Sunday, July 31, 2011

Noir the shadow in the night

Every novel worth its salt requires a villain and in this one, it is Noir. Noir is the head of the Queen's Pack of Hunters. This is a most exalted position for a male to achieve, as in lemur society in general, females outrank males. Noir has enjoyed several years in service to the Queen, and she favours him.

Noir is a Perrier's Sifaka, or Radjaka. These critically endangered lemurs live only in an isolated pocket of rainforest in Northern Madagascar, but Noir travels rather a lot. His fur is pitch black, as is his naked facial mask and hands.

Noir rides a bongo buck, generally described as a "red antelope" in the story. Antelope are not native to Madagascar and in my fictional equivalent they were an early import, brought in to provide the lemur-kin with milk and transport, to replace the zebu and goats found in the real-world Madagascar. His other companion is a fossa, named Kaikitra (translates as "bite"). She is obedient only to him, and like all fossa has a taste for lemur flesh. Occasionally Noir lets her indulge. Mostly she acts as a threat or deterrent, and is rather useful at helping him get the information he requires from his subjects.

In personality, Noir is cold and cruel. He is faithful only to his queen, whom he loves in his own slightly warped way. He likes to kill, but is quite practical about such things and does not cause ultimate chaos in his wake, curbing his blood-lust until it is less likely to cause hassles. As the leader of the Hunter Pack, he must constantly demonstrate his dominance over the females and demands respect.

So far he has been the hardest character to draw.

Noir interrogates Celeste

Saturday, July 30, 2011

And now we have Fiantrana

Rana was supposed to be the main character of the novel. In fact, initially she was called "Katta" to reflect my online nickname, Kat. However, when I started naming the other lemurs using Malagasy words, I thought I should do the same for her. So I gave her the name Karazana, which translates as "kind". Except I didn't realise at first that it was a noun, and meant "species". So after some research I changed it to Fiantrana, which means "compassion".

Fiantrana is kind. She is about three years old and at the start of the book has just lost her first-born kit. The unnamed male kit was deformed. As she is a nursing female, she plays nursemaid to her mother's latest kits - twins. When she is called by the Ombiasy and given the white sifaka kit to look after, she is at first a bit reluctant. This strange, alien youngster holds no real attraction to her. But, her generous nature wins out and she winds up raising the kit as her own. As Aurelia's personality becomes more apparent, Fiantrana warms to her, and eventually feels for her as a real mother would - protective and loving.

Fiantrana is a typical ringtail lemur, or maky. She is of medium size and lean of build. Her tail is long and striped. Her face is white, save for the black patches around her eyes and muzzle. A black band runs across her forehead, and above this her head is reddish-brown, a colour that runs down her spine, spreads out along her shoulders and eventually concludes at her tail. Her body fur is silver-grey, except for her belly which is a pale creamy-grey. Her hands and feet are black. She has no visible scars yet, but by the end of the story I expect she shall bear some.

Maky do not form longterm partnerships, but live instead in large family groups. They are only "in season" for one day of the year (different days for each member of the troop). During that time there is much competition between the males for the females. Thus the father of Fiantrana's kit is not of particular import.

Fiantrana is kind and gentle, but she is also willing to step in and discipline an unruly kit if the need arises. She is not spontaneous, and prefers to think things through before jumping into decisions.

Here's an extract (Fiantrana has just walked into a fight between Aurelia and another young lemur called Mafana):

What is going on here?” Fiantrana asked.

Your little parasite stole my zaza,” Mafana said. “And she's been stealing stuff from all the other maky too. She's been hiding it in the woods.”

Is this true?” Fiantrana turned her golden eyes to Aurelia. The sifaka had scrambled to her feet and now crouched low. Sand clung to her pelt. She could not meet her foster mother's gaze.

Yes,” she admitted. “It's true.”

Fiantrana just sighed and her shoulders slumped. Her look of disappointment made Aurelia feel more sorry than Mafana's bullying ever could. “I am most disappointed in you,” she said. “You must return everything immediately, and apologise. Starting with this kit here.”

With Fiantrana watching, Aurelia had no choice but to hand the doll back. “I'm sorry,” she muttered as Mafana snatched it from her hands.

You will be,” Mafana replied, grinning wickedly and flashing her fangs.

Then Fiantrana cuffed her. “Learn some respect, Mafana,” she snapped. “You've recently received your true name. It's time you stopped acting like a weanling.”

Mafana looked suitably abashed and Aurelia hid her smile.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Meet Aurelia

Aurelia is a Silky Sifaka, referred to in my story as a "silky simpony" as that is another Malagasy name that is more specific to her species (although it also includes diademned,Tattersalls and milne-edwards species).

This is not typical Silky habitat. Silkys are a rainforest lemur found only in Marojejy and are critically endangered. In our world, that is. In Aurelia's world, their tribes live in the north but occasional individuals leave to try and make a name for themselves in the city - in this case, Narivo (in the central highlands). Aurelia's mother, Solange, made such a journey. However, she was forced to flee from the city, heavily pregnant, and ended up birthing the kit far to the west, near the spiny forest. She died shortly afterwards, and Aurelia was raised by ringtailed lemurs (maky), specifically a young female called Karazana and Karazana's mother, Reniko. We will meet Karazana tomorrow.

Aurelia is spirited and stubborn. She is always asking questions and wanting to know more about what is going on around her. She likes an audience, and although she was teased somewhat in her younger days, has a charisma that draws others to her. She also loves to spin a yarn, and make up elaborate stories.

Her fur is pure white, with highlights of gold around the shoulders and spine (not visible here), which show a little of her father's heritage. The other legacy from her father is her bright blue eyes. The only non-human primate to have blue eyes in our world is a particular species of black lemur found in northern Madagascar. However, as my novel is not set in our world, the blue eyes have a different significance. Her fingers and toes are black, as is her face, although as she grows older, her face will lighten to pink.

Sifaka are the more elite, the upper-crust of lemur society and they practise manners and etiquette and fine speech. However, since Aurelia was raised in a maky fishing village, she has no such manners. She's also got a quick-temper and will nip or cuff if forced into a situation.

When I first set out to write this novel, Karazana was scheduled to be the main character and Aurelia was supposed to spend the first half as a fairly helpless infant. However, Aurelia quickly took over, forcing Kara into the background and essentially taking over. I'm letting her have her way now - I sense she knows better how her story will go then I had.

As she is the main character, there are plenty of extracts for Aurelia already in my blog, but here's a few of my favourites:
Aurelia meets her mother
Aurelia explains her heritage

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Introducing Sneak

Sneak wasn't meant to be a main character in my novel. He was introduced at one point because I wanted Aurelia to have some playmates her own age. Once he had befriended her, he wanted to stick with her for a while and insisted I let him come along on her journey.

He's a young crowned lemur (Eulemur coronatus) which are known in the story as "varika" (the Malagasy name for several lemur species, just to be confusing). He is boistrous and speaks his mind, sometimes coming across as a wee bit blunt. He's also been known to stretch the truth, exaggerate or outright lie. But underneath it all, he's a solid and loyal friend, willing to defend those he cares about. His family is a large and extended tribe, and his older brother is a piroquer called Hery, who plays a minor role in the plot.

Sneak's name is not his "real" name - eulemurs (that is to say, the so called "true" lemur species) do not name their kits until they reach 5 months of age, because infant mortality is so high. Consequently, everyone nicknames him "Sneak" because of his tendency to creep around places he shouldn't, to overhear conversations he shouldn't and to otherwise learn a lot of stuff that he's really not supposed to know. He also has very nimble fingers, and is good with knots - possibly something he has learnt from his older brother Hery.

When he receives his real name, it will probably be Misokosoko.

Sneak and his family live in the mangrove village called Belo-sur-Tsiribhana - which is named after a real village in Madagascar, although looks rather different. Constructed at the mouth of the river, the Belo-sur-Tsiribhana of my story is built in the mangrove trees, which are connected by rope ladders and platforms to form habitations. The lemurs travel around the trees by leaping or swinging, and also use boats (piroques) to travel around the waterways, transporting foods and goods. It is unclear what their principal produce is, but they do a lot of fishing. The village is one of mixed species - primarily varika (brown lemurs and crowned lemurs), komba (mongoose lemur) and tsibahaka (crowned sifaka and deckens sifaka). They are ruled by a council, represented by one member (usually female) of each of the prevalent species. Sneak is the son of the crowned varika Counciller.

In appearance, Sneak resembles a typical young male crowned lemur. His fur is a silvery grey for most of his body, but his arms and legs are furred lightly in orange from elbow/knee to fingers/toes. His tail also is orange. His belly is pale grey/white. Across his forehead is his "crown" which forms a V above his eyes, also orange in colour. The top of his head is black. His eyes are orange-red. His hands are furred in orange, but his fingers/toes are grey and his nails are black. He has no visible scars (yet). As he grows, this orange will spread to replace the silver fur.

Here is an extract when he introduces Aurelia (who he is calling "Fotsy" because that's the name she's given him) to his family:
Salama,” Sneak greeted the plump varika. “This is Fotsy, she's a friend from far, far away. She's come to learn a bit about us varika. Fotsy, this is Mpahandro – she's my great aunt and our tribe matron.” He grinned, licking his lips, “she also makes a fantastic banana and rice custard. You have gotta try some. It's like the bestest, most delicious thing ever.”

Oh you little flatterer,” Mpahandro nuzzled him with teasing affection. “How did you know I was just rustling some up for dinner?”

I can smell it from fifty trees away,” Sneak laughed. “When do we eat?”

Soon,” she said, “you can help me dish if you like.”

Can I lick the pot?”

Only after everyone has eaten,” she chuckled. “And you should show some manners in front of your fine sifaka friend. You don't want her to think you're an uncouth barbarian, do you?”

Oh,” said Sneak, “I'm sorry.” He turned to Aurelia. “Fotsy, would you like to help me lick clean the pot?”

Right, here's some conversations with Sneak: Sneak discusses Piroquiers and Sneak explains "tag"

Stay tuned because I am working on a number of character illustrations at the moment and I will introduce you to all the characters - Karazana, Mijifajifa. Rakoto and of course Aurelia. As well as Noir, Matthieu, Chike, Mephistopheles, Maohy and maybe Daniel, if I ever find a way to work him into the story.

Yes, I have a huge cast of characters...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Snow Day!

I've lived in Christchurch for around 18 years. We moved here in 1993, the year after the so-called "big snow of 1992" which was the regions heaviest in 30 years. It was so bad that they lost power, many farmers lost their sheep and an ice-skating rink's roof collapsed under the snow fall.

So, although we've had patchy snow some winters, the last time we had real, genuine, stick-around-and-make driving-hazardous was about four years ago when I lived at my old flat. It melted during the day and turned to slush.

Today has trumped that. I woke up early to the eerie orange-white glow of fluroescent lights reflecting off the snow. Outside the world was transformed by white. After a quick check of my car:

... I decided that backing out the long driveway would probably result in me running into a wall and I didn't fancy shovelling the whole thing only to skid on slippery, pot-holed* roads. So I thought I'd catch the bus.

No buses - so I decided to walk.

Now, I've walked to work on numerous occasions - it's a 5-6 km walk partly through Hagley Park. But walking in the dark and the snow was a surreal experience. For one thing, the streets were so quiet - a few inchworming cars slushed past me, and one bold cyclist, but the world was like a desolate white wonderland. The piles of bricks, the broken houses, all covered in a shroud of snow. My broken city had been painted in beautiful hues. Halfway there, I "picked up" one of my co-workers and we walked through the park together. Haunting and beautiful - the black of the bare trees a stark contrast against the white of the snow. We passed a lone skiier, taking advantage of the large stretch of (at that point) pristine snow. During the last stretch, we hit a full-on blizzard, which was not pleasant.

Arriving at work, there were not enough to run the business, and with fears of worse weather to come, we decided to remain closed. And thus we began the long walk home.

It was actually fun - the first half at any rate. Snowmen were being constructed by the sides of the road, and snowball fights - I even copped one from a passing car. Children out playing on snowboards. We watched a few people get stuck in the snow, and require a push and I was indeed grateful that I had not driven. After leaving my companion, things got worse. The snow started coasting down and the footpath was about 15cm deep - slippery and treacherous. By now my body temperature had melted the snow on my clothing and I was soaked as well. I struggled on, afraid to stop and finally, thankfully reached home and a change of clothes.

Yes folks, I walked 12 km in the snow.
How's that for a work-out?

You can see how deep the snow was by this picture of our backyard table:

But, Hagley Park was beautiful.

But will I walk to work in ankle deep snow again? Well maybe when...

* to be fair, most of the potholes have now be filled in, but the roads still dip and rise unexpectedly

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mad about Madagascar

It's a beautiful, magical island, trapped in time and containing more unique wildlife than you can imagine. It is also a fading, lost paradise. Only about 10% of its native habitat remains and although new species are still being discovered, we're at risk of losing them all.

Here is some of that wildlife:

Cuckoo-roller, Helmet Vanga
Ringtail Mongoose, Durrell's Vontsira
Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur, Sucker-footed Bat
Lake Aloatra Bamboo Lemur, Long-eared Tenrec
Giant Jumping Rat, Red Fronted Lemur
Vasa Parrot, Crested Coua
Long-tailed Ground-Roller

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Still writing...

Okay, so as my story had got to a sort of drag-on-side of things, I decided to take it back a step. Instead of them ending up wandering through the Tsingy, I thought, why not let the bandits get them?

So... it looks like Sneak and Aurelia have been captured by the "bad guys" (well, not THE bad guys, just a couple of OTHER bad guys. There's a lot of bad guys around here...) and Karazana and Hery have been dumped into a boat, pushed off into the river and left to starve/bleed/dehydrate to death. Or maybe not, as they may very well wash up on a sand bar and be rescued... Anyhow, their fate will be revealed later. But meanwhile things don't look so rosy for our heroic kits. Sneak is destined for the saphira mines, and Aurelia... well, it's not been specifically declared but it definitely involves some sort of slavery and may involve her becoming a "pet" to... oh I don't know... a rich sugar merchant? Or coffee, vanilla... cocoa... I wonder if any of these are actually native to the island? Does it really matter? My lemurs ride antelope, after all!

Anyhow, I cannot help but wonder if the watching of "Game of Thrones" has made my story take on a distinctly darker edge.

Daily Wordcount: 1,446
Total Wordcount: 60,179

One of their captors stared at him. “You didn't break him, did you Forovato?” He asked. “If his arm is broken he is useless to us. We might as well leave him here to rot.”

The most brutish of the group shook his head, making the bones in his fur rattle. “I only squeezed him a little,” he said. “Weakling.” He spat at Sneak, the globule striking the kit in the face. It trickled down his forehead and into his eye.

Aurelia growled. Her captor cuffed her again. “Be a good pet,” he snarled. “It'll make things easier.”

If you hurt me,” she snapped, “then I won't be so pretty anymore.”

That is indeed true,” her captor agreed, his voice deceptively mild. “But we can hurt your friend. He's as good as useless to us anyhow, not worth more than a flawed stone.”

He's worth twice any of you!”

Her captor gave a slight nod to Forovato. Flashing his teeth, the large lemur seized Sneak by the scruff of his neck, lifting him off the ground. Forovato slashed him across the cheek. Pressed his claws against the injured kit's throat.

You want me to kill him?” He asked, looking not at her captor, but straight at her.

Aurelia shook her head and dropped her eyes. “No.” She whispered.

Given my tendency to use Malagasy words for the names of the lemurs (although sifaka get French names), each of the "names" actually means something. Basically, I go through the Malagasy dictionary here and find a word that describes the personality or nature of the character. I suspect if anyone translates them back, they might be quite amused at how unflattering some of these names are.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


I have been commissioned to design a skunk bookmark. Because the first one I came up with didn't hook over the page very well, I made a second one, which hooks better but still not as well as the lemur - mainly because skunks have shorter tails.

As an additional extra, I also made a Skunk Totem card:

If your totem is the skunk - you are fearless but peaceable. You enjoy spending time by yourself, but when in the company of others you are shown respect. In turn, you too also know when to give respect and when to demand it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Still writing...

Today I received my "Birds of Madagascar, a photographic guide" in the mail from The Book Depository. It fits nicely with my "Mammals of Madagascar: a complete guide" that arrived some time before then. OF course, given the vast amount of both birds and mammals that we didn't see when we were in Madagascar, now I want to go back and see what I can identify. I wish I'd had the bird book then, actually.

Did I mention I also have this beautiful dvd? Madagascar BBC
And over 30 toy lemurs, many of which are plushes and some of which were handmade in Madagascar?

You might say I'm a bit obsessive. In fact, go on and say it. I don't mind.

Anyhow, with all this wonderful inspiration (although the DVD made me cry and I've only watched 1/3 of it) you might think I should be writing. And you'd be right. But alas, it's been hard to be motivated and I'd come to a bit of a stalemate. But I am trucking through it.

Anyhow, today I managed 1,280 words, bringing my wordcount up to a grand total of 65,507 words.

And I drew up the lineart for a helmet vanga. Whilst watching "Game of Thrones". Now talk about dark... I've read the books, and those were bleak enough... But in the first episode there were two beheadings in the first ten minutes and another death before the end. Indeed, when we finished today's episode (#3) I turned to my husband and said "wow, that's weird, nobody died."

Anyway, suffice to say, my story is taking a bit of a darker twist. But not really - or not yet anyhow.

And Karazana and Aurelia are currently playing with fire. Literally.

“Misaotra.” Aurelia took from the collection the stick and the moss. “If we twist the moss around the stick, we can light it with your firestone,” she said. “And you can carry it. In your mouth.”

Karazana mused the suggestion for a moment. “That could work,” she said. “Let's try it.”

The first few attempts ended up with the moss falling to the ground, but on the fourth try, it stayed put. Aurelia waved it about. It didn't fall off.

“Now for the fire.” Karazana pulled out her firestone and the small lump of metal. Aurelia held the stick steady, bracing it against the ground. Crouching over the moss, it took several strikes before Karazana managed to unleash the fire in the heart of the stone. Sparks showered down onto the moss.

There was a hiss, followed by a roar as the flame devoured the moss and began licking its way along the branch. Long tendrils of fire snaked out, singing Karazana's whiskers. She yelped and it tumbled to the floor, sputtering to its death against the stony ground.

The maky rubbed her face in the dirt. The stink of singed fur hung in the air.

“Are you hurt?” Aurelia cried, hopping over to her and licking her forehad and ears.

“I... I don't think so,” Karazana muttered, looking up. Dirt and dust clung to the fur of her muzzle and chin, but she seemed unscathed. “But let's not try that again.”

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I discovered the concept of "Toy Photography" thanks to the blog: Lens Addiction in which it was mentioned (although she had not done any of it herself). So I decided it was a fun project - after all, toys don't move and you can therefore take your time to line up the shots. I also have a rather large collection of toy animals called "yowies". My mother and I went mad collecting them, and I cannot help but wonder if we were the cause of their demise - ie: we stopped and therefore sales of them declined below which made them worth making. Needless to say, you can't buy Yowies off the shelf anymore, but the toys are still out there.

Please excuse the fact that I can't remember the names of most of these species.

Scorpion vs spider:

Beware! A snake lurks in the leaf litter...

A pretty moth roosts on a winter flower:

(note that the finger holding it in place is carefully cropped)

Eek! It's a Carpet Python!

A tiny treefrog seeks moisture where he can find it:

Another for Summer

And here is my second Chimera of the Day:

Lion/rat for Summer

Metafilter Mutant

My husband found this on metafilter:
Where can I find someone that I can pay to do a custom drawing of an imaginary animal for me?

It's a little silly - my girlfriend has some favourite animals (3) and I wanted to find someone who'd sort of... draw an imaginary animal that's a combination of all 3, just for s***s and giggles.

And since it's such an unusual request, any idea how much it would cost? Thanks.
Since this is exactly the sort of thing that I regularly do, he put my name forth and I received the commission. The combination turned out to be giraffe/zebra/elephant.

So, here is the results:

Interesting enough, there is a real mammal that looked a bit like this - macrauchenia

And I have another commission to work on too - for Summer, the lass I drew the lion/rabbit for. Now I'm making her a lion/rat for one of her other children.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


For a special lass who shares my birthday. I hope she likes it.

If anyone knows what species it is, please tell me! Photoreferenced from this picture.
As you can see, I've accentuated the colours - as per always.