Monster Blood Tattoo sucked our then twelve-year-old son in on
the first page and spat him back out a couple of days later once he'd read
the book cover to cover (including the glossary and the 100 page appendix, which
particularly fascinated him) and pored over the maps and illustrations. In the intervening period we did see him from time to time - for meals and
breathless plot updates - but in essence, although his body was with us, his
mind was somewhere in the Half-Continent! With illustrations reminiscent
of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy, this is a book to kindle the imagination
of any child who revels in fantastic worlds filled with fantastic creatures.
Dyan Blacklock, publisher with Omnibus Books (an imprint of Scholastic in Australia), recalls how she became aware of the Half-Continent world: D.M. Cornish, a young illustrator earning his daily bread doing illustrations for TV and advertising was in her office (presumably showing illustrations for some other project) when he reached into his backpack for some gum and accidentally dropped a book of illustrations. She says, "A publisher is, by nature, a stickybeak ..... A journal with the number 23 written on the spine in Wite-Out was bound to excite my curiosity." Before handing the book back, she flipped through it and saw "delicate drawings in black ink with copious spidery handwritten headings, followed by detailed descriptions ... [and] felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise up ... Here was the kind of thing every publisher dreams of discovering. This was a work at once beautiful and unique. It was illustrated with such intensity and love that it had the power to move a reader with the barest of information."
What she saw was much more than just pictures - the books contained an entire history, geography, languages and place names (the result of 14 years of work). She suggested he should work a novel. At first he resisted saying that he was an illustrator not a writer, but eventually he was persuaded and for the next two years he worked diligently to deliver 1,000 words a week propped up by one small advance after another.
Although this is the first of a planned trilogy, Blacklock sees the Half-Continent series continuing long past three books due to the many extraordinary creatures and people that won't fit in the first three volumes, she also foresees add-on works such as an encyclopedia of the world and perhaps a volume or two of history!
This review was originally published in July 2006, and has been updated for the September 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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