Turtles big and small

I skived off from the perpetual squid-cutting duties to go and watch the turtles being fed.  Up on top of the Two Oceans aquarium, on the roof, is the quarantine area where sick animals and new arrivals are kept.  But these are by far the most charming.  A whole row of tanks, each one with a baby turtle flailing around inside it signalling “feed me!” with their flippers.

These little guys were rescued, found washed up on the beaches here in Cape Town. They are from the warmer east coast and got swept here into our cold waters where they usually die of hypothermia, or drown, unless they are rescued.  They are being kept here until they are big and strong and healthy enough to be released again.

turtle_baby

A little further on, in a big drum covered over with netting is this:

turtle

This is Otto, a rescued hawskbill turtle who was found washed up and dying at Yzerfontein.  The photo doesn’t really convey how impressive she is.  She’s a big girl, and she looks as though she’s doing really well now.

In case you are interested:

The Penguin Gang

They are cute, but their beaks are sharp, and they have plenty of attitude.

I had to reach in behind the tree — one of those rocks is actually a lid on a pipe, which I had to fill with water for the tree.  I felt a little…uncertain about putting my ungloved hand in among these guys.  I hung out with them for a bit, and showed them the hosepipe (Peck! Nip! Not Edible!) and the lid of the pipe (Nip! Peck! Might Be Edible! Nip!) and after a lot of “Hey, nice day, isn’t it? Don’t mind me, I’m just standing here with my hosepipe” they eventually allowed me to get near enough to fill the pipe.

penguin_dudes

Ghost in the Aquarium

I arrived a little early for my aquarium volunteer shift at the Two Oceans this morning.  Lights were still off.  Quite amazingly spooky, walking around in a dark aquarium.

ray_dark

The baby ragged-tooth sharks were the best, but the tank was so dark the picture I took came out completely black :)  So all I’ve got to show is this hungry stingray.

“Teaching and Amusing” the work of Ermanno Libenzi

One of the amazing things about having a blog is that every now and then, the people you write about, write back!  Imagine my delight in getting an email from Ermanno Libenzi, the author of quite a few of the books that were my absolute, all-time favorites when I was a little girl.  You might have seen my post on his book “Ernest in the Wild West” which you can see here and which drew a lovely conversation in the comments, from people all over the world who love those books just as much as I do.

Ermanno tells me there is a chance that these books might be republished.  How amazing would that be!  So I’m honored to  host a guest post here by Ermanno Libenzi, in which he reminds us of who he is, and why he wrote those books in the first place.  If you are interested to see more of Ermanno’s books, here is a link to some of them.


 ERMANNO LIBENZI, CHILDREN’S BOOKS WRITER AND JOURNALIST

Autobiographical notes.

I was born in Milan, Italy, and grew up amid printed paper. My father was a journalist at  the “Corriere della Sera”, the leading Italian newspaper, and his  home library room was full not only of books, but also of magazines and newspapers of various nationalities. I was terribly curious to know the meaning of all those big written words I saw in his magic room. I’m sure that it was this curiosity which pressed me to become an early reader.

I began, of course, with the first elementary picture books, then I passed to fairy tales, soon I discovered the joys of comic strips, and through them  I reached the vast world of adventure books: pirates, cow-boys, explorers were my first unforgettable heroes. Years later, I made those stories live again in three hilarious children’s books I wrote: “Robin and the Pirates”, the story of a smart little boy who finds himself on board of a pirate vessel,  and the two adventures of Ernest, a funny gentleman, photographer and explorer. In the first book he wanders  through the astonishing  mysteries of Africa, in the second one, he crosses the savage world  of the Wild West. I entrusted the genius of illustration Adelchi Galloni with the task of realizing at his best the three books’ drawings.  I can say that he really  managed to  bring the imagery and language of comics into the sphere of art.

robin_pirates

One day, exploring my father’s bookcases, by chance I opened the Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. That was for me the entrance door to the fascinating world  of the great European and American novels.

In my opinion, nothing can help a child, and later a boy, to acquire a complete cultural and sentimental education more than an early reading of these masterpieces, when our soul is clean as a white sheet of paper, and our personality is quickly developing. Reading great books is really the best food for our spirit. Moreover, the literary masterpieces  can teach us how to give full expression  to our thoughts and sentiments through the language, both written and spoken.

Thanks to all the printed paper of my childhood,  I started writing  and publishing books  when I was still very young. Everything is new, when you are in your twenties. No conventions bind your fantasy, no obligations, no commonplaces block your creativity, and sometimes  the results  of this state of grace are surprising.

I remember that when I was 25 years old,  a little, sorrowful  idea had been  turning over in my mind for a long time. I thought that it was so pleasant  to go around riding a bicycle or a motorbike.  So pleasant but unfortunately also so dangerous.  Every year a dreadful number of young people  are victims all over the world in road accidents. I thought that writing a book on that argument could certainly be an useful project. The real problem was the way I could transform a boring Road Safety manual into a readable and maybe agreeable children’s book. I thought that the best thing I could do was to keep my hand very light, to be cheerful  but giving affordable tips, and above all to avoid anxiety-inducing lessons, which could only frighten readers.  A fearful, hesitating driver is constantly in danger, more or less like a reckless driver.

After the book was published, it happened an incredible thing.  It won the “Premio Bancarellino”, the main Italian literary prize dedicated to children’s literature. Simply, I couldn’t believe it. Yet that prize was above suspicion, because its jury was, and still is, composed by hundreds of young readers coming from all the Italian regions.

My explanation of the mystery was that it was just this unconventional kind of jury which allowed my book to win the prize. I was on the same unconventional wavelength as them, while a jury made of lofty critics never could admit a manual for young cyclist into the elite of Italian children’s literature.

Nevertheless I felt a little bit guilty: my light-hearted manual had prevailed over demanding biographies and committed historical novels… I decided to redeem myself. Four years later, I managed to win the same prize again with a serious book based on true historical episodes happened in Italy during the Second World War.

12210752

In the following years I divided my professional activity among editorial work, journalism and children’s books writing.

I wrote about thirty children’s books of various subjects:  tales, picture books,  young adult science fiction, short stories, historical and scientific non fiction.

My Italian publishers were Mondadori, Garzanti and Vallecchi. Abroad, my books were published  by Hamlyn in the United Kingdom, Platt & Munk in the United States, Nathan and Sarbacane in France, Duculot in Belgium, Südwest Verlag in Germany, Turbine Forlaget in Sweden and Danmark, Lasten Kerkus in Finland, Beijing Timebook Culture Spread in China, Holp Shuppan and Rippu Shobo in Japan, Orell Füssli Verlag  In Switzerland.

First of all, I always tried to stick at the basic duty of every narrator: to entertain, to fascinate his readers – both children and adults, i.e. their parents – with  amusing and/or engaging stories. At the same time, I always tried to pursue a moral aim in my work, yet carefully trying to avoid moralism. In particular, I always cultivated  a strong interest in ecology, environmentalism and human rights. As a journalist, I wrote many articles in defence of animals, particularly against hunting.  Last, but not least, I did my best to keep in mind  that a storyteller has  a fantastic opportunity. He  can deliver – without appearing to do so – a lot of sound principles. Ancient Romans,  two thousand years ago,  called this pedagogical concept “docendo ludere”, that means  “teaching and amusing”.  I hope that this can be my motto.

A-PHOTO-OF-ERMANNO--LIBENZI

 

________________________

Squirting Squid Eyes

I did my first stint of “Behind the Scenes” work at the Two Oceans aquarium today. It was great! I’ll probably get all jaded and bored with this stuff soon enough, but right now everything is new and interesting.

First thing in the morning – went to the office to sign in, and found a penguin standing there, eyeing every body up and down :) Very cute.

Cleaned the tank of a mantis shrimp (the creature of Oatmeal fame) which is apparently the most intelligent of the crustaceans.  Had to work with long-stemmed implements, as putting my hand in the water would be a bit dangerous.  To quote from that Oatmeal link, mantis shrimp can accelerate to the velocity of a bullet shot from a 22 calibre rifle, and strike with a force of 1500 Newtons.  Ouch!

Here he is:

mantis_shrimp

 

I also had to keep track of a single fish ( a spotted grunter) in a shoal of many, many others, to help a diver catch it so it could go into quarantine.

And for most of the time, I cut  piles and piles of shrimp, squid, and redbait into tiny pieces.  This platter was lunch for the giant spider crabs. The big lesson here was that squid eyes squirt fluid all over the place if you don’t watch it.  Also, they have little tiny beaks like parrots, I’d never seen those before.

spidercrab_lunch

Just being in the aquarium is such a pleasure – for example, here’s a glimpse of the White Steenbras in the Kelp Tank:

steenbras

And that’s it until the week after next, when I’m on duty again :)

 

Through the windscreen from Cape Town to Durban

Some pictures taken through the windscreen en route from Cape Town to Durban, and a few from the journey back again. We took four days to get there, and three days to drive back again. Unfortunately the photos of the most beautiful part (through the Swartberge) came out all blurry so I had to leave those out.  The map of our route is right at the end.

11_0711_1011_2111_2814_0614_2614_2714_28day2_10_18day2_12_02day2_12_03day2_14_30day2_14_38day3_11_57day3_13_32day3_11_55day4_08_28day4_08_27day6_14_29day7_16_47

route_to_durban

Spyker Work in progress

Some more work on a character design – a little person who might be called “Spyker”. Not sure of that name yet.  He has an affinity with electricity, and is a thief, as well as a graffiti artist.

spyker-work-in-progress2

 

The speckles on his skin might change – I’m not sure if he has patterns, or pimples :)

In which I meet Three Thieves

Sometimes, when I get a bit stuck with my writing, it helps to draw the characters.  These are for my current work in progress, which is the sequel to Crooks and Straights.  I knew one of my characters had to have an unexpected meeting late at night, but I didn’t know who he would run into.  So I started drawing, and these three guys emerged:

three-thieves2

 

I don’t know their names yet – Brendon says the big guy is called “Billy Bong”.  All I know is that they are thieves, that the big one is calm and even tempered, the little one is suspicious and has a nasty temper, and the creature is the sensible one of the group.

What’s in the Bowl

Once a week, I volunteer at the Two Oceans Aquarium, at the microscope display. It’s always a bit of a surprise what you’ll find in the bowls.  This one contains, among other creatures 

  • Anemone (not sure what kind,  the thing like a golden chrysanthemum in the middle there)
  • A Pycnogonida, or scarlet sea spider with egg pouches (see him just above the anemone)
  • A Red chested sea cucumber (little dude on the left that looks like a chilli with a moustache)
  • Golden sea cucumber, (peachy thingimajig bottom left)
  • Feather star (bristly person upper right)
  • Several barnacles
  • Nudibranch (not really visible against the left edge)
  • Billions of brine shrimp all over the place

microscope_bowl

Interlude with skink

 

Found this tiny fellow on my writing desk just now.  He was quite unafraid of me.

small_skink

He was also not at all keen to go outside.  Snapped at me, even!  Brave little chap.

small_skink_escape

Crooks and Straights is published!

At long last, after months of writing, rewriting, editing, illustrating, proofreading and formatting, the book exists and is for sale.  At the moment, as an e-book on Amazon, but soon there’ll be a print version as well.

Crooks_straights_e_cover-thumb

Book Description:

Gia’s brother Nico is different from other boys. And being different can be dangerous in Gia’s world. Cape Town is no longer the haven for magical refugees that it once was. The Purists want to get rid of all magic and the newspapers are full of dreadful stories about the Belle Gente, the magical terrorists.

None of this concerns Gia, until the Special Branch— police who investigate the illegal use of magic—come knocking at her door, looking for Nico.  When Gia turns to her parents for help, she finds only more secrets. Then she realises that she was the one who put her brother in danger.

Available from:

Online sample:

You can read the first chapter here: Crooks and Straights sample page

Cover Reveal for Crooks and Straights!

 The book is finished.  All I have to do is format it and insert the illustrations.  And then…publish!  (If you want to be notified when this book is launched, please join my new release mailing list.  The ebook will be released first, and the print version some time later.)

Here is the cover – which took me simply ages to get right.

Crooks_and_straights_cover

 

Just to give an idea, here is just a small sample of the contortions I went through to arrive at this design :)  First, a very “Deon Meyer” looking cover with a image of the neighbourhood that the book is set in.

coverprogress1

 

Then a starry one that looks far too much like a children’s story. Or maybe not.  What on earth does this look like?

coverprogress3

 

Then, a much more dreamy one featuring the full moon, which is an important symbol in this story. Also – I found the right typeface.

coverprogress5

 

…but the moon is not as important as other things!  Must have a  captured swan, and drops of blood!  Things start falling apart a bit here:

coverprogress4

 

Nope, that didn’t work, although I like the blue, red and white.  Maybe a combination of the swan, and Deon Meyer?

coverprogress2

 

People said they could not figure out that it IS a swan.  Maybe if I zoom in on the thing, it will be better?

coverprogress6

 

No.  Not working.  Need a completely different direction.

coverprogress7

 

And after much fiddling, and combining with this image below, I arrived at the final cover, which is the one you see right at the top of this post :) .

rockdoll
And that’s that!  Such a relief to have it all done.

 

Pretty Covers

I just got these proof copies of my “Sisters” series –  the new matte covers look really good.  I liked the glossy covers too, but I think these are better.  The illustrations inside came out nicely too.

You can get these from Amazon,  but if you buy them from The Book Depository then you get free international shipping.

matte

Digital Strange

I do my illustrations on Photoshop – often in many layers.  This can create some strange effects.  Here I switched on all the layers of multiple illustration projects in one Photoshop file, so that multiple drawings are superimposed over one another.  Quite evocative :)

layers

Two more creatures from Crooks and Straights

Two more creature-portraits from Crooks and Straights.

This is a haarskeerder – a kind of fae.  They are winged, and live in communal nests very similar to the way wasps do.  They line their homes with anything soft – including human hair (hence their name) and they like collecting small glittering objects.  They can be dangerous, as they have the ability to hypnotise any human that threatens their nest.

haarskeerder_progress

This is Paddavis, a household spirit similar to a brownie or a niss.  He is originally from Ireland, but has lived in South Africa for many years now.  He still gets sunburnt though!  Not the most reliable creature, he likes stealing food out of cupboards and leaving mouse droppings behind to cast the blame of his thefts elsewhere.

 

paddavis_process2

Previous Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 653 other followers