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

Read this! Quickly!

Good news everyone. You know how your life is incredibly busy and you don’t have time to do the things you know are good for you? Things like doing your tax return, going to the gym, reading a book. While I can’t help out with the first two problems, I’ve solved the third by compiling a list of quick reads. You won’t find shorter stories unless you’re into haikus or twitterverses. I’m talking of course about picture books, stories ostensibly for kids, but hidden in this form are sooooo many literary gems for adults. Incidentally I discovered all five books on this list at the Brisbane City Council library… although if you read it and love it, consider ordering a copy from your local book shop because they would make fabulous Christmas presents.

First on my list… I Want My Hat Back by John Klaasen. A bear loses his hat and wants it back. Sounds simple right? But as the bear goes around questioning the other animals, his dead eyes bore into you and the minimalistic dialogue becomes deliberately and hilarious. My one year old son didn’t agree with me so while I was rolling around on the floor cackling, he wandered off in search for quality literature (Grug) (PFfttttt!)

Another gorgeous find is They All Saw The Cat by Brendan Wenzel. This is probably the cleverest picture book I’ve read in a long time. By ‘read’ I mean the reading of images as well as words. With one simple, lyrical phrase ‘The cat walked through the world with its whiskers, ears and paws…’ Wenzel illustrates beautifully how perspectives shape what we see.

The third book on my list is actually one that my son and I enjoyed together. That’s not a hippopotamus by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis is definitely a picture book for little ones but I think it brings out the animator in me. The illustrations appear to move on the page. Davis’ cast of school kids have weight and rhythm as they dash around around a zoo looking for the missing hippopotamus. And the rhyme is playful and addictive.

‘I’ve got him, Miss! A lot amiss! A missing hippopotamus!’

I was chanting the rhyme in my head hours after putting down the book.

The White Cat and the Monk is a retelling of an old Irish poem. This is more of a graphic novel than a picture book in terms of its layout, but like the other books on this list, the words are poignant for all it is sparingly applied. It tells the story of a Monk and his cat as they go about their day; the former studies while the latter catch mice and explore the abby.

And the fifth book is not actually one book, but general recommendations of picture books for adults, If you like this type of work, Oliver Jeffers is an author/ illustrator to check out. His books are a little too syrupy for my liking but he has definitely got the charm factor. The Boss Baby by Maria Frazee (the book came out before the movie!) is a clever, tongue-in-cheek story that every new parent should read. Pretty much anything by Maurice Sendak and Shaun Tan needs to be 

consumed immediately. I’m excluding Go The Fuck To Sleep by Adam Mansbach from my list just because it is already on every single list of ‘picture books for adults. I’m also excluding picture books with higher word counts (such as the fairytale works of Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell). While I do enjoy picture books for older readers with more complex language, this list is all about quick reads, the art of being sparing with words but still convey powerful messages.


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)