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Blog 2017-04-09T07:15:17+00:00

Carry On (Book review)

Fanception by Valeria Bogado Cravero

Every once in awhile comes a novel that stops my life. When you’re a Reader, all books are pretty exciting but there is a special subset of stories that drags you inside their world and releases you three days later into a paler reality. It happened to me after the seventh Harry Potter book (I walked, I talked, I went to work but I was dead on the inside). It happens every time I read a Patrick Ness book. And it happened recently when I read Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On.

 

Carry On is a tongue-in-cheek fantasy about Simon Snow, the ‘worse Chosen One that has ever been chosen.’ So says his evil, vampire roommate Baz who is constantly plotting his demise. Fortunately, Simon has on his side the competent Penelope Bunce, who does a lot of the magickal, heavy lifting when it comes to defeating his ultimate nemesis - the magick sucking villain, the Insidious Humdrum.

 

If these characters sound eerily familiar, then you’ve probably read (or at least heard of) the popular Harry Potter-Malfoy pairing in fanfiction. Carry On is a divisive novel. Some critics pan it as subpar Harry Potter fanfiction. Rowell stated that the idea for the Simon Snow/ Baz romance came from attending a Comic Con event about ‘Drarry’ fanfiction.

Personally I love Carry On, even more for its heavy Harry Potter references. There are some obvious parallels in characterisation - Simon Snow’s humility and goodness makes him one of the duller characters of the ensemble (much like Harry Potter compared to richer characters like Snape and Dumbledore). Penelope Bunce’s intelligence and loyalty sets her up as  the ‘Hermione’ of the group. But these similarities are necessary to set up the link between her book and the series, in order to subvert the fantasy tropes, something that Rowell does extremely well.

For instance, the magic system in Carry On relies on the power of words. ‘There’s nothing in our world more powerful than nursery rhymes- the poems that people learn as kids, then get stuck in their brains forever. A powerful mage can turn back an army with Humpty Dumpty.’

Now that is a magic system that makes sense, not faux-latin Expecto Patronum chants. Where is the power in a dead language that only few understand?

 

Surprisingly, I loved the romance between Simon and Baz. I don’t usually read romance genre. I was bored by Outlander (both book and TV series). But this is Rainbow Rowell , master craftswoman. She worked that sexy nemesis trope and I bought every word. I swooned, I sighed, I thought illogical thoughts (There’s nothing dreamier than a brooding, vampire wizard) (I seriously hate brooders).

If there is one fault with the story, it is that it doesn’t execute the hero’s quest  in the masterful way of other fantasy writers.The mystery of how to defeat the Insidious Humdrum is a little underwhelming. The Chosen One spends more time mooning about Baz than trying to save the world. The book struggles in places to balance the adventure and romance elements.

Regardless, Carry On gets five stars from me. After exhausting my loan at the public library, I promptly popped down to my local Dymocks to purchase my own copy. (Finding room for it on my bookshelf is a problem for another day).

I have now recovered sufficiently to endeavor to read a new novel. What shiny new books are you reading at the moment? Is it a hit, miss or bookmark for another day?


Limerence, PhD and the Qld Literary Awards Shortlist

Once upon a time, I completed a PhD in transmedia writing. Those were halcyon days – the earnest-to-the-point-of-wanking, intellectual discussions with academics (first year), swanning around in coffee shops thinking passionately about my research (second year), taking up writing fan fiction and trying to convince my husband that this was a valid career pathway (the end is nigh) and then finally sitting down in front of the computer and pumping out my thesis (final six months) (A good motivation technique I learnt is to get pregnant as the extra weight really makes sitting down appealing).

In the aftermath, I was gutted (quite literally as I had a caesarean). I couldn’t much process what my PhD meant, how I felt about it, and where to from here. I didn’t think much about my work until last week when I found out it had been shortlisted for the QUT Digital Literature Award.

http://www.qldliteraryawards.org.au/about/shortlists

My PhD is a practice-based research project, meaning it consists of a studio component as well as a thesis. The studio component (the part that has been shortlisted for a Queensland Literary Award) is a story application designed for the tablet called Limerence. It is way more experimental than anything I have ever done. Limerence is a fragmented story about love, friendship, and social connections in cyberspace. The story application is designed for the tablet and is a commentary on the way our culture digests media—the way that media has been embedded into our daily lives, our guilty, voyeuristic pleasure, and our addiction to being online.

The story application is available for free here: https://appsto.re/au/ctjKdb.i

It is compatible with iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, iPad Mini 2 and iPad Pro.

 

Both Limerence and the accompanying thesis investigated how writers should approach interactivity when designing digital literature. I basically came up with a new framework called the ‘transmedia triangle’ which showed that there are three types of interaction: gaming, filmic and reading.

Most interactive narrative works borrow heavily from gaming types of interactivity but for readers, we should be designing towards ‘readerly’ interactivity. I won’t focus on any details here but anyone interested can read my 58,000 word thesis which is now online:

https://www120.secure.griffith.edu.au/rch/items/25e4fa82-4805-4755-9400-544c530ea805/1/

 

The winners of the Queensland Literary Awards will be announced in early October. Needless to say, I am super pleased to be included among such talented digital writers as Mez Breeze, Jason Nelson, Pascalle Burton, David Wright, Karen Lowry and Julia Lane.

And as always, a big thank you to my superstars James Warr (my rock!) and Andi Spark (my diamond!)

 


The Stolen Button Update

Thank you everyone who pledged, shared and supported our Kickstarter campaign for the Stolen Button. Leila and I were blown away by all the encouragement, especially the messages of support which came from strangers around the world. We’d never thought our project would have such a wide reach.

I’ve been pretty quiet for the past couple of months – recovering from running the campaign but mostly from working on the layout. Which I’ve finally sent to the printers! The expected date of arrival for the books is mid-October. I will be busy in the coming weeks getting the rest of the rewards ready.


Meet the Artist... Leila Honari

For my latest picture book The Stolen Button, I worked with illustrator Leila Honari. For today’s guest post, I asked her to discuss aspects of her creative works. - RockOnKitty

Thanks for having me on the blog! I thought I’d go through the process I used when I created Mei Ling, the main character for The Stolen Button. As a character and environment design lecturer for animation and games students, there is no set formula to designing a character for a story. It depends on the artist’s approach and the nature of the story. Also, I should say, artists have different methods in creating characters for an animated project compared to a story book. Some begin the design process by sketching to find the initial designs. Others create some concept art to find the storybeats, then they go through designing/illustrating the characters.

I divide the character design process into three main stages:

Stage 1: Research, observation, references, gathering visual data

Stage 2: Concept, character concepts, design development, style

Stage 3: Final design, clean-up

The first step of the research stage is to read the story carefully. I take notes of the story beats that need to be illustrated, and identify the main action poses and expressions of the main character. Getting to know the character that is going to be designed before putting the pencil to paper is essential. You can see how I broke down The Stolen Button when I first saw the text. I translated it to Persian as it’s easier for me to visualise this way but this step is optional!

(On a side note, I love that the two major elements of this story are Bazaar and Caravan. These words are derived from the Persian language and were introduced to Latin/ English around the time of the Silk Road. When I translated the story to Persian, it was so much more personal reading my Mother language.)

I ask the writer plenty of questions: What is the character’s age? Gender? Nationality? Culture? Physical traits? What clothes/ costumes/ props will they wear to reflect their personality, status, the time and place they live in? Sketching some ideas based on this information can help to prepare material to get to the concept stage. Below, are my first attempts at Mei Ling. The first image is more of a gestural, cartoon-y style whereas the second image is a more realistic rendering.

Every character in a story has a journey and shows a transformation which we call ‘character arc’.  Met Ling’s character arc changes from rich to poor and powerful to powerless. I had to identify the emotional arc and express these dramatic changes in the illustration. Below is my first concept art trying to capture the essence of the story. Mei Ling transforms from wealth, safe inside of the circle with the cord to weak and powerless on the floor.

After identifying the character, it’s time to pick the sketches you want to develop conceptually. I draw the character from different angles and in key poses based on the story line. Actually drawing children is really difficult to catch their body language, proportions and facial expressions. If you are working as an illustrator, you need to practice drawing kids.

When I am happy with the character design, I create a colour palate. Studying the colour relationship between the character to his/her environment is important to create a unified image for each page as well as the whole book. In this case I used my skill in Persian painting, which is similar to Chinese painting. I found this technique close to the spirit of this story. At first I wanted to paint all the pages using black Chinese ink, then I realised that I like to show Mei Ling in a golden cheung-sum against a colourful background, so I used watercolour as the main medium.

Finally, I scanned the images, and made corrections and effects in Photoshop. Working in Photoshop allowed me to separate the elements of the page onto different layers. I can tweak the final design to create the best composition.  This final stage is all about the clean-up. It is about fixing the final colour version and reviewing the quality of lines, and if appropriate add lights and  shadows, textures and effects. For example, I created the visual effects of the belly button’s energy sucked out by Fang Fei, by using smoke effects in Photoshop. I also added the background texture that I created using ink on paper, and plays with the opacity and gradient to achieve the final look.

I hope this description show you more about what happens behind the scene of illustrating a picture book 🙂 Feel free to ask questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer.

Thanks for dropping by! Leila is currently teaching at Griffith University where she is also finishing her PhD exploring Persian narratives in animation. You can find out more about Leila's work here http://www.sufiartgroup.com/about-us
(RockOnKitty)


The Mummy-Artist (Or the Unmummy Blog part 2)

'Haven't you heard of a wonderful thing called boarding school?'

Baroness Schraeder (the most misunderstood mother of all)

I recently came across a blog called The Mothership Project. https://themothershipproject.wordpress.com/

It was run by a group of Irish artists who came together to share their experiences of being a mothers and artists. A couple of year ago, this sort of blog would have me snorting derisively. Everyone makes sacrifices, deal with it. You can be a great artist or a great mother. Only the extremely fortunate get to be both.

Of course now that I’m a mum, I see things differently; I look for loopholes so that I can have it all. Time is the overarching issue that all mummy-artists bemoan. Not having enough of it, especially when there are multiple children or very young babies involved. I was lucky. From the beginning, my mum-in-law watched my crotch goblin two days a week so I had time to be creative. Not that it helped. Post pregnancy hormonal fluctuations, sleepless nights and stress from not knowing what the hell I was doing took its toll. Every day I woke up thinking ‘Why-is-there-a-crying-baby-in-the-house-I-hope-someone-picks-it-up-soon-oh-dear-god-its-my-baby.’ For six months, I couldn’t write, paint, sculpt or do anything creative. For instance, look at what I made in my post-pregnancy fug. Yes, they are creepy trees and I used Chinese dried white fungus for the foliage because what's wrong with that? To date, I still haven’t finished it although I have just ordered some Cabochon clear glass buttons to make creepy eyes.

This story has a happy ending. Once the sleeps ironed out and I started going back to the gym, some semblance of creative order came back. I now have a routine where I work in my home studio two days a week while my generous mum-in-law does babysitting duties. My crotch goblin crashes most nights around 7pm so I also get a couple of hours each evening at my desk. In the past few months, I’ve managed to get a short story picked up by a publisher and finished up a picture book that I’ve been working on for the longest time (this one here https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/965099239/the-stolen-button ). On reflection, here are some of the behaviours I adopted that worked for me as a mummy-artist.

  1. Don’t read mummy blogs.
  2. Time box. I give myself a set amount of time for any given activity and I stick with it. This is particularly useful as I’m the sort of person who likes to figure things out on my own. The other day I was cursing Thor because I couldn’t change my profile picture on my Youtube channel. The old me could have spent hours trying to work it out. The new me just put the task away and then calmly asked my husband to fix it after work that night. (which he did in two seconds. It was cached – duh.)
  3. I work on my creative work like someone is really going to die if I don’t get it done. This helps grow a ‘just get on with it’ attitude.
  4. Strip away all the ancillary stuff – extra-curricular cleaning (I still shower, that’s not what I mean by extra-curricular), facebooking, don’t finish books that are bad just because I’ve already started reading it, don’t take on projects that I’m half-hearted about.

After reading the Mothership Project, I also found this interesting article in the Guardian by writer Zadie Smith.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jun/13/zadie-smith-one-child-career

She debunks the attitude held by author Lauren Sandler that great artists should have no children or (as a concession) only one child. Smith has two children and sarcastically notes, that with the exception of the legend Susan Sontag, ‘how do the rest of us mortals negotiate the balance between selfhood and motherhood?’ Smith argues that it is not one child or ten children that stifle a woman’s creativity; it is the structures society has put in place that curtails her freedom. This can be fixed with decent public day care services, partners and family who do their share and a supportive community of friends and family.

I can’t help but think that at the end of the day, it comes back to the same point. Financial insecurity will force most mummy-artists back into the workforce – probably into a job unrelated to their arts practice leaving them little time to improve their artistic skills. This is why a lot of my artist friends put off the big decision, hoping to set up financially, so that they have time to nurture two very different babies.

I don’t know how to end this blog post so I’m giving a shout out to all the great mums I know who are also great artists. This gig is much harder than I thought.

Andi Spark https://www.facebook.com/sparklarkle/?fref=mentions

Leila Honari http://www.sufiartgroup.com/about-us

Debbie Terranova https://terranovapublications.com/

Briony Wainman – no website but a fantastic mum and artist.

Feel free to tag mums who are great artists to this post.