Reflection. Or narcissism?

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Narcissism isn’t a very welcome trait, but I need to utilise it right now to make sense of things. I’ve felt for a long time now that I’m doing a shit job in a lot of areas.

Housework is a major one, and it really is the bane of my life. If I could get a fairy to do it all for me – doesn’t even have to be a fairy, an ogre in an apron would do – I would get one in a heartbeat. It serves no purpose other than to eat into my very limited “me” time, which I would normally use to finish uni work or try and flex my creative muscles and maybe throw some doodles out.

Motherhood is another …
Being a mum is such an honour for me, and it’s something I’m passionate about and which brings me unrivalled happiness. But with all the stresses of uni and work and all the other crap that flies through the fan of life, I find myself becoming resentful and unloving … and unloveable. I think it’s this area of my life that I occasionally struggle with the most upsetting to think about. The fact that my choices and my struggles with uni and life in general have an impact on my children makes me feel like I’m being terribly selfish. The fact that I get to spend more time with my uni friends than I do with my children makes me feel like I’m the worst mother in the world, and for a large part of the day my youngest is being looked after by a lady who is essentially a surrogate mother. (A wonderful woman, nonethless.)

Uni is great. I love saying that. Going to university has given me back all my vitality and I feel like I actually have a direction now. And saying that makes me feel like an even worse mum. Having something that I enjoy so much whilst I spend so long away from my kids is so so tough, and makes me feel insanely guilty, but when I think of the scope this opportunity is giving me, the keys to all the doors I’m getting out of it, I’m almost certain it’s worth it.

Work is ok, but I feel like it would be better if I could cut my hours. Being given the go-ahead to cut my hours when I applied for uni was a big factor in my decision to accept my place, then to be told that cutting my hours would be bad for the business (because apparently employees mental health is of lesser importance than their ability to remember which books we’re trying to push this week) and that I could either keep the hours I had or quit, well that was a bit of a kick in the head. I do love my job, I love the people and the feeling of being surrounded by books, being able to talk about books to my heart’s content, but when I’m spending a full week at uni and then both days working, sometimes I feel like it’s too much. And then I feel like the only thing I can do is quit. But why should I feel like I have to? Why should I be backed into a corner where my only options are mental instability through exhaustion and overwork, or quitting? Why is that ok? It sucks. It’s a really shitty, sucky situation and it’s made me feel very angry and resentful.
Guess the plus side is that the anger can be channelled into creativity in some way or another.

Need to keep reminding myself not everything is crap. Nothing is crap really, just my outlook on it.

I shouldn’t really be complaining, though. I made these decisions – I own all these consequences and I have to suck it up. I wanted to do a degree to give myself direction and to stop myself from sitting on my ass all day long, neglecting the housework. And I’m so glad I did. I’ve met some amazing, incredible, talented people on my course and I’ve learnt so much from it already.

Some light in my life comes from my uni friends who are constantly telling me I’m amazing for juggling all the stuff I am. It might sound egotistical but I need that. I need those affirmations and that support. It’s pretty much what keeps me going. That, and always having snuggles from my girls waiting for me when I pick them up.
That is what I have to look forward to at the end of each and every day and it is the best feeling in the world.

 

Animatics and everything else.

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One thing I’ve learnt from my current module (Creating and Understanding Sequence) is that my brain works much better in picture-book format than it does in animation. The first part of the project involved making a picture book from a chosen text, which I enjoyed immensely, and the second part took it a little further into the realm of animation.

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One of the finals from my picture book. Written by Ben Clanton, who owns the copyright.

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Another final from my picture book.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea  of animation, but when it comes to actually creating it, well it just makes my brain very tired and I found myself spending a ridiculous amount of time procrastinating. I did get it finished eventually, but I’m feeling kind of bleh about the final outcome (although I’m patting myself on the back for actually remembering how to use Adobe Premier the day after the workshop.)

^ This is my animatic.

I don’t think I’m cut out for animation, despite the fact that the storyboarding was kind of fun and allowed me to be fairly loose with my drawing, but I guess that’s all part of what going to uni is about – finding out what I’m good at and realising that I’m not going to be amazing at everything I try. Maybe that’s the hard bit for me, because I always want to get things perfect, and very rarely like to practice because my practice pieces don’t look perfect.

Another thing I’m thankful for is the wonderful input we’ve been getting from Emma Carlisle and Rose Forshall – both are brilliant tutors with a wealth of knowledge of the children’s book industry. We’ve also had the chance to work with Gary Day-Ellison, which I found really helpful but a lot of my peers didn’t. He can be quite blunt, I’ll give him that, but his advice to me was really helpful and considering the fact he’s very successful in the world of publishing I feel he’s a handy contact to have.

Next week we’re starting work on an animated GIF, which is the final part of this project and I have no idea what to expect. It’ll be based on the chosen text, so will probably feel similar to the picture book and animatic, and then we’ll have assessments and that’ll be the end of it. I’m going to be sad to finish the picture book stuff but excited to start on something else, whatever that may be.

Anyway, bit of a pointless blog post, but aren’t they all?

Peace out.

 

 

 

Some books I love … #13

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Ok, so maybe I should rename my whole blog, maybe call it The Andrew Smith Fangirl Blog or something equally cool.

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I’ve just finished 100 Sideways Miles by that dude I keep blogging about and it was just as awesome as all his others.

Imagine that.

It’s a good, easy read (I found it easier than The Alex Crow) with a fairly simple plot line that focuses on Finn Easton and his best friend, Cade Hernandez (horny teenager who chews tobacco, gives teachers aneurysms and earned the nickname Win-Win for very crude, but funny, reasons).

Finn Easton is an epileptic with heterochromatic eyes and a scar down his back with four dot-shaped scars around it from an accident that injured him and killed his mother. His scar looks like this:

:|:

Finn Easton feels trapped throughout the book for the sole reason that his father wrote a bestselling fictional novel called The Lazarus Door (that most other characters have read) in which cannibal angel aliens arrive on earth through atom-sized portals blasted here through space. It just so happens that the main character of Mike Easton’s book is an angel-alien called Finn who has heterochromatic eyes and a :|: shaped scar on his back. So Finn has spent most of his life trying to convince people (and himself) that he is not a cannibal angel-alien from outer space and he is not a character from his father’s book, whose life is already determined through his father’s words.
Finn measures the world in miles travelled, rather than time. The Earth travels at roughly twenty miles per second (I’m not sure if he means spinning on it’s axis or orbiting the sun, but I’m going to assume it’s the latter) and we’re all made up of atoms that are holding onto one another, that were belched out fourteen billion years ago (I can’t even calculate that in miles!) and for some reason decided to stick together to create us. It’s an interesting concept, and one that I will hold onto – that every second my atoms are holding on to one another, they have travelled another twenty miles. It kinda made me feel pretty small and insignificant, which we all are, in the grand scheme of things.

We meet Julia Bishop briefly at school, where Finn is pretty sure she’s the most beautiful girl he’s ever met, but we first meet her properly when she finds him on the floor, having had an epileptic seizure and having pissed his pants. He thinks she’s going to make fun of him but she clears up his mess and doesn’t make a big deal about it. I don’t know about Finn, but by this point I’m pretty sure I’m in love with Julia Bishop. In a way she reminds me of Annie Altman from Winger – the way she’s creative and very unique and doesn’t need to follow the crowd. I admire that both in real-life people and in fictional characters.

Monica Fassbinder is a strange character on the periphery. She’s a german exchange student who gives Cade Hernandez his wondrous nickname, and I wondered throughout most of the book whether Andrew Smith had seen the film Shame with Michael Fassbender when he named the character. She isn’t a huge part of the action in the book but she does give a bit of comic relief from some of the darker, more emotional scenes.

There were a couple of things I noted down that I particularly liked about the book. There was a phrase in the early pages of the book that said “you can’t imagine anything if you don’t already have a word for it in your head”. This phrase is an echo from The Alex Crow, where Ariel Burgess says the same thing, and I can see why it’s written but I’m not sure I agree with the sentiment. If we couldn’t imagine anything we don’t have words for, how do we progress? Maybe we have to do what Shakespeare did, or what Roald Dahl did and just make words up if we can’t find the right one.
Another thing that I liked was where Smith describes Cade Hernandez chewing tobacco with the phrase, “Breakfast of Champions”, which I know is one of his favourite books by Kurt Vonnegut. (I found this out from my Interview with Andrew Smith) It’s the little snippets like these all throughout the book, the little “uh-huh!” moments that make me love his writing so much.

I read a few of the reviews for this book on Goodreads, and was surprised it had a couple of one stars. Apparently, people can’t cope with the crudeness (all the talk of boners, balls and poo) and with the repetition of various points (knackeries, atoms etc) that are there to tie everything together. If I’m honest, I think these things make Andrew Smith’s writing what it is. If his books were published without his name printed on it, I’d still recognise his writing a mile off. It is so kooky and weird and unique that I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t like it. Why would you want to read something clean-cut and poker straight?

There are so many other threads to this book – the self-taught-civil-engineering-disaster of the St Francis Dam, Blake Grunwald’s shitty party, Laika the space dog, the BEST test success, the condom-buying fiasco – all the scenes that make this book so warm and inviting, and I’d love to spend two hundred thousand miles describing these in great detail, deconstructing them and analysing them but I think that would take away from its awesomeness.

I’ll just tell you this: what I did get from the book was the message that we write our own books, we make the choices that take us where we want to go, and I think that’s a super-important message. Teenagers will be teenagers. They are slightly less neuron-dense versions of adults who will have to start making their own choices one day, and if they are held back from making those difficult choices when they have the safety net of the family home and the support network of their parents and siblings around them, when it’s safe to make those mistakes, if they are held back from making those difficult decisions until they are adults, then they won’t learn how to take risks and they will ultimately end up paying the price.

Seriously, read this book.

Some books I love … #12

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You may be able to guess which author I’ve just finished reading.

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Proof copy that I found in work :D

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The UK cover that will be published in March.

Yes … Andrew Smith does it again!!!!

This time, I got my hands on a proof copy of The Alex Crow (I may or may not have cried when I randomly found it in work one day ..) and it’s due to be published on 5th March by Electric Monkey books (part of Egmont UK).

Now, I’ll start off by saying I don’t think I should be allowed to blog about this book. Not just because it isn’t published yet, but because it took me so long to read it that some bits are very hazy in my head.

If you’ve read any of my posts about university you’ll know that I literally have zero minutes to myself, so my reading time has been restricted to the ten minute bus journey to and from uni every day. Also note I’m a disgustingly slow reader and you’ll understand why it’s taken me since November to finish it.

Anyway, I’ll stop making excuses and tell you about it.

It has all the usual Andrew Smith ingredients:

  • Boys
  • Sperm
  • Creepy female in a supervisory role (similar to Winger)
  • Genetic jiggery-pokery (similar to Grasshopper Jungle)

It had an additional ingredient though that wasn’t quite like any of his others, but I find it hard to put into words what exactly it was.

The plot is divided between different characters in different time periods, but everything connects and all the stories weave amongst each other. From victorian arctic sea voyages written as journal entries to an orphan refugee hiding in a refrigerator dressed in a clown suit to Leonard Fountain, a very Stephen-King-like character who straps ticking kitchen timers to his ears to drown out the voices in his head, and whose brain is slowly melting.

The main part of the story focuses on Ariel Burgess, an adopted refugee, and his American brother Max, who get sent to Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys (Where boys rediscover the fun of boyhood!) for the summer because it’s free. Their father works for the Alex Division of a genetic research company, which specialises in de-extinction, that is, taking extinct species and bringing them back to life. The boys live in planet-named cabins, and Ariel and Max are two of the five boys of Jupiter cabin. They do all the usual summer-camp things that boys do – telling ghost stories, getting stoned and thinking up many (many!!) phrases about masturbation (“punching the clown”, “getting an oil change” and “going out for a shake with my best friend” being just a couple of those gems dotted throughout the book. You could probably make a fairly thick book just from these!!)
Ariel narrates, and another part of the narrative focuses on his previous “lives” – the places he has been in the past and all the stories that make him how he is in the present, and all the times he has been saved and saved again when he would have done anything to keep things how they used to be. Some of the events of his past lives are pretty horrific, especially towards the end of the book, and made me feel sad and sick.
Then you have the voyage of the Alex Crow (the ship) in which Doctor Merrie and his crew attempt to reach the North Pole, but after the ship gets trapped in ice and the majority of the crew is lost to an icy grave Dr Merrie and the remaining crew members journey on foot and make an astounding discovery that anchors itself to other plotlines.
Leonard Fountain’s plotline depicting his mind-boggling insanity was possibly my favourite thing to read (aside from the wanking euphemisms). It was just so weird and brilliant, and when he sees Ariel, Max and Cobie and thinks they’re three talking bears from Camp Merrie-Seymour for Beavers I almost wet myself laughing. Smith is just a genius!

It’s hard to do justice to the plot. Being dragged in so many different directions is something that I love in a book (that I also loved in the Gone series) and Smith did the plot justice by not bombarding the reader with a huge cast of characters to remember (as was the case in Under The Dome by Stephen King, and from what I’ve heard the same goes for Game of Thrones) but with deftly created, realistic characters with interesting, memorable details. For instance, Trent Mendibles – the boy with the hairiest legs in the universe, or coon-hunting Cobie Petersen who got shat on by the Dumpling Man.

I felt very much like I’d been on an emotional rollercoaster after reading this. In a lot of places it was wonderful and hilarious, in others it was sickening, frightening and heart-wrenching. But throughout the whole of it I felt like I was in safe hands – I knew all the threads would braid together at the end and he bloody well delivered.

In other news, Grasshopper Jungle is being rejacketed and it looks bloody amazing! 1669820_10205469259354325_4120053815520871428_o

And secondly, I am about to delve into 100 Sideways Miles, so I will almost certainly blog about that when I’m finished (in six months time!!) and then I might even read some books by other authors too!

Thirdly, the sequel to Winger is being published soon, and is called Stand Off. Can’t freaking wait!

Peace out.

Ps, I had the great fortune to interview the man himself last year. Check it out here :D
Or have a look at my review of Grasshopper Jungle and Winger

Christmassy feelings

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I can’t believe I haven’t written in sooooo long! Apologies for that. I’ve had a pretty good excuse though, what with uni being so intense and everything else in my life having to squash up and shift around to fit in with it.

It’s my last day in my first term and I’m currently sat alone in the studio. I’m usually the first person in and normally I use the time to grab a cup of tea and crack on with work, but as it’s the last day before the holidays I’m taking the time to throw all my thoughts into this blog post and hope I can make sense of some of it.

This term has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life (not including being a mummy, obviously … that trumps everything!) Maybe I should have said “one of the most amazing experiences of my artistic life”. Yeah, we’ll stick with that.
I’ve learnt more about creativity and visual communication than I ever learnt at school, (which is handy, considering the vast quantities of money I’m essentially handing over for this experience) and my brain actually feels as though it’s been thrown at walls and beaten to a pulp. I am mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted, but it is so worth it. It’s worth it for the experiences I’ve had, for the incredible friends I’ve made and the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with and learn from. It’s worth it because it’s made me realise just how special my children are and how much I cherish the limited time I’m spending with them right now. It’s worth it because I finally feel as though my life has an exciting direction and I have a path that I want to follow.

It’s just awesome.

I finished my first project on time and without too much stress, and got a merit for it, which I was over the moon with, (The scale goes: Commendation (1st), Merit (2.1), Pass (2.2), Borderline Pass (3rd)) and I had some great feedback with some handy criticism to help me progress on the second module.

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This is the end product of the weird bluebottle jellyfish/fly hybrid project.

I was happy with my final image, apart from the body text down the right hand side, which could have been smartened up a bit. I was really happy with the Daily Fail and particularly the emblem that I played around with.

The second module we’ve been working on is to do with sequencing and narrative, so naturally we’re working on picture books, which is quite possibly the best thing ever!!!
We’re working with the very talented Emma Carlisle (who has her first picture book coming out next year, published by Macmillan) and Rose Forshall, illustrator of the Pirate Gran series and Howl on the Wind.
I’m finding the module really stimulating and it’s really pushing me further than I thought it would. I’ve even started teaching myself how to use photoshop so that I’m not limited to just traditional media.

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Thumbnailing design for a page that I’m illustrating from a text called “Mo’s Moustache” by Ben Clanton

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Character design on Photoshop for the main character, Mo.

Sequencing. Based on a video by some researchers that found several cases of seals copulating with penguins, and titled "Worse things happen at Sea"

Sequencing. Based on a video by some researchers that found several cases of seals copulating with penguins, and titled “Worse things happen at Sea”

It feels great to slowly be getting my head around Photoshop and InDesign – to have those tools at my fingertips is very handy.

Another awesome thing in my life at the moment is the proof copy of The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith that I’ve managed to get my hands on. It’s not being published until March and I’m only really able to read it on the bus to and from uni every day as that’s the only time I have free at the moment, but even though I’m reading it fragmentedly (yes that’s a word!) it’s still bloody amazing!!! And it’s only taken me about four weeks to get halfway in. Yes, I read slowly. When I told Andrew Smith that I’d managed to get the proof copy he told me to be on my guard as it’s pretty gruelling, so I’ve promised to send him a bottle of my tears after I’m done with it. I intend to stick to my word :D

As for my children, they are growing too fast and I’m feeling like I’m not there to see it. I can’t get rid of this constant niggling feeling of doubt and guilt. Doubting myself and feeling guilty because I spend 8 hours away from them every day. I know this was my choice, and it was totally my decision to pursue this avenue, but it doesn’t half sting when the baby tries to go back into the childminder’s house when I go to pick her up.

And now, despite the incredible time I’ve had for the past three months, I am so looking forward to three weeks off. I get three whole wonderful, magical weeks with my beautiful daughters and the rest of my family, and I will spend every second of it snuggling with them all and being grateful for everything I have in my life.

Uni Week 2

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Last week was amazing!!

We were asked to bring in a massive bag of rubbish, which most of us did, then we were told to choose a nickname out of a hat and build a character head out of the rubbish, based on this nickname.

I picked out the name Bluebottle.

So I thought of the obvious – a fly. But I didn’t just want to make a character out of a fly; that would be boring. I had a little poke around on t’internet and found a type of jellyfish called a Bluebottle (which, incidentally, isn’t an actual jellyfish but a collection of four different organisms working in harmony with one another) and then looked at the individual words – Blue, Bottle – and what sprang to mind was WKD Blue and Bombay Sapphire.

I came up with an Alcoholic Flying Jellyfish who feasts on the discarded booze of sailors and drunkards.

Phase 1 - just starting.

Phase 1 – just starting.

Phase 2 - almost finished.

Phase 2 – almost finished.

Phase 3 - finished! (will be adding tentacles at a later date)

Phase 3 – finished! (will be adding tentacles at a later date)

Bluebottle fly. Copics and fineliner.

Bluebottle fly. Copics and fineliner.

Copic and fineliner sketch of some Bombay Sapphire.

Copic and fineliner sketch of some Bombay Sapphire.

 

I feel like I learnt quite a lot last week – the most important of which was problem-solving. Having a big pile of crap in front of me and having to assemble something out of it felt like a mammoth task for someone as un-3D-capable as me, but I had a rough idea of how I wanted it to look and the finished article came pretty close to what I imagined. The project helped oil my creative cogs and I didn’t feel quite so precious about it as I do with my usual work. Experimentation has never been my strongest asset but I feel like it’s flourished in the last week or so.

As with anything, there are parts that I can improve on and re-work, but for the time being I’m happy with my outcome. Next job is to get back into the swing of keeping my workbook up-to-date. All that stuff seems to have fallen out of my head since I finished my A-levels.

This week we’ve been given tasks B and C, which involve some creative writing (woooo-freaking-hooo!!!) and drawing faces showing different emotions.

We’re also going to London to visit the House of Illustration (Quentin Blake exhibition!!) and if I have time I’ll visit the Illustration Cupboard to visit the Shaun Tan exhibition (SQUEEEEE!!!) so life is very exciting.

Anyway, it’s past my bedtime so I’m off.

Peace out!

Fresher’s Week.

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I’ve made it!!!!

I’ve had my first few days at Uni and so far it’s awesome. In fairness, it’s only been three days, and I know there is much hard work to come but just actually being there is an incredible feeling, one that I’ve waited a long time for.

There have been a few sessions that were a little more boring than I’d like to admit (general housekeeping, figuring out how everything works at Uni etc) but the past two days we’ve been flexing our creative muscles and giving our brains a workout.

 

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Walking around with paper bags on our heads.

Firstly there was the ice-breaking session where we walked around with paper bags on our heads (very slowly, I might add ..) we then partnered up with the first person we touched and one of us took the bag off and painted the bag on the head of our partner, and then we switched and the other person painted our bag. (We found out today about a guy called Saul Steinberg, who does a lot of paper bag art)

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Saul Steinberg’s paper bag masks

 

 

The finished project looked like this:

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My painting on Sophie.

Sophie's painting on me.

Sophie’s painting on me.

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The finished articles on display.

Today’s task was a lot of fun, too. We were asked to get a huge piece of paper and tear it into pieces of various sizes. We were given a mirror and lots of different media to work with (charcoal, chalk, dip pens, indian ink, sponges, paintbrushes, pencils, fineliners) and told to work on one part of our face at a time.

This was mine:

My mixed up self-portrait.

My mixed up self-portrait.

And I’ve made some great new buddies, which is fantastic as that was probably the bit I was most afraid of. We all seem to be on a similar wavelength, all creative thinkers and a little bit crazy, all with different opinions and individual aspirations, hopes, dreams, but all equally wonderful. I know it’s early days but it really does feel so good to be doing this, aside from the stresses of student finance, sorting childcare and trying to make work fit around everything. And aside from the fact I have to leave my beautiful girlies for so long. That is a huge sacrifice, but for a very good reason.

I’ll update again soon with my progress, and maybe I’ll even get some writing done soon, too!

Peace out.