Tales From My Childhood Bookshelf

In my childhood bedroom, I had a little white shelf crammed full of books. A strange mix of books, but every one of them beloved. The echoes of those books informed my budding creative tastes, so when @jehlei on instagram asked what books from my childhood inspired me,  I unearthed some very old memories to answer her. 

Here a few of my oldest illustrative loves.

Edmund Dulac

I had a beautifully illustrated version of Hans Christian Anderson fairytales. It was old – where it came from, I do not know. The bindings were ragged and ripped loose, the cover was no longer attached. I stared at those illustrations for hours. I loved them, for all they made my head spin.

Even now, my favourite Anderson fairytales are The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen.


E.H Shepard

Shepard’s illustrations in Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh were the sort of illustrations I just fell into. Cosy, detailed and homely, they have such simple, elegant charm. I still look them up from time to time, just to enjoy them. Best enjoyed with a cup of tea. 


Beatrix Potter

I didn’t have access to many Beatrix Potter stories as a child, but I remember an illustration of a garden on the front cover of one of the few collections I had. Her illustrated world is so rich with accurate detail and blissful fantasy, and her life was no less detailed and interesting. The more I learn about her, the more I admire her. 


Cicely Mary Barker

Perhaps one of the most influential of my childhood books was a little accordion book called A Flower Fairy Alphabet. Barker’s whimsy and magical view of botany and natural science just captured my heart from an early age. I still get giddy when I see those beloved illustrations.


Arthur Rackham

This list would not be complete without Arthur Rackham. I discovered Arthur Rackham through an Alice in Wonderland postcard. Later, a little after my first foray into watercolour, I studied his work and found my attempts at the medium entirely disappointing. I shelved my watercolour and Rackham until my early twenties, when I found myself falling in love with his art all over again, and became brave enough to try watercolour once more. He was incredibly prolific – there is a huge body of work to explore, if it takes your fancy. Start, perhaps, with Alice in Wonderland, and end up in the beautiful world of Norse mythology.


Sadly, I don’t have any of those early childhood books with me any longer. I am always on the look for vintage copies of work from these artists – I hope to amass a vast collection one day.


What was your favourite childhood book?

Paris Sketchbooks, Winter 2017


Things I did not do in Paris: Draw often.

Yet, I enjoyed every day to the most. In the year ahead, I will be more diligent with my travel journals as they make such lovely keepsakes, but I also won’t be too hard on myself if I skip the journalling to just enjoy the moment. It’s all about that happy middle ground. And there was much happiness to be found in Paris.

Autumn leaves drifting through the rain, mist wreathing the ancient spires of buildings, leafy spaces bursting from alleys and courtyards, bread warm from the oven and uneven cobbles pressing aches into the soles of my feet . . . Every sense was indulged, delighted and awed.


Places of Note:

Jardin des plantes

Jardin du Luxembourg

Du Pain et des Idées

Blé Sucré


Couldn’t be Left Behind:

Stillman & Birn Sketchbook (Senior Art, AU)

Sennelier watercolour in Gris Chaud  (Sennelier, FR)

Delfonics Puppy Print Pencilcase (Delfonics Store,Carrousel du Louvre, FR)

Pentel Orenz Mechanical Pencil 0.2  (Delfonics Store,Carrousel du Louvre, FR)

TWSBI ECO fountain pen (Larry Post, AU)

J. Herbin lavender scented ink in Encre Bleue (BHV Marais, FR)


Paris Snapshots



Paris was a whirl of light and textures. Every day was dripped through with wonder of some sort. Each started with grey skies and ended with sore feet. My sketchbook was abandoned for days and yet each hour I found a hundred things I wished to record in it. I’ve never been very enthusiastic about city holidays, but Paris won me over. There’s something thrilling about the ease of slipping into a foreign flow of life.

I look forward to sharing the journal I sketched (still finishing it up), and the notes I took, and the inspiration I left with for a new series of illustrations!

Cosy Reads: A Natural History of Dragons + Mariage Frères Marco Polo

Welcome to Cosy Reads, a post series that pairs a good book with a good tea!

Marco Polo is one of the most delightful teas in my cabinet, and one I always suggest to guests. It is an adventurous, rich tea, and I’ve yet to find someone not won over by it. Similarly, Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons, is a book that I recommend to every member of the reading public that I meet. And I’ve yet to meet a soul that was not enchanted.

The Tea

Mariage Frères ’ most famous secret is this mysterious blend that takes you to distant lands and strange countries.

My shameless love of Mariage Frères is no secret, and this blend is not only one of the signature blends of this company, but also one of my cabinet staples. It makes a smooth, rich tea with a malty shadow of sweetness. The intrigue starts as soon as the canister is opened – the extraordinary scent demands more investigation. Brew for a short time if you like a light, sprightly tea, or brew for longer if you want a hint of bitterness to chase each mouthful.

Drink this black for a wondrous moment of enjoyment and stillness. This is a perfectly balanced blend that nevertheless has the strength to hold some milk and, if you have a sweet-tooth, a touch of honey or sugar. Either way, this is a cup of tea you won’t want to finish.

Steeping Temperature: 95°C                Steeping Time: 4 – 5 minutes

The Book

 . . . combining adventure with the inquisitive spirit of the Victorian Age . . .

Though this book promises (and does deliver) dragons, this is the story of Isabella Camhurst, and science, and anthropology, and exploration, and the infuriating social barriers stunting discovery and progress. This is the first of Marie Brennan’s books that I have read, and the entire series is now shelved amongst my lifelong favourites. This book is unashamedly and ecstatically about  discovery and adventure.

A Natural History of Dragons is the first in The Memoirs of Lady Trent series. Really, I just can’t recommend this series enough. The covers are beautiful, and the pages are peppered with beautiful illustrations by Todd Lockwood. My adored favourite is In the Labyrinth of Drakes, and Lindzi loved The Voyage of the Basilisk very much. The complete series looks very handsome indeed on the shelf, though in our house, we rarely have all the series shelved at the same time. There’s always one being read.

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist . . .

Written in the style of a memoir, A Natural History of Dragons follows Isabella from girlhood to adulthood. This book has the most wonderful and endearing cast of characters. It is in the people that support Isabella, who encourage opportunities, who believe in, admire and value her, that this story has its heart.

If you’re a fan of natural science, fantastical alternate histories and memoirs, you’ll like this book. And if you enjoyed the movie The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, you might just enjoy this also!




Find Marie Brennan here, and find Mariage Frères here.



Have you read A Natural History of Dragons? Tell me your thoughts, or leave a suggestion for a future Cosy Read!



Tasmania Journal

Tasmania in winter is a clear-skied delight.  In Launceston, dawn breaks in cool, pastel hues. Lilac skies, ribboned with mist, hover above the frost-lined banks of the Esk River, and despite the hum of traffic stirring, it is peaceful. We are setting off to Cradle Mountain National Park, located a few hours south. It’s been eight years since I last visited, and I can barely sit still as we watch farmland pass by the bus windows.

Cradle Mountain does not disappoint. It welcomes us with rain, with sun, with mist and low-slung cloud, with snow crisp on the ground, and with wombats, wallabies, pademelons and currawongs. It suddenly feels like four days will pass far too swiftly.

Our first day takes us along the Cradle Valley boardwalk, where alpine coral fern and beautiful buttongrass moorland dominate. We follow the windswept path beyond Ronny Creek, up through a small pandani grove to the beautiful Waldheim Chalet. The wind rattles the pandani, and it sounds like rain.

Our last day, we walk around Dove Lake. The old forests are thick with beech, sassafras, king billy pine and pencil pine, each decked in lichen, liverworts and mosses. We are lucky enough to see some late Nothofagus gunnii still clinging to its golden autumn colours. As we complete the Dove Lake Circuit, rain glosses the quartzite in a milky glaze, and a rainbow arches out of the mist. Remarkably, our feet are reasonably dry.

The above entry is taken from my travel notebooks. I kept notes in my Field Notes journal during the day, when it was too damp, windy or cold to stop and sketch. A lot of the sketching was completed back in the cabin each night, with notes transcribed from my journal. 

The full journal will be available to my patrons at the end of this month. A short version will be available in my website portfolio in the near future!




Cosy Read: Jane Eyre and Lincang Old Arbour

It has been good reading weather lately, hasn’t it? Let’s cosy up with the eternal classic Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, and pour a cup of Cloud Nine Tea’s Lincang Old Arbour. Perhaps a strange pairing at first, but stay with me. Jane Eyre is a book of strong and enchanting qualities, of moral and spiritual musings and one that has given me a different experience each time I have read it.

It seems fitting, then, to pair it with Lincang Old Arbour. A tea picked from wild trees, it has a strong and bold flavour, complex without being complicated, rather like Jane herself. The unique flavour changes with each steep, like a good book is deepened by multiple reads. And once done, the flavour lingers in your mouth, just as Jane Eyre lingers in the mind. Persistent, and bitter-sweet.

The Tea

With enveloping aromas of wood smoke and dark chocolate, this black tea is one to really savour

A cup of this tea demands your attention. It requires a slowness of pace, an immersion into your senses, that makes it a perfect tea with which to escape from the world. There are hints of malt, and smoke, and sweet, and that thrilling taste of fine black tea. The leaves are long and spindly, and require a wash (5 seconds in hot water) to unfurl the leaves before steeping. This is a tea with no additions or added flavours, and it is one of the most stunning teas in my cabinet. The tea leaves hold a rich cocoa scent, and the tea itself has an echo of burnt sugar. It never fails to delight.

Drink this tea black, no sugar, and just sink into the aromas and flavours of cocoa and malt. Then, if you would like, brew the leaves again and enjoy with a milder, less-sweet brew.

Steeping Temperature: 90°C  (hot but not boiling for best chocolate notes)

Steeping Time: 5 minutes – recommended by Cloud Nine. (I steep mine for 1-2 minutes first time, 5 minutes second time).


The Book

Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!

– Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

The first time I read Jane Eyre, I was bewitched by Jane’s defiant spirit, and her eloquence, and it stirred my mind in a beautiful way. I’ve since read it again (and again) and there are moments of beauty that never fail to ensnare me. The cast of characters include some truly Gothic archetypes, and of course, the inestimable Mr. Rochester, but this novel is about Jane, and there is never a moment when you, as the reader, are not in Jane’s thoughts, and in Jane’s heart.

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being, with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.

Set in the early 19th century, this novel follows Jane from her orphaned childhood years, to the harrowing years at Lowood Institution, to Thornfield Hall and Mr. Rochester, and then, beyond. Jane Eyre revolves around themes of family, duty, morality, religion, spirituality and, of course, love. Jane is starved of love from an early age, and when it finally reaches her, it comes in a tumultuous and stormy form. Both Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester are characters at odds with the world, their meeting of spirits pins the heart of this novel. Jane’s quest for identity, agency and meaning is timeless, no matter the almost two centuries that seperate writer and modern reader.

Perhaps one of my favourite things about Jane Eyre are these words by its author, as retold by Elizabeth Gaskell. When Charlotte Brontë’s sisters claimed it was impossible to make a heroine interesting on any other terms but beauty, she responded, “I will prove to you that you are wrong; I will show you a heroine as plain and as small as myself, who shall be as interesting as any of yours.”

And she did.





Have you read Jane Eyre? Tell me your thoughts, or leave a suggestion for a future Cosy Read!



Melbourne Tea Festival

The Melbourne Tea Festival falls conveniently near my birthday each year, which allows a certain feeling of treating myself. That said, I was positively sensible this time around, and came away with a single jar of tea (and a long wish list of others).

As with any event in Melbourne, going early as possible is the secret to an enjoyable day. We arrived at 9AM, when the doors opened, and spent an hour ambling amongst relaxed stallholders and enjoying generous cups of freshly-brewed tea. I started the day with Love Tea’s Honey Chai, which was made as I waited. There was, though it hardly seemed possible, even more chai than last year. I tried only two, and otherwise kept my tasting cup free of cinnamon. The Honey Chai was quite charming, and I already regret not picking some up.

The stallholders were all lovely, the displays enticing, and the tea was lovely, though some black teas suffered from being a bit over-brewed and bitter.

We spent quite some in the Tea Garden stall, admiring their subscription boxes and bold tea blends. The Maple Chai attracted a lot of attention – smelling and tasting just like pancakes! Lindzi picked up the Vanilla Cream Oolong, and I chose the Espresso Mar-Tea-Ni, a black tea and coffee bean blend. I’ve always been intrigued by coffee/tea blends, and I’ve not had the chance to taste one before. Do they work? Or is it just sacrilegious to even try? (I brewed some up as soon as I returned home, and it was both curious and delightful). I have to admit, I was also greatly sold on the cute packaging!

Also worth a mention, Those Girls Beverage Co. The hot apple cider was heavenly, and I’m a little bit in love with their Pineapple and Sage green tea. If you are in Australia, you can find them here. I’ll be trying to figure out how to make an iced tea even half as delightful in my own kitchen. I was happy to see Perfect South again, with their range of incredibly mellow and lovely Australian-grown green tea. I have the Caramel Genmaicha in my tea cabinet, and the scent is as heavenly as the taste.

The ‘Tea I’d Most Like To Try’ award goes to the Satsuma Raven tea from Storm in a Teacup – I will get my hands on it one day!


On My Desk: Turner Acryl Gouache Japanesque Colour

This beautiful set of acrylic gouache fell into my lap late last year, brought back from Japan and given to me as a gift. The set is called Japanesque, and features colours inspired by traditional Japanese paintings. They also feature a hefty array of metallics, a range of golds, bronzes, coppers and silvers with red, blue, green and black tints.

I use watercolour more than gouache, and I feel comfortable with watercolour, yet I wanted these as soon as I saw a picture online. There was no small amount of trepidation as I opened the lovely, green box and saw the neat array of rows. Each tube tilted precisely at an attractive angle. So much potential.

I’ve been using them for finishing touches, dabs of metallic shine, dashes of bold colour. But I wanted to paint something for this blog post, and so I quickly did a stylised study of some autumn garden finds.

There is something exhilarating about new art supplies. Something charming about struggling with a medium you don’t instinctively know. As much as I like my safe, cosy comfort zones, there is a lot of fun to be found when stepping out of it.

My challenge to myself for the rest of this year is to try new things, and new skills, and new techniques. I predict things might get messy for a little while, but I am excited to think what might develop from it.

Bookshelf Treasures: Botanical Books

My first botanical book was a thieved thing; stolen, by child-me, from the dusty shelves of my mother’s cabinet. A Country Cup has been with me ever since. At the time, I loved the fantastical recipes, the acorn coffee and the juniper wine, that reminded me of Redwall novels. Later, I appreciated the beautiful illustrated plates between pages. Later still, I fell in love with the stylised trees on the endpapers.

It is my favourite reference for old-timey English countryside plants, and has inspired many illustrations. As for writing, well. The day that a character needs to make spruce beer, I’ll be ready.

My bookshelf is diminished by many moves and rented houses. Most books stay packed away in boxes, waiting for the elusive house that we will one day settle down in. But still, when spaces are left unfilled on the shelf, books will appear to fill them. It is a law of nature.

I have a weakness for collecting wildflower identification guides. Marjorie Blamey’s Wildflowers by Colour is the ultimate flower reference for an illustrator – perfect colour associations just waiting at your fingertips! The Concise British Flora in Colour has pages and pages of beautiful illustrations. Hidden Natural Histories: Trees is full of fascinating folklore and cultural uses of tree species around the world, and the Book of Leaves holds vital information such as  . . . the actual size of leaves. It is the book I most often use as an actual identification guide, but it is a useful resource in other ways. The information on habitat, climate and the diagrams of tree height and profile are all useful for both writing and illustration.

Devoid of any illustrations, the Book of Poisons is a reference designed for writers. I picked it up years ago on a whim, and it was worth it just for the reaction it gets from visitors. Probably most useful for those in the murder mystery business, I’ve nevertheless flicked through it for one purpose or the other.

On the other end of the scale, 木の葉の画集 (konohanogyasu) is a book of entirely illustrations of leaves of Japanese native trees. It’s my treasure. A thick, parchment slip, a hard cover and rough-touch paper. As the spine creaks open, beautiful leaves scatter the pages in vivid colour and careful detail, as perfect as if they had been pressed fresh between the pages.

Though the use of botanical books to an artist is easily clear, their use to a writer is just as fun. Plants are both medicine and poison, they are temptation and warning, they speak of wealth or of poverty. Their symbolism runs deep in many cultures and many mythologies. And, more mundanely, they keep characters fed and trade roaring, and tell us much about the climate, the country and the culture of the setting.

As a child obsessed with zoology, it sometimes feels strange to have grown into an adult so captivated by botany. There is a tangible magic to plants, a wonder of possibility and of history to every leaf you run through your fingers.


List of Books

A Country Cup – Wilma Paterson (images 1,2)

Wildflowers by Colour – Marjorie Blamey (not pictured)

The Concise British Flora in Colour – William Keble Martin (image 3)

The Book of Leaves – Allen J. Coombes (not pictured)

Book of Poisons – Anne Bannon and Serita Stevens (not pictured)

木の葉の画集 – 安池 和也 (image 4)

Hidden Natural Histories: Trees – Noel Kingsbury (image 5)

Cosy Read: Newt’s Emerald and Thé de Lune

Welcome to Cosy Reads, a post series that pairs a good book with a good tea!

Today, we’ll curl up with the charming Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix, alongside the lovely Mariage Freres’ THÉ DE LUNE. For this first post in the series, I picked a read that is truly cosy. Newt’s Emerald is fun, whimsical, and a playful homage to regency romance. Similarly cosy, THÉ DE LUNE is a joyful tea with perfumed vanilla notes, and a plucky flavour that lingers after each mouthful.

The Tea

A black tea with handsome, finely worked leaves is blended with a grand bouquet of fruity, flowery, vanilla’d flavours.

It might come as no surprise, but I adore Mariage Freres teas. There is a subtlety of flavour that demands savouring, and it turns every cup of tea into a ceremony in delight. The tea leaves are beautiful, dark with bright dashes of blue flowers, and the scent bewitches as soon as the canister is opened. The perfume carries over into the brewing, and sinking into a new book surrounded by such a lovely scent makes for a perfect moment.

Thé de Lune is best taken black, though I have added milk once or twice – the flavour holds it sweet, enchanting notes even with a dash of milk. If you have a sweet tooth, I recommend honey over sugar, to complement the flowery vanilla.

Steeping Temperature: 95°C                Steeping Time: 3 – 4 minutes

The Book

A Regency romance with magical elements, featuring an eighteen-year-old heroine and a dashing young hero – and a case of mistaken identity.

If you are a fan of Garth Nix’s earlier series, you best be aware that Newt’s Emerald is not at all a similar read. That’s not to say you won’t like it – I count myself in that camp, and I wholeheartedly adored this book. I read it with a gleeful smile on my face.

After the Newington Emerald is stolen at the height of a conjured storm, eighteen-year-old Lady Truthful Newington goes to London to search for the magical heirloom of her house. But as no well-bred young lady can hunt the metropolis for a stolen jewel, she has to disguise herself as a man, and is soon caught up in a dangerous adventure where she must risk her life, her reputation and her heart.

Little nods are made to the regency classics throughout, and though some might find the story lacking some depth and a tad silly, I was in love. It has all those elements that make me weak-kneed; a cross-dressing heroines, a dash of mundane (and not so mundane) magic, and a romantic interest who isn’t quite what he seems. The book is an unashamed love letter to regency romance, to the likes of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. No complicated plot or grittiness here, just a honestly fun read from cover-to-cover.

If you’re a fan of Diana Wynne Jones and Jane Austen, you’ll like this book.





Have you read Newt’s Emerald? Tell me your thoughts, or leave a suggestion for a future Cosy Read!



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