2020 in review: Things I wrote

2020 was the year of people saying, “I didn’t know you wrote!”. But I do! And now my mother has books to prove it.

US cover (Tor.com) and Australian cover (Picador)

Flyaway, my Australian Gothic… novella or short novel, depending on how you count, was published this year. It was my very first book all of my own, and close to my heart because it was about the places I loved when I was small, and how I learned to see them through stories. And secrets and murder and bone-horses too, of course. It was published by Tor.com in the US and Picador in Australia (and I’ve written about it a fair bit on here), and illustrated by me, and there is an audiobook (read by Felicity Jurd, whom I interviewed here).

Brain Jar Press

A few months after Flyaway, my second book came out. Travelogues: Vignettes from Trains in Motion is a chapbook of… well, it looks like poetry. It began as tweets. It’s a collection of moments of description from 9 train journeys in the USA and the UK (it’s also not illustrated, but here are some I thought about doing for it). It was surprisingly lovely to revisit those this year. I was also delighted to be one of Brain Jar Press‘s first authors — keep an eye on them! They’re doing interesting things.

Tor.com

Tor.com reprinted my story “Undine Love“, a tale of broken promises and bagpipes first published in Andromeda Spaceways in 2011. It’s related to Flyaway, and I made new illustrations for it, in keeping with the illustrations for Flyaway.

Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons published my (actually short) story “The Present Only Toucheth Thee“, which is either about soul mates or serial killing, depending on how you look at it. They also published an audio version of it, which was the first audio I’d had done of one of my stories.

Egaeus Press

And on December 5, Egaeus Press brought out a very limited edition anthology of poison stories, Bitter Distillations, including my story “Not To Be Taken”.

In addition, I sold three stories which are to be published next year: “On Pepper Creek”, “The Wonderful Stag, or: The Courtship of Red Elsie”, and “Gisla and the Three Favours.” More on those in due course!

In a more academic vein, my paper “Contracts and Calcifer, or “In Which A Contract Is Concluded Before Witnesses”: the transactional structure of Howl’s Moving Castle” was printed in The Proceedings of the Diana Wynne Jones Conference, Bristol 2019. Another paper was accepted for publication in February 2021: “Heyer… in Space! The Influence of Georgette Heyer on Science Fiction”, Georgette Heyer, History, and Historical Fiction, ed. Samantha Rayner and Kim Wilkins, UCL Press.

I also wrote and contributed to a number of articles, blog posts, interviews, and podcasts. Some of them are listed on the Flyaway page. Longer pieces included “Illustrating Flyaway: Kathleen Jennings on Creating Art and Prose Together” on Tor.com, A Conversation with Kathleen Jennings (about illustrating the QLA winners) for SLQ, and “What I’m Reading” on Meanjin.

I’d also been wanting to post more here (prompted in part by Austin Kleon’s reasoning, which held true for me). I posted 274 times here, and 124 times on patreon.com/tanaudel. And quite a few of the posts on here were about the observation journal, which I think counts as one of this year’s writing achievements — I kept it from mid-January through to the week before Christmas, and am now taking a deliberate holiday for a couple of weeks (but I miss it).

(Not) illustrating Travelogues

While filing art recently, I found early printouts of some of the threads that would become Travelogues.

Pencil sketch of foxgloves, over cut-off text.

These were made before I knew what on earth these records of journeys should become, and I was trying to work out whether they could (or ought) to be illustrated.

Pencil sketch of cow, tractor, and boat, over cut-off text.

I sketched my way through, and eventually realised they should not. The words that make up Travelogues were already very visual; those images needed to stand alone.

Pencil sketch of violin, sack, tree in pot, over cut-off text.

But there are metaphors and sounds in there, too, and graspings after meaning that I realise now might have been flattened into a single dimension, if I’d illustrated them.

Pencil sketch of passenger looking out a train window, over cut-off text.

It’s a peculiar chemistry, working in words and images. Illustrating Flyaway, I realised that I often use illustrations to annotate, and that the academic work I was doing parallel to Flyaway had drawn that away (more on that here: Illustrating Flyaway).

Pencil sketch of abandoned vehicles, a window with leaves against it, ruined jetty, tanker, over cut-off text.

On the other hand, this loose, light, pencilled style suited Margo Lanagan’s Stray Bats very well — perhaps because it was a way of linking minds and teasing out thoughts (as, indeed, the text itself was — it’s a delightful chapbook of vignettes and I highly recommend it).

Pencil sketch of workman, over cut-off text.

Travelogues, however, already contained all the snapshots I was trying to capture, and the rhythm of the railroad, and its sounds, and the strange tunnels of the mind.

Pencil sketch of waterbird, over cut-off text.

Travelogues: Vignettes from Trains in Motion is available from Brain Jar Press, and through good bookstores and the usual online suspects.

Travelogues: a line or two

Some lovely news from Brain Jar Press about Travelogues!

Kathleen Jennings' Travelogues: on track to be the bestselling book of the month for Brain Jar three months running.

"I think autumn is an invention, an infection.

Culverts and buttresses, cuttings and weighbridges, iron and concrete both softened and fall-stained. A pine-green shed, a turned-bone tanker. Both bleed and lichen and bloom.

At home it is spring, the variegated-rose bark is peeling like ribbon candy and the trees are shedding violet and scarlet like painted shade. Fall is made-up, like yellow schoolbuses, sororities and American high schools."

You can buy or order Travelogues now through most good retailers (see links on the publisher’s website), and there’s an option to have it shipped from the nearest printer, which seems to make things faster than shipping everything from Australia.

“Travelogues: Vignettes From Trains in Motion is a poet’s plunge into an oil-slickered, shadow-hung, ivy-clung alternate reality. Jennings’ world is deeply familiar and ultimately alien: a world minutely observed, in fast forward, warped by fairy lenses. Her reflections are relentless, ecstatic, declamatory, are illuminated motion. This whole metaphorical journey-by-rails is a fantasia, a phantasm, at times wistful, at others muscular and machine-like, with the occasional wry aside about the terribleness of the coffee. “Hello, book!” I want to shout. “I know you! And yet, I have never met your like.” Let’s never get to Salisbury. Let this train ride never end.”
– C. S. E. Cooney, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Bone Swans: Stories

Travelogues: Vignettes From Trains in Motion tracks between fairytale forest and human industry, refiguring the railway through the tender wildness of the everyday. Delightfully unexpected in their metaphors, as wrought in sound as in image, these poems embody our attention and our daydreams—casting new light, new shadows. Jennings makes magic of the detail and colour of the quotidian world, where a cluster of rust-wrecked cars are kindred with autumn leaves, where a bare tree twins curves of concrete, where a train is a knife slicing through butter-and-honey light. Nearly there, nearly there. A world at work, remade through window and motion. And further.”
– Shastra Deo, Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize winning author of The Agonist

Travelogues: All the shape of the land

This morning (by my time), C. S. E. Cooney, with the very able conducting services of Carlos Hernandez (together Hernandooney) and Miriam Grill, hosted a Read-a-Thon of the whole of Travelogues, which just came out on Tuesday.

t was a wonderful group of new and old friends — poets, directors, artists, writers, readers —and 14 people were reading aloud. (The screenshot above is from the text Claire marked up for reading).

As a writer, getting to see people play with the words, emphasise and pronounce and laugh in real time, getting to watch readers read (which is what I mean when I say reading is a spectator sport), and have people excerpting their favourite lines in the chat, and discussing their train experiences and reminiscing about certain movements of a carriage, and sending photos of scenes like those described, and discussing the qualities of pigs, was just enchanting.

I’ve included the screenshot above because of this line:

Night, and all the shape of the land is in the shift and wallow of the carriage.

It captured so much of what it turns out I was trying to do with Travelogues: to hold onto scenes and moments in such a way that the reader could get into them and travel inside them, the way a passenger does in a carriage, feeling the landscape through the movement. It’s one of the qualities of what I’ve been calling industrial fabulism — a way not only of expressing the experience of made things, but of experiencing the world through them, and finding enchantment in that.

And then as a writer, to get to follow the reader’s experience — through accents and word choices and meanings — added a fascinating nested quality to this effect, and was an astonishing gift to receive from some very good friends.

We chatted about this after the readings, but I was also thinking of it because of seeing the Mavis Ngallametta exhibition at GOMA last week. Her work is vast and shimmering and affectionate. It’s deeply unlike Ravilious‘s (mentioned in Travelogues) and William Robinson‘s. And yet, like their paintings, Ngallametta’s enormous canvases convey the impression that if only you could get inside them and contort yourself just so (parachute up through the wall for Ngallametta and open your many-lensed eyes; slide through an old train window and fill your lungs for Ravilious; roll down a rainforested mountain for Robinson) you could be in the artist’s world.

(This connects to the discussion because Travelogues was a painterly exercise in many ways — it’s a (written) visual sketchbook, recording physical observations and sorting through pallettes and lines.)

Further thoughts no doubt to follow.

Travelogues is now available to purchase from Brainjar Press directly and the usual online suspects, as print and ebook. Brainjar Press is using local printer options where possible, but given the current state of postal services generally, it’s better to order earlier than later!

Observation Journal — things that tell you what they’re doing

This observation journal post was an exploration of a pattern I’d noticed in some things I liked and in recent conversations — looking at where I saw it, and what it did, and what I liked about it, and how I could use it. In this case, it was the question of things that tell you what they’re doing.

Double-spread from the observation journal. Two densely hand-written pages. On the left, a page with five things each that I had seen, heard and done, with a picture. On the right, a mind-map thinking through projects that tell you what they're doing.

Left-hand page: Writing in a second-hand shop where someone kept gradually increasing the volume on “MMM-bop“.

Right-hand page: I’d been thinking about things (movies, books) that tell you what they’re doing, and show you what they are — also talking to Helen Marshall about “books that teach you how to read them.” So on this page, I simply pursued some of those thoughts, and the patterns and links between them.

In particular, it was prompted by two then-recent trains of thought: I’d written the post Making Things Manifest — mock-ups and outlines that morning, and I’d just seen Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears (cinema experience illustrated here). It also tied to earlier thoughts on staginess (Observation Journal — chasing patterns with digressions on the appeal of staginess).

As is often the case with the observation journal, watching the process itself is often the useful thing. In this case, it confirmed to me that this approach was a useful way to think more about what might otherwise have been fleeting interests. Even if, as here, I didn’t reach some overwhelming conclusion, the process of shuffling through my thoughts was valuable, and it helped me clarify some actual interests, and find intriguing new questions to pursue in future — it also underlined a difference between thinking-as-a-reader and thinking-as-a-writer, something I’m still learning.

Observation journal page, densely hand-written pages with a mind-map thinking through projects that tell you what they're doing.

Some key points:

  • There’s an honesty and generosity to things that are very frank about what they are doing, even (especially!) if that’s experimental. I can be overly coy with drafts, and don’t particularly like highly signalled plots, so this is a useful course-correction.
  • It honours and unifies books-as-objects (and other physical creative activities-as-objects).
  • Strongly genre-specific books are often very up-front about what they are. This also means that if you’re doing something different, it can pay to be explicit. (In fact, if the common trend is strong enough, people still might not even notice the flags you were waving.) This was a common element in the Australian Gothic books I looked at for my MPhil, and when I was writing Flyaway: a reliably beautiful Gothic aesthetic often leans heavily and explicitly on a robust declaration of that beauty wherever possible. (I’m planning a post about that.) There are many reasons to be subtle, of course, but sometimes it’s simply a function of acting too clever for my own good, which can sometimes be mean.
  • That honesty about boundaries and limitations also gives a really useful structural framework to swing around in.
  • A clearly-stated structure, like a clearly stated aesthetic, has a strong gravitational pull. It attracts story to it.
  • And in fact a vivid aesthetic can get a story a long way, if not the whole way (see e.g. Guillermo del Toro).
  • For me, a strong aesthetic sense is one of the sparks that can bring an idea to life (see Observation Journal — a tremor in the web for the process of working that out). So I pushed a little further in that direction, thinking about structures in terms of their relationship to a clear aesthetic — specifically through Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, a movie which is very clear about the sort of movie you will be watching!
    • My first note on it was:
      curiosity/hope –> confirmation –> delivery –> reminder and clincher –> satisfaction = never distracted by expecting it to be some other movie
    • But I realised that this was very much me thinking as a viewer/reader rather than as a writer. I was looking at my reactions/interest rather than why I had those reactions.
    • So I broke it down again, looking at where the story signalled and anchored its (extravagantly gleeful and ridiculous) aesthetic/tone (there’s an overlap between those):
      HINT (before inciting incident)—play—ESTABLISH—play—EXTRA—business—(after denouement) FLOURISH

I hope to tie this to some current interests. One is how narrative time interacts with space and landscape and time (Intermultiversal interview). Travelogues, being literally vignettes from trains in motion, obviously connects to that. But Travelogues is also very up-front about being explicitly descriptions from trains in motion, with no secret subtexts.

The taking of reference photos

Travelogues!

Travelogues: Vignettes from Trains in Motion is officially published today (and pre-orders are arriving in Munich and Adelaide and New York and…)

It’s available from Brain Jar Press and (listed on the Brain Jar page) most of the usual online suspects.

“Travelogues: Vignettes From Trains in Motion is a poet’s plunge into an oil-slickered, shadow-hung, ivy-clung alternate reality. Jennings’ world is deeply familiar and ultimately alien: a world minutely observed, in fast forward, warped by fairy lenses. Her reflections are relentless, ecstatic, declamatory, are illuminated motion. This whole metaphorical journey-by-rails is a fantasia, a phantasm, at times wistful, at others muscular and machine-like, with the occasional wry aside about the terribleness of the coffee. “Hello, book!” I want to shout. “I know you! And yet, I have never met your like.” Let’s never get to Salisbury. Let this train ride never end.”
– C. S. E. Cooney, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Bone Swans: Stories

Each section is a journey, a description of what I saw, and a working-through of the best words with which to describe it.

Travelogues: Vignettes From Trains in Motion tracks between fairytale forest and human industry, refiguring the railway through the tender wildness of the everyday. Delightfully unexpected in their metaphors, as wrought in sound as in image, these poems embody our attention and our daydreams—casting new light, new shadows. Jennings makes magic of the detail and colour of the quotidian world, where a cluster of rust-wrecked cars are kindred with autumn leaves, where a bare tree twins curves of concrete, where a train is a knife slicing through butter-and-honey light. Nearly there, nearly there. A world at work, remade through window and motion. And further.”
– Shastra Deo, Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize winning author of The Agonist

And in addition, the very wonderful C. S. E. Cooney is hosting an online release event at the end of this week. I’m extremely excited about this — good people! trains! words! travel! poetry-or-things-like-it!.

It will be on Zoom, and in American (NY) time it will be at 7pm EST on Friday October 16 while in Australian (Brisbane) time it will be 9am AEST on Saturday October 17.

You can book through Eventbrite, here: Travelogues Readathon.

Travelogues Online Reading Event!

The very wonderful C. S. E. Cooney is hosting an online release event for my soon-to-launch Travelogues: vignettes from trains in motion. I’m extremely excited about this — good people! trains! words! travel! poetry-or-things-like-it!.

It will be on Zoom, and in American (NY) time it will be at 7pm EST on Friday October 16 while in Australian (Brisbane) time it will be 9am AEST on Saturday October 17.

You can book through Eventbrite, here: Travelogues Readathon.

The book comes out on 12 October 2020: Travelogues on the Brain Jar Press website.

(There’s something really rather wonderful about having people take things away and make new things with them — taking the views from windows and turning them into sentences, threading those together, having an editor arrange and tighten those and turn it into a book-shaped idea, and a truck drive around Brisbane right now en route to delivering advance copies, and friends to read it out loud into the world again…)

Travelogues, world domination, coffee

Cover design by Brain Jar Press, image by Vertyr

First: Travelogues has received a beautifully thoughtful new cover quote from Shastra Deo (in addition to that wonderfully joyous one from CSE Cooney):

“Travelogues: Vignettes From Trains in Motion tracks between fairytale forest and human industry, refiguring the railway through the tender wildness of the everyday. Delightfully unexpected in their metaphors, as wrought in sound as in image, these poems embody our attention and our daydreams—casting new light, new shadows. Jennings makes magic of the detail and colour of the quotidian world, where a cluster of rust-wrecked cars are kindred with autumn leaves, where a bare tree twins curves of concrete, where a train is a knife slicing through butter-and-honey light. Nearly there, nearly there. A world at work, remade through window and motion. And further.”
– Shastra Deo, Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize winning author of The Agonist

Shastra very much picked up on some of the ideas I was working through in the book.

Second: I’ve been friends with Peter M Ball for a while now — although it was a few years before I realised he lived in the same city as me (I assume many of my friends and acquaintances primarily inhabit the halls of convention hotels). Peter is one of the people whose minds I admire — the way he thinks through making things and putting them into world (which is something we’re both fascinated by, in various ways). I’ve followed his blog and his writing, we’ve overlapped at uni together and met up with Angela Slatter to write and scheme (technically I crashed their scheming club), he gave me a panel to chair at a GenreCon that confirmed my love of moderating, and we’ve introduced each other to (and occasionally disagreed over) a lot of books.

And I’ve watched, fascinated, as he’s worked through all the practical and theoretical considerations involved in starting Brain Jar Press — initially experimenting with his own projects, and then bringing out Angela’s Red New Day chapbook, and now my Travelogues, and next… well, stay tuned, there are interesting projects in the works and Brain Jar Press is very much worth keeping an eye on.

In the current issue of his newsletter, Notes from the Brain Jar, Peter has set out some of how my Travelogues became a Brain Jar project (and, to a degree, vice versa!), and what his thoughts on the book are — gratifying to the author of course, but really interesting for the technical side of things (I appreciate watching how people think through their work).

Here’s a little bit:

Many, many years ago—long before I started writing SF—I wrote an honours thesis on poetics and place and how poetry uses line length, punctuation, and white space to generate its effects. I hadn’t thought about those things much for twenty years, but reading Kathleen’s tweets I could see the patterns there, the little callbacks to my favourite poetic style and an ear for rhythm that only comes from reading a metric ton of poetry out loud. 

Friends, I gotta tell you, during the weird early days of the Pandemic it was all chaos and gloom and what comes next, it was extraordinarily comforting to sit down with the edits for this book and immerse myself in the language. 

More importantly, it was a pleasure to see the world differently, because Kathleen just plain looks at things in ways other people don’t. The whole book is a reminder that even in the most ordinary things, there is a little touch of magic. We’re marketing this one as poetry, because it is in so many ways, but really its little slices of hope and wonder and a chance to see the world in a slightly different way.

You can read more in the newsletter — scroll down to the heading Travelogues.

But this issue of the newsletter also contains a quite lengthy and in-depth section on Brain Jar itself (look for the heading Paperclips) and why he would start a micropress, and what the pleasures and challenges of it are. So if you are curious — professionally or otherwise — about those aspects, I highly recommend checking it out (and you can subscribe to the newsletter here).

New Book Day — Notes from the Brain Jar — 10 September 2020

Travelogues: vignettes from trains in motion is available for preorder in print and as an ebook.

And to occupy you while you wait — my debut Australian Gothic novel(la) Flyway is very much out in the world and available to buy, borrow, listen to, etc, and people have been saying lovely things about it.

Travelogues! Now open for pre-orders

I’m very pleased to announce that Brain Jar Press is publishing my next little book Travelogues: vignettes from trains in motion this October 2020 — and it is now available for preorders!

Travelogues is a chapbook which began as a series of threads of descriptions of scenes as they passed by train windows. Now they are collected together into a series of vignettes (many thanks are due to Peter M. Ball for his editing and impetus!).

How can people work on trains? Read on trains? There is so much happening outside!

With these words, World Fantasy and Hugo Award-nominated artist Kathleen Jennings opens the door to a graceful, nuanced world of travel vignettes. With an affinity for words that’s equal to her celebrated artwork, Jennings captures the passing landscape with an illustrator’s eye for detail and a poet’s command of rich language and startling metaphors.

Originally published over the span of three years while travelling across Massachusetts, New York State, and England, Travelogues collects Kathleen’s travel vignettes together for the first time. Each of these nine journeys is infused with wonder and rich, unfamiliar landscapes, and those who climb aboard will forever look at train travel with new eyes.

And the first quote is in — from the excellent CSE Cooney.

Travelogues: Vignettes From Trains in Motion is a poet’s plunge into an oil-slickered, shadow-hung, ivy-clung alternate reality. Jennings’ world is deeply familiar and ultimately alien: a world minutely observed, in fast forward, warped by fairy lenses. Her reflections are relentless, ecstatic, declamatory, are illuminated motion. This whole metaphorical journey-by-rails is a fantasia, a phantasm, at times wistful, at others muscular and machine-like, with the occasional wry aside about the terribleness of the coffee. “Hello, book!” I want to shout. “I know you! And yet, I have never met your like.” Let’s never get to Salisbury. Let this train ride never end.

C. S. E. Cooney, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Bone Swans: Stories

All pre-order details are on the Brain Jar Press website: Travelogues is now available for digital pre-orders at the usual online places. Print pre-orders are open through Brain Jar Press’s website (including reasonable US postage). Print pre-orders through other websites should be available within the week, subject to systems updating.

“The treasure islands were his desired landfall”

A little sketch for a little project of mine I hope will be coming out later this year (in the end, not illustrated).

2020-04-29-KJennings-ShoppingCart

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.