Kathleen Jennings is a writer and illustrator, and recently awarded the inaugural Kris Hembury Encouragement Award for Emerging Artists at the 2010 Aurealis Awards Ceremony. Her story ‘The Splendour Falls’ was published in ASIM #41. She blogs at: http://tanaudel.wordpress.com/
1. You were recently awarded the inaugural Kris Hembury Encouragement Award for Emerging Artists at the 2010 Aurealis Awards Ceremony. What does the award mean to you, particularly given you were friends with Kris?
This was an incredibly unexpected honour. Kris was such a constant presence in Vision and punster and instigator and encourager, but above all I remember him for his constant invention, the spinning-off of ideas, the “what if”s and the “why not”s which make our genre(s) not primarily weighty or worthy but *fun*. There are so many important genre issues to deal with (and issues to deal with in genre writing), and the work and calling and craft of writing is strenuous and rigorous – but although I think that was something of which Kris was keenly aware, he always made me forget it, and remember that really, at its core, this whole pursuit is about Story – the crazier, the funnier, the more heart-rending the better.
2. You are both a writer and an illustrator (and a lawyer!!). Do you prefer to be known as one over the other? What successes have you had so far in each field?
And a translator! You can probably guess how all those are ordered in terms of how well they pay for themselves. I like them all, for varying reasons, and I aim to be good at them all, but I don’t think it’s any secret that writing and illustrating have most of my affection. Of the two… it’s hard. They’re very closely related – in my mind, they’re both about storytelling – and I learn a lot about each from the other. In some ways writing is easier – I just put words on a page, I don’t have to work out how to make the lines that make up the letters every single time, changing them when I want a different feel, and I’m much more keenly conscious of my limitations in illustration. On the other hand I can see my progress and failings as an illustrator far more easily – it’s both more instantly accessible (“look at this!” as opposed to “read this 90,000 word draft of a short story”) and easier to judge objectively. But they can work together, too – I’ve spent a lot of time on the fringes of the comics world of late, which seems the most obvious area where words and pictures collide (I have a theory that horror has the potential to be more horrific in comics than in either prose or film) but that isn’t the area which fascinates me. It’s the pictures in books, the illustrated novels, the spot illustrations: the heavily ornamentation of Shaun Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia which is symbiotic with the text; the marvellously evocative and hilarious medieval imagery of Pauline Baynes’ illustrations for Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham; Garry Giani’s images for Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road which give the book the perfect feel – rigorous and faithful and true to the tradition of adventure novels to which the book harks back and, in the occasional vivacity of his lines, the fingerprints in the smoke clouds, lively and modern; Charles Vess’ drawings for the title pages of the stories in Clarke’s Ladies of Grace Adieu and Windling & Datlows The Faerie Reel – tiny and perfect; M M Kaye’s enormously good-natured illustrations for her The Ordinary Princess. Although, in terms of pages, these form a relatively small part of the text, they become inextricable.
As for successes – well, it’s early days. I was thrilled to have a story out in ASIM last year, and to have had the opportunity to do a book cover for Small Beer Press was amazing – I was standing up when I checked my email the day they asked me, and I missed my chair when I tried to sit down and recover from the shock.
3. Recently your blog has hinted at an involvement in a Very Large Project, reaching its ‘final throes’. Can you tell us anything about it yet? In the event that you can’t talk about it, can you talk about the steep learning curve that the project has thrown you? How do you best learn new things? Finally, what else do you have planned for 2010?
It was something I was asked to do ‘on spec’ – and the minute I find out one way or the other people will hear. But in general terms, I was asked if I’d like to write and illustrate a short comic – and by some people who I really respect and like working with. I spent half of November hyperventilating and keep telling myself “It’s alright, they know my work, they know I’ve never done a comic before, they can reject it,” all of which helped a lot. But then I had to deal with the fact I’d never done a comic before – so I had to learn how to do that, and how to write short ones (and 10 pages is *short*). And then I had to work out how to do a black and white comic – colour is just more common and short colour comics are often these stunningly beautiful mood pieces. So I didn’t have colour to fall back on, and I wanted a bit of excitement, and I ended up buying an anthology of noir comics to look at different styles, and pulling out my early-20thC boys-own and girls-own annuals and poring over their gorgeous illustrations, and then pulling out books illustrated by Charles Vess and generally going into a state of nervous collapse caused by a full-blown minority complex. But I had a story, and I had a lot of ideas I wanted to draw, and by the time I’d worked out how to draw and scan and shade and do borders I had 10 days left (of full-time work and Aurealis Awards and miserable heat) and had to start shedding anything that would tip me over the edge. It would be cleaner to do it all on the computer, but it would unbalance me. Ditto inking with a brush or dip pen, although I love the style. I had to lose a third of my main characters and give his back story to the other two which entirely changed how I drew them. I had to lose Edna, the clockwork possum who started it all. And then as I was drawing I was rewriting the story as I went to fit my drawing abilities. It was awful. And fun and incredibly educational.
Does that answer the first three questions? I suppose I learn best by not looking before I leap/am pushed. Consequences-based education. I wouldn’t recommend it as a way of advancing a legal career, however.
As for plans for the year to come – probably not having 8 hours sleep a night and proceeding in a stately fashion through life. In terms of art, I’m working on another short comic for a friend’s project – but this is in colour! and shorter! and written by someone else! And I’m also working on some black and white header illustrations for an anthology (my favourite variety of illustration), and who knows what else. I’d like to get a functioning online portfolio together.
As far as writing, I’d love to have some more stories published, but it is one of life’s bitter truths that to publish, one must first submit. I’m editing several short stories (loosely inspired by fairy tales and set in various parts of Australia or something like it) and writing every day, and in November I hope to bring my absolutely a-historical reimagining of… most of the legends I grew up on to a close, and then go through the wreckage and see what can be salvaged.
4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?
Novellas. I won’t name one – they’re all wonderful. I’m really excited about this movement with all the novelas lately. It’s a form which doesn’t get out much and yet has a great deal of potential. I first realised they weren’t just a horrifically extended version of short Literature when I read Der Schimmelreiter at uni (Literature, and also German – and they do like their SF psychological – but only horrific in good ways). And it is a form which suits SF very well – there are certain things (detailed worlds, detailed scientific theories) which can be difficult to fit into a short story when you are expected to fit a story in there as well, but which don’t require an epic. I suspect part of the appeal of some YA is its length – every story has its natural life-span and some stories (and readers) just find the proportions of shorter fiction a more comfortable fit. The whole perfect storm of pulp/novella/double-barrelled book/small-press/entertaining-launches going on at the moment makes me happy.
5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
Yes, yes, yes. My first WorldCon, my 10th con (and I still haven’t been to a room party, but it’s becoming a point of pride now). I’m most looking forward to going to lunch with unlikely groups, finding ideas and inspiration, and sitting in dark corners drawing unsuspecting passersby. I’d like to get my hands on a portable scanner and post a hand-drawn account as I go, but this plan may be overridden by more immediately compelling things, like trying to to be composed and articulate if I run into certain people. And remembering names.