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To my great bafflement, it has taken this long for Golden Hill to be released in the US – a multi-award winning highly readable romp through colonial New York, you’d think it’d be obvious, but there you go.

Anyway, here is the main character, Mr. Smith – I roughed these out last year when I read the book, but have only just made them as pretty as I’d like.

Do give Golden Hill a shot if you like
  • fun
  • peril
  • interesting characters
  • meticulous research
  • very satisfying historical fix-it fic

Mr Smith is superficially similar to Moist von Lipwig, which made it a little difficult for me to get a grip on the book at first, because I couldn't see into his head as clearly as Moist's (whose internal world is what really sells the book, IMO), but boy oh boy that was totally worth it for the sake of saving the reveal for the end – the sort of reveal that makes the re-read at least as satisfying as the first.

I don't know about you, but I find most of my recreational reading these days ends up being very serious news and commentary about how much of a mess we're in. It's nice to get a break like this and lose yourself in another time and place, without being devoid of meaning.

Supplemental material – including a rather comprehensive catalogue of 18th-century slang – can be found on the book’s Tumblr.
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Someone on Tumblr asked me if I'd listened to the recent radio dramatisation of Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. I have – the first episode at least – and if you wish to do so you'd better hurry up because it expires tomorrow evening (UK time): Episode 1 / Episode 2

Le Guin's own story is intriguing, what little I know if it, and the trails for the drama sounded interesting; the promotional image was of two people manhauling across a frozen waste, so with that and it being a drama on Radio 4 I was as a moth to the flame.

I think I might have tried reading A Wizard of Earthsea (which has also had a BBC dramatisation) when I was a teenager – I definitely remember trying a few highly recommended fantasy novels at one time and not being able to get into any of them. The memory which stands out most was dropping out after five pages of Dragonriders of Pern when the internal screaming got louder than the words. It's your world's analogue to a year, just call it a year! Why are you capitalising so many random nouns? Most fantasy to me felt like drowning in worldbuilding, a lot to keep track of with nothing to hold onto, no emotional life ring or a foothold on something I knew.

I'm more than twice the age now, have done a lot of reading in the meantime, and have made an effort to try to understand and appreciate the unfamiliar and initially distasteful, so I thought I'd give it another try. Unfortunately the old familiar drowning feeling came right back. I tried to soldier through, appreciating the production and ideas at least, and I think I got all the way to the end, but couldn't make myself go for Episode 2. I'm really sorry.

Of course I had to keep picking at it; I had to figure out why this turned me off so much when it ostensibly has a lot in common with other things I like. An idea I had in college came back to me, that speculative fiction really ought not to be divided into Sci-Fi and Fantasy (the boundary between which is famously subjective) but rather Fantasy With One Foot In Reality (Bipedal Fantasy, for short) and Wholecloth Fantasy, which is an entirely distinct universe with at most a passing nod at our own. Whether it's set in a quasi-medieval Arcadia or a hyperfuturistic space station, a story tends to be either tethered to our own reality or completely free-floating.

All the fantasy I like is Bipedal:
Watership Down is a book about another society, with its own rules, mythology, and vocabulary, but it happens to be made up of ordinary rabbits in ordinary Hampshire (which, admittedly, is a fantasy world to a five-year-old in San Diego) and the familiar pokes through often enough it never feels very foreign.
Redwall is set in another world, but with familiar furniture – it could be the same world as Wind in the Willows, Beatrix Potter, or Disney's Robin Hood – and in the early books at least it is not magical.
Harry Potter is magical, but has one foot planted in our everyday reality; most of the books start at the Dursleys', and Harry comes to the magical world with a relatable Muggle frame of reference. We only start losing the lifeline to our reality when the wizarding world has become a second home, and even that alternate reality plays off what we find ordinary.
The Dark Is Rising is very similar, and while its magical world is less of a riff on the nonmagical one, it keeps one foot in each world much more consistently than Harry Potter does.
Discworld is set in another world, and is magical, but it is plainly our world reflected in a funhouse mirror. Its thematic and satirical aspects are the foot it has in reality, and the characters it uses to illustrate its high-concept side are fully relatable human beings (for a given value of human).
Ray Bradbury's writing also uses its satirical side to ground us in a familiar reality, often the quintessential 1950s suburban ideal or stereotypical mid-century image of The Future.
Fatherland, being Alternate History, depends upon on our knowledge of WWII, but being twenty years down another leg of the Trousers of Time, maintains a certain distance. The power of its ending comes in part from its swinging back around to connect with our reality.

The Left Hand of Darkness' idea of gender-shifting humanoids is fascinating and opens all sort of narrative and philosophic opportunities, but I felt like I got more juice out of the Dwarf Feminism subplot in Discworld, and especially Monstrous Regiment's illustration of 'People are people' – the characters in Left Hand of Darkness seemed to spend more time explaining the implications of gender fluidity and how their society and relationships were structured around it than they did being people. Wouldn't it have been more effective to make us know and love the characters and then find out their species' quirk?

It's personal taste, of course. I know there are lots of people who are over the moon about Le Guin and her ilk, and I can see why if I step far enough back from myself. I wish I had that capacity for falling headlong into Wholecloth Fantasy, but my imagination is, as Professor Trelawney would say, 'hopelessly mundane.' I don't wish to tell them they're wrong, only explain where I'm coming from in a way that makes some systemic sense. Does it?
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A few years ago, when Occupy was doing their thing and their grievances and agenda were in the news, I had this thought:

These are clever, resourceful, idealistic, fit young people in their prime, who evidently don't mind a bit of discomfort to prove a point. If they want to reject the system, why don't they pool their resources, launch a Kickstarter to cover the shortfall, buy some big property somewhere in the back of beyond, and start a self-sufficient cashless community independent of corporations and unfair government?

Then I realised the utopia I was imagining was essentially Redwall.

Before Harry Potter had crested the horizon, Redwall was my obsession. It went beyond an obsession, in fact; at a time when I was a fish miles from water, struggling in an unfriendly school, and otherwise alienated from everyday reality, the Redwall books were my refuge and salvation. I read them over and over, read almost nothing else aside from the books assigned in class, and more or less looked out at the world through Redwall's windows. They gave me somewhere to go that wasn't my own head, and I don't know where I'd be today if I hadn't had that.

Most of my childhood was spent in places that could not have been further, visually, from the verdant pastoral quasi-medieval world described in the books, so when I moved to the UK I decided I needed to reread them, now I've become more familiar with the architecture and biome described. I was also curious to find out how my perspective on them might have changed in the fifteen years or so since I cracked one open. I can't say I was necessarily expecting anything, but it was curious what I noticed ...

Having just finished 'Redwall' ... )

Sadly the re-reading experience was not as blissful a trip down memory lane as I was kind of hoping it would be ... Redwall itself is a tricky book because the author doesn't really find his groove until a third of the way through, and the worldbuilding that gives the other books in the series such a nice integrity is still a little shaky in this one – it's the only book with any suggestion of a human presence, the relative sizes of the animals are all over the place, and the history of Mossflower Country is a great big unknown. The adventure was grand and it was still pleasingly cinematic (and the set designer has improved a lot since I was 13), but I've been spoiled by an education in screenwriting and more grownup literature that has ideas and stuff in it; Redwall is sweet in its simplicity but it does kind of make me want more out of aspects of the story and characters which are probably not intended for that purpose. I am all in favour of just enjoying a good yarn sometimes so I will let it be, but it did slightly diminish my enjoyment of it on an adult level. But mainly, I think, it's that I don't really need it anymore – I no longer need to hide from the world, in fact I quite enjoy the world I'm living in now, not least because I can get to Mossflower Woods on the Tube.

I have a copy of Mossflower waiting for me, which I'm looking forward to because it's got Martin the Warrior in it and he's a good 'un, but I don't know when I'll get to it because I've got a giant stack of homework that I'm about to get started on ... It'll be good to visit for brain candy on a dark winter night, though. Boy am I ever excited for it to be winter again.
tealin: (catharsis)
     An officially enforced long weekend
   – prodigious housework
   – mealtimes
   + needing to get off my feet  
     Sketchbook time!

My new sketchbook has sort of 'aged' pages, which makes my drawings look so much more legitimate! It also has an unusual relationship with graphite, so I've been doing a lot more ink drawings. I'm used to doing observational sketches in ink, but I've only rarely done characters in anything but pencil, so this was a bit of a stretch ... luckily what I've been doing at work has depended a lot on quick, definite ink strokes, so it didn't come out as badly as I'd thought it would.

And now, a presentation of Dimly-Remembered Description and No Costume Reference Theatre!
1.     2.     3.     4.

1. Miss Pross! (Definitely miss.)
2. Jerry Cruncher (and son) ... I remember in the book his hair is described as 'spiky,' but he lives in the 18th century so he must obviously have hair long enough to tie back, which means my imagination has given him a mullet. Oh, and the bug was printed on the page; please disregard (unless you like it).
3. Lucie Manette (and an abortive attempt at Charles) - in the radio play she gets an actual personality!
4. Madame Defarge ... she ended up much more of a self-portrait than I was intending; eventually I just gave up and went with it. Halloween costume!
tealin: (catharsis)
When I was in high school, my English classroom was quite near the cafeteria/common area. During the period in which I was in that class, the dance troupe used that space for their rehearsals, so if it was a hot day and we had the door open we would hear their music. In the spring of that year, when the weather had started getting warm again, we were doing the Tale of Two Cities unit, and they were rehearsing a routine to the smash hit of the season, a certain waily love anthem from a popular film that had just come out which involved ice, a ship, and disaster (though mostly, if I recall, interminable love scenes). Thus it came to be that I will forever associate "My Heart Will Go On" not with Dreamy Leo but with Sydney Carton ... and why I do not have as immediate a gag reflex when I hear that song as most people seem to do, because I really rather enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities.

It was with delight that I discovered Radio 4 is running a new radio dramatisation of that book this week – and further delight to find that it was rather good – and yet more delight to find that I didn't have to record it myself as it was available for download completely honestly off their site! And so I share it with you, Radioland; near, far, wherever you are.

~Love, Loss, and Redemption in the Time of the French Revolution ~
Starring Carl Prekopp, a Surprise Guest Star in ep. 2, and some other people

I wish I had some any time for drawing, so I could update my high school doodles of the characters ...
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You never know when you're going to come across something that will expand your artistic toolkit. I never thought, when I picked up a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes in my senior year of high school, that it would teach me anything about drawing from life, but that was before I read this passage:

Mr Cooger, somewhere behind the eye-slits, went blink-click with his insect-Kodak pupils. The lenses exploded like suns, then burnt chilly and serene again.

He swivelled his glance to Jim. Blink-click. He had Jim flexed, focused, shot, developed, dried, filed away in dark. Blink-click.

... When their faces turned, Mr Cooger inside the nephew went silently blink-click, blink-click ...

Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Chap. 19

The idea of taking a mental snapshot stuck with me, and I tried doing it while doing observational sketches. When you're out in the real world, no one is going to pause for you to draw them, so you have to be pretty good at jotting down a quick impression. I found that it was much easier to get this impression down accurately if I pretended I was a camera (or Mr Cooger) and, when they reached a pose I wanted to capture, blinked – then held that image in my mind, with my eyes closed, transferring it from a passing impression to an image held in my short term memory, and tried to draw it immediately off this mental slide, without looking back up.

It's really hard at first, but I guarantee you the permanence of your mental snapshots will improve with practise. Back when this was the only sort of life drawing I could do, I got to the point where I could hold onto the image long enough to get a pretty decent rough sketch out of it, then would add details using logic and impression as the memory decayed. I'm not nearly so good at it now as I've been spoiled by years of formal life drawing, but I know that if I got in practise again it would come back.

The key is to know what to focus on – the curve of the spine, the relative positions of the limbs, the tilt of the head, rather than details of clothing, facial expression, hairstyle, and so on. What makes the pose that pose? What makes the person that person? Often you're capturing a flavour more than an actual likeness, so what are the most basic things that give that image that particular flavour? These sketches should take no more than one minute to do – thirty seconds is better; less if you can. They are not supposed to be pretty! As long as they capture a gesture, a moment, a personality, or a feeling, they're doing their job.

Aside from being a useful skill in general, this is great for drawing animals, which really don't hold still unless they're sleeping, and also for passing undetected in crowds – if you're constantly looking up and back from your sketchbook, checking your drawing, you might attract attention. As most beginning artists I know are mortified by the idea of drawing in public, this is a good thing to avoid and still get your sketchbook time in!
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According to Tealin

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
This book will probably teach you more than any other single book how to think about drawing on a fundamental level. Basically, it teaches you how to see. It trains your brain. And as I hope I've demonstrated in at least a few posts, it's all in your brain! The author takes the stance that anyone who can write letters can draw, which includes nearly everyone. There are exercises. They are dull, as exercises are wont to be. DO THEM. You can thank me later.

Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Peck
Pretty much everything you need to know about what's going on under the skin, so you can understand what all those bumps mean. Mostly bones and muscle – the digestive system doesn't come into play much when you're life drawing – but super clear, useful diagrams and the like.

Force: Life Drawing for Animators by Mike Mattesi
Once you've learned from Ms Edwards how to put on paper what you see, Mr Mattesi will teach you how to think about what you are drawing and take it to the max. By which I mean make it more dynamic, really get to the core of what's going on in the figure, how to express the rhythms and motion in your lines, capture not just what a pose looks like but how it feels, etc. This book changed not only how I approached life drawing but pretty much all drawing I do, reprogramming the way I draw right down to how I put a line on the page. Cannot recommend highly enough. In fact, I should probably give it another read-through myself ...
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Less than a week in and I'm already behind!

I promised myself when I started this that I wouldn't make this a general 'how to draw' series ... it is, somewhat, but there are lots of existing 'how to draw' resources out there. It would probably be good to share some of them, eh?

When I was in high school there weren't many animation books out there – I seem to have been at the leading edge of a generation that grew up on Disney's renaissance in the 90s and wanted to become animators, but most of the really helpful books were published after I left school.

The books I relied on most heavily before going to college were: My Animation Reading List )


Feb. 7th, 2011 04:06 pm
tealin: (think)
Redwall Author Brian Jacques Dies

Dear Mr Jacques,

Thank you for helping me survive middle school. I'm where I am today in part because of you.

I'm sorry I never mailed the fan letter I wrote.



tealin: (4addict)
A handful of people over the course of my adult life have tried to get me into G.K. Chesterton. Those people are going to laugh at this post, or else tear their hair out. They've sent me essays and read me snippets but I've never really gotten it; he seemed like a slightly more lighthearted C.S. Lewis. I appreciated the skill and intelligence but it just didn't strike a chord. What I didn't know was that he's more or less a mirror image of C.S. Lewis, to me: I enjoy Lewis' essays but find his fiction varies from a tad to enormously condescending, overly pious, fatally lacking in subtlety, and when he attempts humour it usually ends up falling flat. What I'd read of Chesterton (mostly nonfiction, or passages from fiction taken out of context) left me with a similar impression, but there's been a reading of The Man Who Was Thursday on BBC 7 and I've been hooked on it. It's one of a very few radio productions that have made me want to go and read the book. Nattering on ... )

I was content simply to listen to a half hour a day while I was working, but darn it if he didn't throw in a lanky mad character with a lopsided grin and call him The Secretary. How could I not draw that? That's practically wrapped up in a bow for me. Then it kind of snowballed. )

Another Good Thing on the radio: Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation, in which he fulfills the fantasy of John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman and almost literally stands atop a plinth and shouts 'GROW UP!' through a megaphone to the crowd below. The contents of this show are perhaps ironic in light of the themes of The Man Who Was Thursday, but paradoxes are what make life interesting. Embrace the possibilities of paradox!
tealin: (introspect)



Oct. 19th, 2008 06:15 pm
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I had an appointment at the bank on Wednesday* but overestimated the time it would take to get to there by bus. What to do in the intervening half hour? Well, wouldn't you know, there's a book store just by the bus stop. Huh. Might as well stop in for a visit, you never know what they might have on offer. Bargain copy of something-or-other ... wait! Nation! And as it was more than a month since its release (here, anyway), they actually had it!

I bought it.

I'd been planning to read it on the anticipated train trip at Christmas but it's amazing how space-time curls itself around a new book. I finished it Thursday evening.

And ... you know ... it's good. Or, at least, I liked it, even though it had a number of things that ought to have annoyed me. There were a handful of Stock Pratchett Characters, a secret in a cave like unto Thud!, and at times it sounded as if someone asked him 'What do you really think about religion? I mean really?' But I liked it enough that these things didn't matter. Perhaps it had been a long time since I'd read through a new work of fiction and then done so in so little time (the last time this was the case, Going Postal happened), or perhaps I was just in an emotionally receptive mood, but it almost made me tear up a couple times and I never cry at books. Didn't really make me want to draw, though. Maybe later.

Yes, Canadian Thanksgiving. Seasons. Weather. Coats and scarves. Good stuff. Going back tomorrow. Wish me luck.**

*Nothing to do with the 'financial meltdown,' just a bank appointment because apparently investing in my future is something that can only be done in person and not, e.g., from 1700 miles away.
**A request, not a demand.
tealin: (Default)
Just finished Making Money ... that lasted, what, all of two days?

internal dialogue )
tealin: (nerd)
Picking up from where I left off, with even more spoilers than before!

May Contain Nuts )

And I have half again as many notes to transcribe for the rest of the book ... Goodness me.
tealin: (nerd)
I'm halfway through my last pre-Making Money re-read of Going Postal so now seems as good a time as any to transcribe my list, so far. It's just a jumble but it's in roughly chronological order. I strongly recommend anyone who has not read the book to turn away now as I give away all the cool stuff without letting you enjoy the story at all.

Obsessiveness Ahead )
tealin: (Default)
From [livejournal.com profile] sydpad and [livejournal.com profile] tannhaeuser ... The Unread Book Meme )
tealin: (Default)

Mmm, gotta love a tasty pre-order. Whenever I think about it, it makes me smile.

Everyone involved in that ROCKS. Go see their website!

*I am pretending the US does not get the book on Sept 18th because if I dwell on that I will go MAD at the injustice! Does being a member of the Commonwealth and having the Queen on our coins mean NOTHING to the publishing industry (besides getting the vastly superior covers)?! Don't you DARE tell me anything about the book until it comes out up here!
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I recently read Sunshine by Robin McKinley, partly for a commission and partly because my former roommate has been recommending it to me for about a year now.

I've never read any of Robin McKinley's books, probably because I had my nose stuck in Redwall and Harry Potter for all the years when girls tend to pick them up, but I'd heard she was good. And Sunshine was ... well, it was good. It had a well-realized world and a distinct take on magic and ... and characters ... and stuff ... but I had a hard time really getting into it, and it seemed like it was taking forever to get anywhere plot-wise. I've been turning this over in my head for the last thee or four days and I think I've figured out one thing at least: there's just so much internal monologuing. It seems like she puts into the narration every bit of world and character development she scraped together in preparing the novel and then added stuff she made up along the way. It almost feels like the book is made up of a series of short stories, in which she has to cram a lot of exposition into not much plot, that have sort of melted into each other to form one longer story that is no less dense. This gives it a sense of authenticity, I suppose, but it throws any pacing right out the window.

To illustrate what I mean by this I've gone and done something dreadful: tried to write. More specifically, I've tried applying Robin McKinley's style to one of my favourite pieces of snappy literature. Here's the original:

At last, however, on a wild, tempestuous evening, when
the wind screamed and rattled against the windows, he
returned from his last expedition, and having removed
his disguise he sat before the fire and laughed heartily
in his silent inward fashion.
"You would not call me a marrying man, Watson?"
"No, indeed!"
"You'll be interested to hear that I'm engaged."
"My dear fellow! I congrat --"
"To Milverton's housemaid."
"Good heavens, Holmes!"

What I especially like about that exchange is that the dialogue implies so much about who the characters are, what they're thinking, what the situation is, and how it changes. This is conveyed not just in what they say but how they say it, and when. It's a marvellously efficient piece of writing. So I wanted to see if I could render the scene in McKinley style... stuck behind the cut because it is looooong. )

Perhaps I was a bit cruel. She doesn't deserve my derision and I'm certainly not qualified to cast it, being an admitted devotee of cinematic books. She wrote well enough to make me crave cinnamon rolls for the last two weeks. On top of that, writing that whole thing and then coming straight here has meant I've written this whole entry in her style and rendered me even more hypocritical than I usually am.

But it was fun.

12:50 am
I just realised the far more efficient way to say all of that is: I am a firm believer is showing, not telling. Ms McKinley seems to be all about the telling with very little showing; even outright action is filtered through the character's recollection into being told about action rather than seeing it for ourselves.

Show, don't tell. Three words in place of, what, two thousand? Yeesh.
tealin: (Default)
Chapters 22-30 )
Chapter 31 - THE END )

To be honest, from the fifth book on, I was expecting the series to sort of fizzle out. But I am immensely satisfied, and it's OK that it's over.

I've made notes for a few drawings (and more than a few gags) but you probably won't see any until I get back home where I have a better scanner and a computer with a tablet.
tealin: (Default)
Chapters 11-16 )
Chapters 17-21 )


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