Thursday, February 28, 2008


I have just come up with a new term:

midi-chlorian effect, the ~ where you take a perfectly excellent idea and stuff it.

May I never suffer from it.

That is all - a short one for a change.
(apologies to those who like Ep 1 - I salute you... Please excuse my cheekiness this is truly meant in jest.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Audio & previews

I have just got off the phone with Humphrey Bower, a gentleman, a scholar and the narrator of the audio edition of MBT. He had a long list of pronunciation clarifications to go through, which took us about an hour yet only got us about 2/3 the way through the text. Sharing the work in this way is a great joy; Humphrey knows more about Latin (and almost every other language I plunder) and brings his learning into the process, saying what might be the most correct sounds. We do not always go with these but it is very edifying and a joy to share with someone who also loves a bit of linguistic play.

It is actually sometimes a little baffling just how to say some words because they sound fine in my head but come out oddly on the tongue. I have been hacked at in the past for making words too complex, too "wordy" - but when you are playing with language what is the point if you can't invent a few apparently unpronouncables [not a real word].

So, spare a thought for Humphrey this week, clambering through the tangled texts of Lamplighter.

On another positive, Drew has put up a preview of his review of Book 2 - a very mild bit of spoilage (if you don't mind me saying so, Drew) just for those who want to be completely fresh when they read the Lamplighter (is it just me or does April/May seem like forever away..? Probably not very helpful of me to say that... We are getting there, not much longer now really).

Also, upon advice from my wife, I have grown a beard for the first time in my life. I feel very manly, very Ernest Hemingway.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My word for the day: Chastened.

After my bout of spleen yesterday, and the generous responses (especially that of Perry Middlemiss from Matilda - bless you, did not mean it to be a direct challenge...) I thought I might move rapidly along to a more constructive post.

This will be in the form of an answer to two related queries, one a direct question in an email from Lisa Perry, a book seller of Seattle, Washington, and the other more a statement of a wish by Drew.

Lisa: "Dare I ask if Rossamünd will make his way to Clementine?"
Drew: "... by all means, more Threnody!"

In answer to Lisa, I said: "...well there are so many places in the Half-Continent he could go and yet I must have what feel to me to be plausable and realistic reasons as to why he might go anywhere. If they do occur in the flow of the writing, thenI find myself having to go places I had not originally determined. ... plot is character in action, [therefore] I must let my characters go where they will go and not force them by my own purposed domination. SO in short, if I can get Rossamünd to Clementine I surely will go. If not, then, Lord willing, there might always be other books about other folks doing so instead."

This ties into Drew's notion of continuing Threnody (or any other character) through further book(s); that I find characters tend to have a gravity of their own (pretty much what I just said) and struggle to know how to include them in the story if Rossamünd's journey takes him out of their plausible range. Still, if I can some how fudge it I most surely will. It could be said that forcing something (only ever so slightly though) is fine as long as it is invisible and seems realistic. I may well be wrong, of course: I am testing this theory out even now in Book 3.

My friend Will (the fellow in the dedication of Book 1) and I have this joke about the "Considine Tea-party", where Rossamünd goes to the Considine and every favourite or interesting character from the books starts turning up "Oh look, its Fouracres with a special delivery only he could bring for no apparent reason!", "Oh hello Poundinch, would you like a towel?" - that kind of thing. It is to dream. (This is Half-Continent nerd humour: we laugh for hours...well, minutes anyway)

I reckon my ultimate H-c adventure, destroy-the-evil-overlord party would be Rossamünd (as he is in latter parts of the story, ie: a tad more clued in), Europe, Fouracres, Sebastipole, Aubergene, Doctor Crispus, Threnody, Dolours, Fransitart, Craumpalin and Freckle for comic relief and heavy lifting. Does any one else have a similar preferred line up?

On a final note, Jonathan was wondering: " this series going to stop at 3 books? I remember you saying that, I think, but I am hoping that due to the attention you have received, that things may have changed. Can you inform me please?"

Well, given that Book 1 was originally going to be the only book, that the trip to Winstermill was meant to only take 3 or so chapters and Rossamünd be done with the lighters at the end, I cannot rule out the MBT story taking more than three books to tell. My publisher here in Oz certainly has put it to me to consider Book 4. Reluctant at first, I do so a little more happily: a goodly way into Book 3 I can see it being possible for the story to need one more volume, but there is currently no way for me to know for sure. In short I shall say, it might not.

Yet even if MBT is done in three, there will (I most sincerely hope) be other citizens' of the Half-Continent stories to tell (does that even make sense?). I surely have other stories crowding around my mind - really depends if anyone will continue to publish me as much as any other factor. Here is hoping...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Feelin' pretty darn groovy!

Well, I must confess I was getting a bit bummed today because the only (up until today)thorough review of Lamplighter was here (spoiler warning) - and not of the kind or, more especially, encouraging sort. I consoled myself not only with the enthuisiasm of those here who have read it but with the rationale that someone usually given (by the evidence of the 'Faves') to reading girly romance would quite fairly find MBT Book 2 rather a bit too much - which the reviewer did.

Fair cop.

Then I discover that over at Matilda (as in "waltzing matilda", a not insiginificant Oz literary review site and usually more friendly) they are quoting above review as the only extant commentary on the as yet to be released. Ouch! Feeling a bit had at this point.

Of course, as much as I want to be a genius it could be that I have simply written a dog of a book (so my thoughts went - apologies to those have already said they like it) - which, quite frankly is my fear.

Well, joy of joys, Megan J. Bulloch over at SFReader has posted a far more positive take (possible mild spoilage) on the grand struggle that was my second book. Thank you, ma'am and apologies for the grumpiness - Book 3 is shaping up nicely and I am enjoying the process and agony of writing far more. Here Matilda, quote this one instead.

Maybe I should do as my wife says, ignore reviews (though not yours Drew) and just get on with penning the best books I know how. Thing is a constructive and thoughtful review - even if it cans the work - can be very edifying, a teaching tool.

By the by, either end of the spectrum here: I will let you, oh reader, decide.

On another positive note, author Chris Roberson, of many many works, was encouraged by the previous post on the H-c map, which in turn encouraged me, so all backs get scratched in the end, which is nice. From one map enthusiast to another, howdy Chris, cartograph on!

... I think I should just get back to writing Book 3...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Evolution of a map

Now not so long ago (last post in fact) a Nonny Mouse asked me: "... could you maybe talk a bit about the HC map in a future entry, how you went about creating it...?" Well, of course I would - a very helpful idea for a post, to boot.

A map of the Half-Continent and beyond has existed for some time in early, much-rubbed-out and re-worked versions. Below would be version 2.-something (ie: second attempt but with marks added removed added removed and so...) drawn around the years 1999-2000.

(The Half-Continent is the bottom centre area with "Castor" and "Pollux" written on it - this is the region that is the map published in MBT. As you can see I conceive of much more about it - my hope and prayer is I get to explore it with you all one day.)

It is an incomplete mess, having abandoned it as not being quite right - I was not fully decided on just what names where more important than others, on what words actually belonged on the map and just how parts of it should actually look. This all takes time andif I find I am not content/convinced of something putting it down until some new notion - some happenstance of life - brings a fresh approach.

I have always sought to get the shape of landforms and location of places just right, hence all the re-working. The map is in many ways just one long list of favourite words gathered together in one context and given a spacial/visual relationship to each other.

In 2003 I began to feel a clearer connection with one part of the H-c at least - the region known as Gottland or the GottSkylds. On the way aboard the bus to my job connecting residential phone-lines and home again I fashion this proto-type in notebook 23, shifting and rearranging with liquid-paper and smudgy pen.

Not long after completing this, the opportunity to begin MBT was sent my way (halelujah!) and in the process of grappling actually writing a full-blown story in the H-c I knew the time had come to make a map, if not of the greater world about, well of the Half-Continent itself at least. I felt I could not get into it with out have a clear idea where one place was to the next - where could Rossamünd go if I did not know where he started from actually was. I certainly had an idea but the moment had arrived to make it "official" as it were.

Now I have - and still do - hesitate to nail ideas complely down, knowing that so many of them have matured so sweetly if given time to develop. Yet there comes a moment when bullets must be bitten and some part of all these years of ideas be fixed, enough at least to allow further development. Consequently, feling very good about the arrangement of places and land, I scanned above notebook scetch map (plus a couple more less ones) into Photoshop and used it as a foundation to build the rest of the map from. Then I gathered all the place names I had collected scattered about all my notebooks and beyond and began to position then and reposition them, drawing out the coast digitally as I went, making large exploratory marks and refining them as the sense of the whole place clarified and solidified.

The Half-Continent map is a Photoshop file (not the correct program to use at all, but the one I am by far the most proficient with) made of more layers than is practicable. Yet being in said format allowed me to really cut and paste and reform coastlines and riverine systems until it all felt just right. I have to confess that my first go at it was more Tolkeinesque (I wonder how he'd feel about his name being used in such a way?) with those lumpy hill things and tiny little trees. It did not quite sit right and Dyan, my publisher, was completely correct when she harangued me over its "not-workingness".

I my heart I was really in love with the maps of real history, those gorgeous items made the 17th and 18th centuries. Given this and that I want to make the H-c as plausible as possible, I researched up a bit more on the form of these old maps and adopted a more realistic approach. One of my favourite discoveries was the wind-roses and their associated rhumb-lines.

Posistioned at junctions of latitude and longitude they are an aid to dead-reckoning, where a master or captain or navigator with arrive at such a juction and be fairly confident from an study of the map that proceeding from that point on a certain heading will take them, over time, to a particualr places. I like the idea of the Half-Continent map actually being a map a seafarer on the vinegar waves would be able to use to get about the littora.

Having done all this to my satisfaction (one month solid later) I added the textured back ground, which is made up of all sorts of layers of bad-scan smudges, dirty painted paper, even bits of that early v2.-something map. I would tell myself a story as to why some of the marks were there: the large red smear in the top left corner being spilt soup, the greenish stains in the bottom left being potive marks, some of the off blues in the middle being mold, the red mark in the bottom right maybe even a dried blood stain. All a whole lot of fun.

Now I just have to pull my finger out and get the online map happening. It is turning out to be more complicated then I first conceived, so please be patient - writing books keeps getting in my way ;P

Anyway, I hope this goes some way to answering the question.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ex Libris

This time I thought I would show you what the Australia/New Zealand MBT edition endpapers look like, just to give those in other publishing regions a chance to see what they otherwise might not.

First is the book plate for Foundling, actually printed black on brown, done in this scheme because this is the mottle of Boschenberg.

Secondly (and unsurprisingly) is the book plate for Lamplighter, done in the mottle of the Haacobin Empire. The owl is what the lamplighters affectionately refer to as Ol' Barny, the Sagacious Owl that is the sigil of the Haacobins.

The idea is to give to those who are into it a sense of the books actually belonging in the Half-Continent - as coming from there somehow, to add just that little bit more immersion to the experience, to actually make the owning, holding and reading of the book as sensorialy satisfying as possible.

It has so far been a great joy to figure out what plate to do for each book, a challenge which asks me to go deeper into the world than previously. Indeed, I thought I had a lot of information after 30-odd notebooks on their own, but actually writing and designing for the MBT series has me going much further into the Half-Continent than I expected. I can not say I mind either (well, not most days anyway).

Next challenge: Book 3 (Factotum) - I have my thoughts... in fact it was writing this post that gave me an idea...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A refurbishing

A slight revamp of ol' Monster Blog Tattoo - as you can well see. What might have occasioned this you are probably NOT asking. Well, partly it is because I am a restless soul, but also I thought I might have a little graphical celebration at some good news.

Out of nowhere I recently learnt that MBT Book 1: Foundling has been short-listed for the 2008 Festival Awards for Literature (winner to be announced at Adelaide Writers’ Week in March). Huzzah!

Other titles in the Childrens Literature Shortlist include (from a total of 212 entries):
  • Home by Narelle Oliver (Omnibus Books)
  • Don’t Call Me Ishmael by Michael Gerard Bauer (Omnibus Books)
  • Macbeth and Son by Jackie French (Angus & Robertson)
  • Danny Allen Was Here by Phil Cummings (Pan Macmillan)
  • The Worry Tree by Marianne Musgrove (Random House)

Good news for us all and too for those authors making it in the other categories. It also means that my ANZ publisher Omnibus Books (my original publishers) have three of their authors in the short-list, so huzzah!s all round I reckon.

Also there is a MySpace now for MBT. It has been set up by my US publishers, Putnam. Being a novice to MySpace (dare I admit it) I am not sure yet what we'll do with it all but I hope I'll see you there sometime soon.

So things small and some what larger are afoot.

Monday, February 04, 2008

French Cover for Book 1

I just thought today I might show you a rough I received from my French publisher, Milan, for the cover of the French (surprise surprise) edition of Foundling.

The title, roughly translated, is "Land of Monsters" and the subtitle, "The Child Lost" - sounds so much better in French, I reckon. (I now know that it in fact means "Child Found" - still sounds better in French)

I was warned that some publishers would want to show Rossamünd's face and here is a good example. After acquiescing to my US publishers about revealing Ross' dial, I am no longer fussed about such things - it was a cute idea of mine to leave the reader's conception of him to themselves but it has not survived "translation". Indeed, given the current results of the 2nd Poll Question, it would appear that this is in fact a good thing.

I am truly learning this writing thing each day.

Either way, I really like the cover, which will be illustrated by a certain French illustrator, Benjamin Lacombe. Said to be ' of "the most brilliant and popular artists for young readers'...", Mr Lancombe's work is at times dark and melancholy, whimsical and fairytale grim, just how I conceive the Half-Continent. So, this will be the first occasion another professional will have attempted to illustrate MBT (though let us not forget the excellent work done by Spanish readers), which I think is rather cool. If this is a rough then I am very very much looking forward to the finished cover. What fun!

Your thoughts?

...oh, and for breakfast today I had a pineapple, yoghurt and caramel smoothie.

(Also, I do not know if this is a bit lame but I have put a little white widget box some way down the righthand side with a small sellection of some electronic music of my own compisition. Just wanting to share.)

Friday, February 01, 2008

MBT on film and matters autobiographical

Zee Oddwyn was asking:

"Speaking of which, any chance there might be a Half-continent movie? In general, it seems that movies dealing with monsters or fae creatures have been very popular recently."

Indeed they have, which is great on one level yet I cannot help be a little concerned of such a trend in regards to my own work. If ever a film was to be made of MBT I would hope it is not a "Yarrgghh! Monsters!" kind of film that focuses more on effects and beasties and less on character and the solidity and believability of the setting.

A good example of this bad approach (at least, perhaps, on an advertising level) was the film of The Bridge to Terabithia - very much sold as a fantasy movie with wingy-do special effects. Yet, having not read the book (shame on me!) what do I discover - to my initial disappointment - that it is more about relationships and the human condition and the durability of the soul. Indeed, the fantastical world I was so looking forward to it being about was just a device to show the growth of friendship and individual spirit. All excellent stuff, now that I have got over my dismay, a brilliant story - I need to read the book.

Now admittedly, MBT is about monsters more directly and is actually a "secondary world" without reference to our own but that is the thing: my hope would be that a film-maker would recognise that at the heart of MBT and any other novels I might get to write (Lord willing) about the Half-Continent is in fact the Half-Continent itself, the most enduring 'character' throughout. That subtlety might be required not "Rargh! I'm a cool special effects monster!!!"

And, Master Oddwyn, in actual answer to your question, the Jim Henson Company currently has the option to make MBT into films: 2 movies from the 3 currently planned books - I think they feel there is not enough in Book 1 to warrant one entire film. Yet the big hold up currently is the Writer's Strike and I must say that I did not think I would somehow be connected with something so, well, international, so show-biz, that I would have a personal response to jokes made about it on the Letterman show... very bizarre.

So the chance of a film are still variable, for an option on a book means simply a company has the exclusive right and the occasion to make a film from it. Whether something is actually produced is impacted by many factors not the least of which is money and such things as an actual script - hence the hold up with the strike. Watch this space.

I do believe I still need to answer Lawrence's question about the auto-biographical nature of MBT. This hits me right in the "ooh-I-like-talking-about-myself" zone, so I shall try to be brief. In fact the simple answer is: yes, it is.

A little too simple, though.

I know it is autobiographical because I have used my own sensations had in various dilemmas, to get a handle on how Rossamünd might feel and react - not intentionally to in some strange way to write my life story, but because it is what I know. In some sense too Book 1 is a kind of version of my own journey out from Adelaide to Sydney to take hold of the life of a freelance illustrator. To get deeper still it might be said it is also an exploration of my own naïve and nascent attempts to write my first book - but folks can go too far with that kind of deconstruction, and it misses the point of the work along with it.

I am told it is autobiographical by those who know me well, who say that can sense me in Rossamünd; who say they fell like they are spending time with me when they read the book(s). This I cannot account for except that it must be a result of the above - but to say Rossamünd is me would be an over-simplification and a mistake. Another book I hope to write some day will, Lord-willing, involve two characters who will both no doubt express facets of myself, maybe a more grown-up me, for they are both adults where Rosey-me-lad is just a boy.

Hmmm, Freudians might have a field day here...

Finally, it is time to celebrate the first character profile writ large - at last! Check it out in the column to the right, one of many answers to these questions, and the first in what I hope to be many public showings. Please enjoy.