An Older Kind of MagicPatricia Wrightson: A re-read to begin the year. One of my favourite urban fantasies – a very slight book of a very slight slice of Sydney – the house on the roof of a government department building where the caretaker’s children live, the halls of the department at night, a few city streets with their shop windows and facades and street lights, the great Gardens, and how they are all changed in the first hour of comet light and by the wild whispering things that live beneath the streets and in the gardens. It reminds me a very little of Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle, but smaller and wilder – less madcap and more like… a sighting of a comet, the wind in the trees of the botanic gardens, the magic in the lights at crosswalks.

A Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Prompted by having watched the most recent Holmes movie, I read the first novel out loud to my father. He used to read them to us when my mother was away (she usually did the reading) and I’m pretty sure I have read or heard all of the stories, although a very long time ago (I used to stay up late reading The Hound of the Baskervilles under the covers and consequently scaring myself witless when dingoes started howling up in the scrub). This is the book in which Watson first meets Holmes, and I was struck by how much more CSI it is than Agatha Christie (my first memory of Holmes is of him devising a test for discerning traces of blood in water). It is also amusing to meet Holmes with Watson for the first time – as they discuss their character flaws before deciding to take the rooms at Baker Street and as Watson tries to deduce Holmes’ profession by what he knows and, more amusingly, what he doesn’t (literature, how the solar system works). And then the second half of the book is a very sensational western romance/tragedy/account of the Mormon settlement of Utah. I had also recently seen the movie, and so although I knew of the great (and, I am sure, entirely deliberate) inaccuracies of the movie, it was fun to see all the little things which were kept – the American influences, Watson’s bulldog, Holmes’ experimenting on dogs, aspects of their personalities and relationship. It’s a cheerfully liberal reinterpretation, and utterly light and unpretentious, and I liked it.

The Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens: Such a peculiar book, this. I am glad I read it (for Sam and the Bear of Bad News among many other reasons), but it is Dickens finding and hitting his stride, and although it may be the ‘first Victorian novel’ it is Dickens writing a Regency novel (it is set 14 years after Pride and Prejudice was published) – all mad-cap adventures and small-town politics and bucolic misadventures and aunts in high-waisted gowns running off with disreputable fortune-hunters. And then at the end, as the pace gentled and friends were gathered and journeys ended I started realising – this is Hobbiton, this is the Shire, this is Sam Gamgee as much as it is Sam Weller, this is Bilbo Baggins as much as it is Samuel Pickwick, this is the last of that England before the factories and the railways and the town planning laws and the electric wires.

Whose Body? – Dorothy Sayers: Published in 1923, this is the first Lord Peter Wimsey novel, and my second: I read Murder Must Advertise in 2008 (reviewed here) and bought both for my mother for Christmas. It is a decent little detective novel with a compelling character of whom I am anxious to read more, but notable for me first for the inclusion of shell-shock/PTSD post-WW1 (and subject of a very interesting series of articles on Tor.com) and for the way it is set in a time and a world that is almost recognisable – almost ours. There are police and fingerprinting and telephones and cars… and yet there are people who have never been in cars, and characters who have to struggle to work out how to use a telephone.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery: The concept behind the title is endearing, but it still makes me think of quirkily titled Alexander McCall Smith novels (and he does have wonderful titles) and on that basis this is one of the more misleadingly titled books I have read. It is the parallel stories of two inhabitants of an upmarket apartment building in Paris – an extremely intelligent, privileged suicidal child, and the disadvantaged concierge who conceals her own remarkable mind behind a veneer of the mediocrity people expect from her. It is full of philosophy and art-house films, but also occasionally surprising beauty and charming situations and (this is where it won me over) a brief summary of why The Hunt for Red October is a consummate film. I enjoyed it, although the style was too literary for me to look back on it with unalloyed affection, and I sobbed helplessly at the end – I suspect the ending was necessary for it to be literary fiction. It made me want to go and read Gillian’s Life Through Cellophane again, or watch Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, as an antidote.

Gently Down the Stream – Alan Hunter: A Lifeline Bookfest purchase – the cover featured in this post. This was written in the late 50s, but again there was that feeling of it being in a world that I almost know. Inspector Gently’s England is closer than Lord Peter Wimsey’s was – technology and investigative procedure have advanced, there is discussion of the dangers of tobacco – and yet the warnings are laughling dismissed and suspects are terrified of being hung for murder. I enjoyed the story – it was very particularl to and in love with its unlovely setting, and had a rather Midsummer Murders feel to it.

Mog’s Christmas – Judith Kerr: I grew up on this picture book and when I found it at the Lifeline Bookfest I bought it for my mother and took it home and we read it together with my dad and got teary-eyed again when the tree “stopped walking around and made itself all pretty”.

How the Queen Reigns – Dorothy Laird: There used to be a crazy-fabulous little vintage-with-a-focus-on-the-50s shop in Paddington: marching band costumes and pill-box hats and pearl collars and a small proprietor who sat low down behind a display case and kept all the change in a large tapestry handbag. That is where I bought this book. It is the 1961 updated edition and both interesting and obsessively detailed, at times laborious and frequently less than logically structured. It did, however, have two aspects of interest: a focus on the growth of the Commonwealth, and a portrait of the personality of the young Queen as a woman of strong mind and character, of her time and place and yet really admirable (and reminded me of my Australian grandmother).

Cameos of Crime M. O’Sullivan: I bought this (I think) in a second hand bookshop in Coolangatta and it was fascinating. It is a memoir of police and detective work in Queensland in the late 1800s and early 1900s – from working with trackers in mining camps to encouraging the use of plaster casts and the training of detectives in jiu jitsu, it is entertaining, shocking, enlightening. I loved it (if you can’t tell) not only for the stories but for the connections – the arrest that gave the name to a hill on the road I grew up on, the massacre that was remembered in stories of cursed families in my old home town, names and people and places – Captains Moonlight and Starlight, the Kelly Gang, Frank Gardiner. Scathing opinions on law and order in Chicago (as opposed to Brisbane). Police patrolling Woolloongabba on bicycles. Encounters with patriarchs of now-legendary families. Attitudes to race and gender which vary between the unexpectedly enlightened and the shocking (although, given the attitudes in some of those towns today, more than a century on, still arguably unexpectedly enlightened for the era). The authors own colourful views on police and juries and judges.  A colourful, eclectic, amusing book and worth reading if you can find it.

Imaginative Realism: How to paint what doesn’t exist – James Gurney: An art instruction book, but also one of great interest to non-artists – my parents kept it at home for a while (it was a Christmas present) to read through Gurney’s techniques and anecdotes. The process pictures and sketches are fascinating and the artwork – from Dinotopia to National Geographic – stunning.

Spectrum 16Cathy and Arnie Fenner: Always stunning, although this is one of the issues which the broader interpretation of ‘fantasy’ makes it a little more difficult to share with everyone.



Workspace

I have mentioned Kelly Link before now. As well as being a wonderful author (I have plans for a costume based on one of her stories), she and Gavin Grant are the editors of Small Beer Press. Kelly and Gavin were meant to come to Australia to tutor at this year’s Clarion South workshop but circumstances conspired against them.

In February (days after the first of the posts alluded to above) I received an email from Kelly. In spite of being able to sit fairly calmly (I think) in a pub after realising we had unintentionally sat down at the next table to Neil Gaiman, I can be a fangirl when the occasion demands. I had checked the email while standing up, and I nearly missed my chair when I sat down again (this is pretty excitable for me).

Kelly asked whether I would be interested in doing a book cover for Greer Gilman’s new book Cloud & Ashes. I was quickly convinced, especially once I realised it heavily references one of my favourite poems, Hopkins’ ‘Spring and Fall’. So I accepted.

The book, by the way, is dense and beautiful and very redolent of the poem, which is impressive given that it runs to about 400 times as many pages.

Kelly sent through details of what they had in mind, the dimensions and extracts from the book as well as some reference images. Some of these were Samuel Palmer’s art, and others were works of mine that had liked (there were some surprises there, but I often cannot figure out other people’s tastes). She also sent through the font they were thinking of for the cover.

I had a few ideas and techniques I wanted to try running through my mind, so I rummaged around to find some references, printed the pictures and stuck them up around my desk.

Cloud & Ashes: Reference 2

Cloud & Ashes: Reference 1

Next: Roughing out of thumbnails

First Sighting: Cloud & Ashes

First sighting of the cover of Greer Gilman’s Cloud & Ashes (on http://www.cbsd.com/inventory.aspx?id=1655532) the immediate relevance of which will be expanded on in due course, with extra material. Also, a bit of my desktop background, which may give a hint…

Oh, found another one on Library Thing: http://www.librarything.com/work/6989001.

It is being published by the excellent Small Beer Press.

I was going to rant about Courier Mail opinion pieces. And then I was going to rant about BCC Cinemas’ inability to communicate. And what exactly disability access does(n’t) mean. And about Broadband not being available 60km out of Brisbane. And about the lack of impact of general statements vs the universality of specifics. And crises of conscience vis a vis tabloid magazines. And then I was going to say something about Megan Gale being Wonder Woman and how this dovetailed into a number of conversations I’d been watching and having.

But for tonight, I will just point you in the direction of this post on Judge a Book by its Cover (a blog reviewing book covers) about last sentences and crazy ideas and the domino effect and the generation of a comic strip based on (part of) a James Patterson novel and say that, although I appreciate it is flawed and tends to superficiality, sometimes I love the internet.

(The post and comic in question remind me of when I realised that every single chapter of the Riftwar book in question (or possibly all R. E. Feist novels) started with a simple statement: “A rock fell”, “A hawk called,” etc. I went through and read the start of every chapter to see if there was a secret story, but there wasn’t.

I mentioned in my last post that Making Money Made Simple is an embarrassing book to be seen reading on public transport. I wish to qualify that statement. I see no point in being embarrassed by books I am reading. If I am reading them, I have no problem being known to be doing so, with very few exceptions.

The embarrassment happens when the books I am seen reading are those by whose covers one cannot tell them. By this I do not necessarily mean books with resoundingly bad covers, because we are living in an era of beautiful cover designs (though that is not a blanket statement – google bad romance covers at your own peril), but books whose covers or titles conjure up in the mind of the beholder quite a different book than the one I am actually reading. Though I might be happy to be seen reading a get-rich-quick book if I were deliberately reading one, I object to being presumed to be engrossed in one when in fact I am reading Noel Whittaker, and obviously fascinated by his explication of the inner workings of superannuation funds.

Here are some more books that are, or would be, embarrassing to read on public transport:

Dark Lord of Derkholm, Dianna Wynne Jones – this is solely on the basis of the cover, which (in the edition I have) is decidedly not tongue-in-cheek. It is in fact the cover for the book Dark Lord is not, and I find myself wanting to hold a sign explaining that the glowing-eyed villain and flying horses should be read ironically.

Georgette Heyer novels – two reasons for these. One is that they are such delightful puffery that I get a little embarrassed myself about the extent to which I enjoy the best ones. Anyone who recognises the author would probably understand, and this is a good, guilty-pleasure embarrassment which is, however, better accompanied by tea and chocolate than by council bus passengers. The other problem is the new covers which scream “Romance!” And while I hope if I were reading modern romance on the bus I would do so boldly, this is inaccurate. Heyers are very romantic, but almost more so in the old sense of adventure and daring than in the modern one. Misunderstanding! Pistols at dawn! Secret identities! Masked betrayers! Blackmail! Almacks! Highwaymen! Kittens!

Meg Cabot novels – Glitter! Pink! But they probably wouldn’t sell if they featured lists and horse-shampoo on the covers, which are the real appeal.

Anything by Jodi Picoult, Dan Brown or anything that sells well in airports except maybe Tom Clancy. This is an image thing.

The Feminist Gospel. I have to explain this to everyone, from the Christians (it’s an examination, not a statement) to the feminists (why is it pink?).

Anatomy for Artists. The pictures must be from the ’20s, it starts orange and gets worse from there. There’s a worse one out now, though – a reference guide for fantasy artists. I want to buy it just to bring out when I need to fall about laughing. But not on the bus.

The Satanic Verses. People try not to look at you.

Wicked – Gregory Maguire. Very well written, but I’m not sure what I think about it yet – possibly because it looks like fantasy but is actually ‘literary’ and so reviewing it as fantasy (my genre) is like trying to review Unbreakable as a superhero movie. That’s what it’s about but not what it is.

Countess Below Stairs (a.k.a. The Secret Countess) – Eva Ibbotson. Sigh…. The precedents manager and I are having an Ibbotson bookswap, and what can I say but that these books are pretty much perfect?

Ready or Not – Meg Cabot. Just not as good as “All American Girl”. Which was just *fun*.

Maus – Art Spiegelman. I haven’t read it yet, but I do have the Strand/Art Spiegelman book bag to use once I have. Second hand with dodgy (im)perfect binding.

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation – Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon. A fascinating and good idea, but more emotive than I have come to expect from illustrated books (from which you can probably tell the sorts of graphic novels I have read). Worth the (second hand) purchase price just for the time line.

My Crowd – Charles Addams. Confession: Before I went to the Museum of Comic Book and Cartoon Art I did not know about Charles Addams – only the Addams Family. But… hehehe. Werewolf in a planetarium. Snrrk. :)

Amphigorey, Amphigorey II and Amphigorey Again – Edward Gorey. If you don’t know Gorey, think of Lemony Snicket as the lovechild of Gorey and Nesbit. At his wierdest, I adore him. Then there are the parts that would be excruciatingly crude, rude or gory if they actually happened on stage or you could work out what the heck *was* happening. For the record, my favourite Gorey is The Doubtful Guest. And no, I don’t know what it is. Possibly a beakless penguin-aardvark in tennis shoes.

Up and Down New York – Tony Sarg. Not a lot has changed.