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Picturing a World

Sketches for Flyaway

Kathleen Jennings, early story sketches for Flyaway

Blog post alert: Readers of this blog know how much I admire Kathleen Jennings' illustrations, writing, and Taunadel blog. Reading an essay at Tor.com, Illustrating Flyaway: Kathleen Jennings on Creating Art and Prose Together, has me wondering whether those of us with no art training could nevertheless doodle our way to visualizations that move our fiction. Worth a try! And do read Illustrating Flyaway: it has great pictures of finished work and silhouettes as well as sketches, adn you can get a high-rez version of this early-sketch page.

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Belle da Costa Greene

Who knew?!? Maybe you did, but I sure didn't know that J.P. Morgan's private librarian and eventual first director of the great Morgan Library in New York was a woman. Not only that—a woman of African-American descent. Belle da Costa Greene. I have just run across her in what might seem an unlikely source, Christopher de Hamel's endlessly entertaining and deeply informative Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts. The connection, of course, is a manuscript in the Morgan Library. But that's another story for another day.

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Hamnet

As promised, now that I have finished reading Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet, here are some reactions. First three quickies: Is it a convincing exercise in historical imagination? No. Is it convincing as fiction? Yes. Could it stand on its own as a story for a reader who knew nothing about William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway? Hmm.

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Flapper Queens

Wouldn't Wells and Wong love it!?! And I expect to. This illustration is from Rachel Cooke's review of The Flapper Queens by Trina Robbins. The idea of jazzy female cartoonists opens a new world for me to think about in connection with my character Mattie's future in the New York publishing world. So, yes, I ordered it from my local independent bookstore. And for more sample pages, click here.

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Murder is Bad Manners

I'm working on a longer response to Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet, but first I want to give a rousing cheer for Robin Stevens' Murder is Bad Manners (American title). An article in the Guardian led me to her Murder Most Unladylike series. I think it is going to help me endure this election season. You can't say better than that! Positively ripping.

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Flyaway

Kathleen Jennings is the first to say that her new short novel, Flyaway, is not for everyone. But if you are a fantasy-fiction aficionado, yes. If you keep an eye on the arts Down Under, yes. If you are a fan of illustrated books and especially Jennings' own silhouettes, yes. If you are interested in how to adapt traditional European folklore to modern settings in the rest of the world, yes. And if you want to observe a skillful unfolding of one plot (the gothic story) that at the same time explores a quite different center of emotion (a damaged yet potent friendship), yes.

 

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Live and learn

I began reading the highly praised historical novel Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell and frowned in the second chapter when "the tutor" sees a woman he mistakes for a servant carrying a hawk on her arm. Fat chance! I thought. Hawking was for the gentry, not servant girls; nobody would confuse the ranks that badly. And when O'Farrell further specifies that the hawk is a kestrel, I was even more annoyed. I've seen kestrels diving through hedges and they seem too small to train for hawking. To prove to myself she had made one of those bloopers historical fiction writers dread, I Googled and found—well, that I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

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Two Tribes

A review in the Guardian led me to buy a hardcover copy of The Two Tribes by Arthur C. Clarke Award-winner Chris Beckett. I'm glad I did! It is timely, thought-provoking, entertaining, and a model for anyone interested in how structural mirroring can work in fiction. Frame and main action, an architect and a hairdresser, comically uncomfortable dinner parties at either end of the social, scary extremists—tit-for-tat is there, but the book reads like a naturalistic story. On the one hand, it's a romance across class and political lines. On the other, it imagines the 21stC from the perspective of those who live in the future we are in the process of making. Bonus: from the perspective of an old editor of East Asian studies, it's a very witty marriage of Chinese history and prognostication! Recommended. For another review, click here.

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Last van Gogh

Some of you may have seen in the news that this postcard has led experts to identify the exact location of Vincent van Gogh's unfinished last work. The History Blog's account (with some very high-rez images) is the best I've seen so far. The story is interesting as art history, but it has also set me wondering how an historical postcard might be used in a story.

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