Sunday, 12 January 2020

Book Review : Speak No Evil

Please note: this book was provided for me to read and review by Library Thing's Early Reviewer programme. You can rest assured however, that this is (as always) an honest review!

We first meet Melody as a 16-year-old, being dragged to an appointment by her exasperated foster carer. Clearly she has been through some terrible trauma, as she does not speak and is seeing a psychiatrist to try to bring her out of her shell. The only way she can communicate is through music. Melody's story gradually unfolds between the present and various times in her past, beginning as a happy 5-year-old spending time with her loving parents. Where are her parents now, and what are the terrible events that led to her silence?

Melody's story is a harrowing one. There are themes that some would find distressing, including myself. Often content notices are also spoilers, so I've added them in white text (highlight to read):
[snakes, animal cruelty, sexual assault, rape, physical violence, bullying]

To be honest, it's not the kind of book I would normally read. I prefer fiction with lighter themes. The author has added an end note explaining why she chose to write about such themes, and I understand that it's important that these voices are heard. Putting my squeamishness aside, Gardner has woven a compelling tale that kept me reading. I sympathised with Melody and wanted to know her story, and of course, if she finally finds a place she can call home. The way that Melody's emotions and thoughts are expressed through song lyrics was evocative, and not something I've seen before. Both Melody and the supporting characters are well-rounded and diverse. The only reservation I have is that about two-thirds of the way into the book, several new characters are introduced, in both the present and the past, and I had trouble keeping track of who was who and when. I gradually overcame this, though, as the past and present were knitted together harmoniously.

Would I read more by this author?
(for the subject matter) Maybe! (for the writing style) Yes!

Thursday, 9 January 2020

My 2020 Planner

In 2019 I made a big change to how I use my planner. I shifted it online and started using Trello after I saw how it works at my old job. While Trello is excellent for managing projects, daily planning and to-do lists, I found it wasn't very good for future events, appointments, etc, so I decided to keep going with a paper diary for these things. I downsized from an A5 to A6 size diary because I don't need the extra space for to-dos and tracking anymore. I'm only using it for yearly holidays/festivals, birthdays, appointments, moon phases and similar things.

I purchased my planner from Typo this year, and the set-up isn't perfect, but it'll do. I wasn't as fussy about the set-up as in previous years as the planner will have more limited use. To be honest, I just bought the first one I saw with a cover that I even vaguely liked! It has the usual week-to-a-spread that I prefer. I don't really like the grey bands across the pages, and there were some other features I didn't like as well, but I ripped out some pages and glued other ones together until it suited me a bit better.

I decided not to decorate it as heavily with stickers and washi tapes, just adding a few accents. I stole re-purposed some of my favourite stickers from last year's diary (ones that I could lift up without ruining!), and used them to decorate it. I'll probably add more as the year goes on and if I feel like it.

I added a few inspirational quotes and thoughts I've had into the front, as I usually like to do:

Also the Indigenous seasonal calendar (though I accidentally pasted it in sideways, oops):

The mail order tracker I created a few years ago fits in just fine, thankfully. I only needed to chop off the bottom to make it fit the A6 size.

I did order a vinyl sticker to decorate the front but it hasn't arrived in the mail yet. I managed to peel the sticker off last year's diary and stick it to the back though. I like this sticker a lot; it's from Fox and Cactus.

Here's a page from last year's planner as a reminder. I still track most of these things, but on my Trello now.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Happy Holidays!

May you have a happy festive season,
and may 2020 bring you everything you wish for!

Monday, 30 December 2019

Highlights (and Lowlights?) of 2019

2019 was a pretty low-key year for me. It seems fashionable these days to say that the year just past was a rubbish fire, and I was tempted to say that too. I had some setbacks, especially health-wise. But then I looked back through my blog and Instagram and realised that I actually did quite a lot this year. It just wasn't in the categories of what I used to do in the past, or what people 'should' do. There's nothing wrong with that, though.

I only worked for 2 months this year. I secured a two-month contract in March-April, then decided to take a month off to concentrate on my exhibition (more details about that below!). Not long after that was finished, I developed some new health issues and some existing ones got worse. I developed a severe pain in my knee and could barely walk for about a month, something I hadn't experienced before. The doctor seemed to think it was arthritis, but I'm still not sure. Thankfully that got better, but I wasn't able to follow up on it because then I caught a virus which made me nauseous and dizzy for several weeks. Then my Adenomyosis treatment failed catastrophically and I was unable to leave the house again for some time, even just to try and seek treatment. I eventually ended up having a hysterectomy at the start of December, and I'm currently recovering from that. I was also dealing with my Ulcerative Colitis (my 'usual' chronic illness) all during this time. I don't normally go into this much detail on the blog, but I just wanted to acknowledge how much I managed to do this year, even despite all of these restrictions.

So what DID I do?

✽ I held my first solo exhibition! (May) -- this was actually a pretty massive achievement!!
✽ I made a lot of art! (all year)
✽ I was accepted into and had a piece in Fat Feminism exhibition! (October)
✽ I joined a collective: Lucy Goosey Women's Art Collective! (November)
✽ I went to my first life drawing class! (October)
✽ I had a piece in NOIR Darkroom's Kris Kringle art swap! (And got an awesome piece of art in return!) (December)
✽ I made a flatlay! (October)

✽ I finished my first blanket! (Sure, I had to make it for my exhibition, but it still counts, I think!) (May)
✽ I tried a new craft: Lucet braiding! (April)

✽ I made some plushie monsters! (May-September)
✽ I joined the #makenine challenge ... and only made one item! ... It was my blanket that I keep mentioning. (all year)

✽ I grew potatoes! (January-February)
✽ Husband and I built a garden bed! (November-December)

✽ I set myself several reading challenges and read lots of books! (44 books and 39 short stories, novellas, plays, etc) -- this is double what I normally read! (all year)
✽ I re-read The Lord of the Rings and wrote a blog post about it! (August)
✽ I set myself a challenge to write short stories and I wrote 12! (June ; November)

✽ I achieved many victories over my social anxiety!
✽ I went with Husband and my foodie friend on a road trip to the Geelong Show! (October)
✽ I started making videos!
✽ I ate a lot of food at a lot of places! (all year)
✽ I changed my fringe-style!

Whether you did a lot or a little in 2019, it doesn't matter. I had a few experiences which made me remember that I'm lucky just to be here. And I'm looking ahead to 2020!

Monday, 23 December 2019

Holiday Traditions : Jólabókaflóðið (Iceland)

Jólabókaflóðið means "Christmas Book Flood", and it's a tradition from Iceland that's been getting a lot of attention around the world in the last few years. Iceland has a strong and passionate literary tradition going back hundreds of years. A lot of Icelanders read, and Icelanders read a lot. More books are printed per capita than anywhere else in the world. Because of the country's small population of just 360,000 however, books are not released year-round. There's a book release season, from late September to early December (just in time for Christmas!). Most books are printed in hardback; paperbacks and ebooks are much less popular because Icelanders are just not interested in them. The book is seen as valuable as a physical object as well as for what it contains.

Picture Source.

This strong love of literature came together with another circumstance to make books the most given item at Christmas. During World War 2, most things were rationed and imports were prohibitively expensive, but paper was still widely available, which enabled publishers to continue producing books. Since they were one of the few things available as gifts, giving books became a universal tradition amongst Icelanders.

Picture Source.

While I suppose the Jólabókaflóðið technically begins when the books start to go on sale in late September, the season culminates on 24th December with the giving and receiving of the books. In Iceland, Christmas gifts are traditionally given on Christmas Eve. Since most people give and receive books, a practice has organically grown up of people staying in to read their books, often accompanied by chocolate or a hot chocolate drink. (No-one's quite sure where that last part came from, but I don't think anyone complains about it!) This is one tradition that I can definitely celebrate very happily, and I hope you think so too!

Picture Source.

* I have also seen it written as Jólabókaflóð.
* Here's an interesting article about some issues in the Icelandic publishing industry.


Friday, 20 December 2019

My Art Lately

On Instagram there's a yearly tradition called Art vs Artist. People make up a 3x3 collage photo with a picture of themselves in the middle, and their artworks all around them. I always love looking at them. Some of the artists draw characters that look very much like themselves, some have art that's very stylistically consistent, and some are all over the shop -- like me! Here's my version for 2019. Although some of the paintings are from last year as that's all I could find on my phone.

Since then, I've been doing some new and different things, mainly with watercolour. I found a wooden board in my stash, so I've been using it as a base to stretch the paper (it prevents warping when the paper is wet). I can fit two pieces of paper on the board (A5 size) so I've been doing the paintings in pairs. Also it's more reassuring because if I ruin one, I always have another.

Here is a scene I had a dream about years ago. I made a sketch at the time, meaning to paint it properly one day. For some reason I don't have any photos of the finished paintings; I'll dig them out again and show you next time.

On the left here is a painting that was heavily inspired by a lithograph by Odilon Redon, a 19th century French artist. Click here to see the original (Sorry, I probably shouldn't post it here, it's copyrighted.)
The painting on the right is still in progress.

This is another painting that was inspired by a dream I had. I've done about 4 in this series, with different hair colours, face shapes, etc. The yellow band is supposed to be very bright, but I got some smudges on it. I tried to remedy it by adding some white paint. I think it looks OK. Art isn't supposed to be perfect anyway, is it?

This is a teeny tiny painting. Again, inspired by a dream in which I did two paintings as tall as myself of these figures with vine-like veins running along their bodies. One was in blues and greens, and one in reds/pink and orange as you see here. It's not quite as I pictured it in my dream, not quite as dynamic, but I can always keep trying until there's a version that's more pleasing. The background paint is one I was using for the first time, and I thought it would be more skin/pink shaded, so I'm not entirely pleased with that either. But I do love the way watercolour looks -- the varying shades and edges. I guess you might call this an experimental sketch for a full-size work.

A few months ago I joined an art collective called Lucy Goosey Women's Art Collective. It's very much in its infant stages, there are only 8 members and we've only had 3 meetings. Still, we've already applied for a space, and already been rejected, even though I turned my not-inconsiderable writing skills liberally to the task. The proposed exhibition was to be called Invisibility. I had a concept for what I wanted my part of it to look like, so in preparation I started making a series of delicate watercolours with painful messages, two of which you can see here. I jokingly call it my 'Mopey Series'. Once the rejection for the exhibition came through, I no longer had the motivation to make more, though I might be able to make the concept a reality one day.

Finally, here is a painting I made for NOIR Darkroom's annual Kris Kringle exhibition. I was matched with a fellow artist and made this painting especially for them. The text came to me while I was in the shower. It's about communication and connection, and how hard that can be sometimes.

I made a typo!! But it kind of fits in with the theme of the painting, so I'm not too embarrassed about it.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Book Review : Celestina's Burnings

Please note: this ebook was provided for me to read and review by Library Thing's Early Reviewer programme. As always however, you can rest assured that this is an honest review!

Celestina is sick of working in her grandmother's bakery and hates her fiery red hair. Rinaldo is a stonemason dreaming of a better life as a fresco artist, and knows Celestina is his muse the moment he first sees her. But Celestina has other things on her mind -- she has vowed to catch five witches to free her father's soul from purgatory. The greatest witchhunter in the world has just arrived in Florence and Celestina sees her chance to fulfill her vow ... but something isn't quite right about him. Will she find out what it is before it's too late?

Celestina's Burnings is set against the backdrop of Renaissance Florence, and Pederson brings the art and sculpture, the heat and the crowds to life vividly. I could almost touch the marble statues, and smell the bread from the bakery oven. Amongst it all is a rollicking tale of romance and adventure. The lovestruck Rinaldo will do anything for his muse Celestina, from fighting witches to travelling all the way to Rome to petition the Pope. Meanwhile, Celestina finds that nothing is what she thought it is -- not her grandmother, the Monsignor, or her father's killer: the witch she hated.

I very much enjoyed this historical adventure romance. The characters are well-developed, and I came to feel for them in their trials and triumphs. The world evoked is that of 15th-century Florence in Italy, where the monied elite and the church vied for power, and art and culture were foremost. There are many mentions of famous artists and sculptors sprinkled throughout the book, but you don't need a degree in Art History (like I do, not to blow my own horn!) to appreciate the atmosphere saturated in the arts. There's even a cameo from the master Leonardo da Vinci.

Celestina's Burnings does have some scenes that aren't suitable for younger readers, so I would recommend it for adult readers rather than young adults. The mixture of fast-paced action, romance and sensuality will have readers racing to the end and wishing for more.

Would I read more by this author? Definitely!