via the tip jar: ko-fi.com/tanaudel

Here is the October calendar — a simple frolic of star-eating bats.

It began, as usual, in pen and ink — here’s a close-up. I’ve been drawing maps and bats all week, and have become very inky as a result.

Ink drawing of a bat chasing a star

And it is now up as a repeating pattern on various things (dresses, cases, scarves…) on Redbubble — and there’s a collection there of previous Halloween-adjacent designs, too (including more bats, and musical skeletons).

So here (for personal use) are the printable versions — one pre-coloured and one to colour in yourself. If you like them and/or like supporting the arts, you can contribute to the calendar (and get it and other behind-the-scenes things early) at patreon.com/tanaudel (starts at US$1/month!) or by buying me a coffee or two through Ko-Fihttps://ko-fi.com/tanaudel.

Printable calendar with pattern of bats — lilac bats on blue sky
Printable calendar with pattern of bats — linework

New map! Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds

Photo pinched from Samira Ahmed. Cover illustrated by Kim Ekdahl and designed by Karina Granda

New map just dropped!

I was thrilled to do this slightly unusual map (involving multiple worlds!) for Samira Ahmed’s Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, from Little, Brown.

I’ll post more about the process soon, but in the meantime, please admire the cover art by Kim Ekdahl.

On the day of a rare super blue blood moon eclipse, twelve-year-old Amira and her little brother, Hamza, can’t stop their bickering while attending a special exhibit on medieval Islamic astronomy. While stargazer Amira is wowed by the amazing gadgets, a bored Hamza wanders off, stumbling across the mesmerizing and forbidden Box of the Moon. Amira can only watch in horror as Hamza grabs the defunct box and it springs to life, setting off a series of events that could shatter their world—literally.

Suddenly, day turns to night, everyone around Amira and Hamza falls under a sleep spell, and a chunk of the moon breaks off, hurtling toward them at lightning speed, as they come face-to-face with two otherworldly creatures: jinn.

The jinn reveal that the siblings have a role to play in an ancient prophecy. Together, they must journey to the mystical land of Qaf, battle a great evil, and end a civil war to prevent the moon—the stopper between realms—from breaking apart and unleashing terrifying jinn, devs, and ghuls onto earth. Or they might have to say goodbye to their parents and life as they know it, forever.…

British Fantasy Award — Flyaway for Best Newcomer

I’m hugely honoured to have received the British Fantasy Award (The Sydney J Bounds Award) for Best Newcomer, for Flyaway!

Congratulations to all my fellow nominees — here are their books!

And many congratulations to all the winners:

  • BEST NEWCOMER (THE SYDNEY J. BOUNDS AWARD)Kathleen Jennings, for Flyaway (Tordotcom)
  • BEST FILM / TELEVISION PRODUCTIONThe Boys: What I Know (Season 2, episode 8)
  • BEST NON-FICTIONWomen Make Horror: Filmmaking, Feminism, Genre, ed. Alison Peirse (Rutgers University Press)
  • BEST ARTISTDaniele Serra
  • BEST COMIC / GRAPHIC NOVELDIE Vol. 2: Split the Party, Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans (Image Comics)
  • BEST MAGAZINE / PERIODICALStrange Horizons
  • BEST INDEPENDENT PRESSLuna Press Publishing
  • BEST AUDIOThe Magnus Archives, Rusty Quill
  • BEST ANTHOLOGYDominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora, ed. Zelda Knight & Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (Aurelia Leo)
  • BEST SHORT FICTIONInfinite Tea in the Demara Café, Ida Keogh (in “London Centric: Tales of Future London, Newcon Press)
  • BEST COLLECTIONThe Watcher in the Woods, Charlotte Bond (Black Shuck Books)
  • BEST NOVELLARing Shout, P. Djèlí Clark (Tordotcom)
  • BEST HORROR NOVEL (THE AUGUST DERLETH AWARD)Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Jo Fletcher Books)
  • BEST FANTASY NOVEL (THE ROBERT HOLDSTOCK AWARD)The Once and Future Witches, Alix E. Harrow (Orbit)
  • KARL EDWARD WAGNER AWARD — Alasdair Stuart

Some thoughts about crowd scenes, by way of the sketchbook

A month after the residency at Concordia, I went back for their 75th anniversary. Here’s a sketch of a portion of the choir. I wish I’d had more time to draw them — it was delightful — the hairstyles, the hats, the attitudes, the varying degrees to which uniforms had been bought to be grown into.

I’ve been thinking lately about sketching groups (here’s one from the sketches I previously posted from the residency).

It’s good practice, of course — it increases speed and as well as observing motion and proportions you need to watch how these interact, and how people interact in groups. How they respond and evade, how they make different movements to reflect the same emotion or to distinguish themselves from the people nearest, or how they choose to ally themselves with another. Who is distracted, who is peering over shoulders.

I think the picture below was of a game of Werewolf at the end of IMC 2017. This is also when I started trying to draw groups more often, thanks to Irene Gallo’s advice.

(This is also why I like to sit close enough to see the orchestra at classical music performances — all the little dramas and differences among people who are allegedly working on the same task.)

And then there is the study of ways to unite people into a coherent group — overlapping them, demonstrating attention, using colour and shadow to create larger overarching shapes, ie. the blue shadow above, and the green cameo-backgrounds below (vs the independent shape of the roving photographer). These sketches were from Library Next at the State Library of Queensland.

Sometimes they are joined by light or props or patterns (of light, of poses, of uniform).

Sometimes they set themselves apart from each other deliberately — breaks in a pattern are fascinating. (These are from a Defence Innovation Bridge day at UQ).

Tiny black-line drawing with dashes of blue and yellow marker. 
Three groups sit at tables, one discussing a person in a helicopter writing a media release, others discussing a radio, and the third saying POLICY

All the little problems of perspective and distance this creates are charming, too — dancing is particularly enjoyable to sketch because while no-one holds still, they often repeat key movements so you get a chance to confirm your impressions.

And then there is all the variance and variegation of a group of people even engaged on the same very pointed activity. I’ve mentioned before, in relation to many of these same images, that sketching makes me like individual people more. However it also makes groups (as entities) more interesting.

I love this crowd around the Rosetta stone, with all their various easy-to-judge behaviours (I didn’t feel so benevolent when I sat down to draw them).

Being in the habit of seeing crowds this way does, I hope, feed into art. I do plan to do more deliberate exercises working on group scenes — here’s one where I was using kitchen objects as a guide to composition.

And I’d also like to think more deliberately about crowd and group scenes in writing — how to take all these same considerations and render them in prose. As with this example from Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern which features (among other things)

  • A generic specificity of the description, describing a group by the sub-groups (rather than individuals) within it.
  • The contrast/linking effect of only describing one element of each group’s appearance.
  • The pleasing way hats/aprons etc falls into the repetition of cuffs/cuffs/cufflinks.
“We'll take your cushion and put it on the new refrigerator, and you'll feel right at home.”
At the Daily Fluxion an hour later, Qwilleran reported the good news to Odd Bunsen. They met in the employees' lunchroom for their morning cup of coffee, sitting at the counter with pressmen in square paper hats, typesetters in canvas aprons, rewrite men in white shirts with the cuffs turned up, editors with their cuffs buttoned, and advertising men wearing cufflinks. 
Qwilleran told the photographer, “You should see the bathrooms at the Villa Verandah! Gold faucets!”

And here’s a great episode of Every Frame a Painting which touches on (among other things) the movement in Akira Kurosawa’s crowd scenes (and also the effect of emotion in a crowd scene):

Writing/drawing exercise:

  • Find a clip of a crowd scene (not CGI) — movies, documentaries, train station cameras, news footage (movies obviously are usually more choreographed). Search “good crowd scenes” or perhaps “[your large railway station of choice] at rush hour”, etc. (Or find a real-life crowd, if that’s a reasonable option where you are.)
  • Do a quick sketch of the people in the scene. This is fastest and least rigorous if you don’t actually stop the video (you could try playing it at a slower speed rather than stopping it). I recommend this step even if you aren’t an illustrator, because it’s a good way to make sure you look closely at what’s going on.
  • Write a paragraph novelising the scene. Try to get across the effect of that particular crowd scene. Can you keep a similar pace/mood to the original video? I recommend this step even if you aren’t trying to be a writer — some things (e.g. movement and noise) can be more obvious when writing.

Observation Journal: Tinkering with story engines

Around this point in the observation journal, I spent quite a few pages tinkering with how ideas worked — which ones appealed to me, and where they might come from, and if I could deliberately recreate the process. I wasn’t so much trying to write a story as watching myself work, looking for the little epiphanies that make a story emerge, and tricks I could use if I got stuck on something I was writing.

However, some of these exercises led directly to projects which aren’t finished (or aren’t published) yet, so I haven’t posted the pages. Others, like the blue page below, led to stories which have evolved into something unrecognisable. And some (like the pink page) didn’t work, for reasons which were also interesting.

This first page combined several previous exercises, and revealed a bit more about the aspects that were useful (for me) and the ones which didn’t work the way I do.

Here are all the stages/exercises, with links to some related posts (I’ll add more if I find them):

  • Idea: First, I picked three things at random from preceding observation pages (here: arcane symbols, working blocks, using a laundry rack as a laptop stand — pic). Then I used those three to come up with a base concept (using household objects for arcane [vibes?]).
  • Aesthetic: I then picked an aesthetic. The three objects themselves suggested a down-at-heel contemporary tone, which I wasn’t feeling. So I flipped that into something smokier and Victorian. (On the second page, I chose both a colour key and a place-aesthetic.)
  • Swapped stereotypes and cliches: Next, I chose some of the obvious stereotype pairings (mundane/magical and wizard/housewife), listed some associated words, and swapped them. So the housewife becomes mysterious, aloof, and robed in velvet and the house is a site of arcane ritual and (apparently) carpets, while the wizard is cheerful and stout with a clean apron and magic is associated with domestic work.
  • Contrasts and impetus: Then I started feeling for where the pressures behind the story might be — where the points of tension and conflict come from. In this case velvet-draped darkness and sunny good-humour seemed an amusing contrast at least — perhaps one hires the other and must deal with the unexpected consequences. A cheerful wizard takes on a morose relative as housekeeper, or a Gothic housewife hires an inappropriately upbeat necromancer to reanimate someone who died.
  • More flipping: I also tried looking at what they might want and what could stop them — picking the obvious goals and obstacles and inverting them. This was fun but the standard question of a character’s goals and motivations has never felt instinctive for me (and generally aggravates me) — I’ve tinkered more with that question since.
  • Structure: It wasn’t quite shaping into a story yet — there are some notes there reaching toward story-shapes and styles of humour that might match the idea. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and The Enchanted April and Lolly Willowes. On the second page I more deliberately chose (at random) a sequence of story moods and used it to suggest how a story might take shape, which helped a lot, and when I came back to expand the (unrecognisably altered) version of this idea, I used that approach to expand it.
  • Finally, the point of this exercise was not to write a story but to watch how I work. (See e.g. the questions at A tremor in the web.) So I made a few notes on where the idea sparked or why perhaps it didn’t. The main lessons were:
    • I continue to enjoy mixing/matching/flipping in order to come up with an idea. This remains consistent, and fun for roadtrips.
    • An idea isn’t enough without a story shape to flow into.
    • The aesthetic has to appeal to me (or be made to appeal).
    • An idea, story shape, and attractive aesthetic aren’t enough (without e.g. extreme outside pressure) if it isn’t a type of story/genre I care to write. This was in relation to the second page, which turned into more of an experimental romcom idea.

School sketches — Concordia

My week as artist in residence at Concordia Lutheran College was wonderful (lively, inventive, intense), but without much time for drawing. So, since I finished just before lunch on the Friday, I sat out in the quadrangle and did some very quick sketches.

The uniforms have changed since I was there (ours were brown, white and yellow). (Also I hardly ever sat in the quadrangle when I was there — I mostly spent lunch hours in the library).

I don’t draw groups as often as I’d like to, but it’s always worthwhile — the different attitudes and interaction, the necessary speed.

The flocking which happens in any group of people with overlapping interests, but concentrated, like birds wheeling on the sound of a bell.

Observation Journal: More mixed descriptions

I love this picture because while it is objectively not an accurate drawing of a crow, generally speaking, it absolutely catches the attitude of this specific crow

Here are a few more observation journal pages playing with mismatched metaphors and shaken-up descriptions.

I very much like these exercises — swapping, exchanging, flipping language (and images) and finding unexpected connections is an enjoyable game, but also a way to discover little worlds and the hints of stories, and to stay in the habit of reaching for very specific and carefully callibrated descriptions — training the ear as well as the hand. (Here are some related posts, with exercises: Variations on descriptions, More swapped descriptions, Similes and genre flips.)

This first page is a repeat of picking two things at random from the observation page and making them fit each other (with an occasional genre flip):

Trees lit like caffeination, champagne like metal dye in the veins. A person whose approach to computers is like the wary abandon of the amateur chef. A sense of clammy inevitability, like washing left forgotten in the machine.

In the next, I changed the approach slightly (it’s a combination of the original and the Caudwell approaches). First I made a list of terms I associated with cold weather and hot weather and noted patterns in them (the aloof, brittle, beautiful, festive terms for winter, the physically oppressive and vigorous associations of summer).

Then I swapped these and wrote some descriptions.

So hot weather could be described by way of salt-white light, the shiver you get from the heat, puffing out hot breath, the numbness of warmth. And cold weather could be all brilliance and gold light, green shadows, the humidity of damp clothes indoors, etc.

There are a few lines borrowed from the previous technique: winter like a crow at the window, summer like a pomegranate — and then the question of what would happen if you switched those. The answer is quite a lot, actually. Of course winter is like a pomegranate, it’s a whole thing — and summer is all about getting woken up by the crows on the fence outside.

On a subsequent page, I went back to those twin lists and directly swapped the terms (pale to vivid, biting to either aloof or caressing, greenery to fibre matting, balcony to underhouse).

The “summer” paragraph that resulted was quite similar to the previous one. Winter, however, gained movement and intent — winter with its clicking claws, its smell of old rugs, its cold nose pressed without warning against bare skin…

Here are some previous related posts, some of which have writing/illustration activities.

Sleeping on my sister’s sofa, woken by her dog

Note: If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, I have a Patreon account (patreon.com/tanaudel) and patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and I get through quite a bit of coffee).And/or check out prints and products available at Redbubble and Spoonflower.