D.M. Cornish was born in time to see the first Star Wars movie. He was five. It made him realise that worlds beyond his own were possible, and he failed to eat his popcorn. The next important moment in his life was when he read the Boland Light Railway by BB. A wonderfully well-thought out world of gnomes and the railway they had made, it built on his already established idea that other worlds were just out of reach somewhere. Lego was the vehicle for expressing his ideas. He didn't just build spaceships, he imagined the worlds and the stories of the little people he had literally built with his own hands.
Cornish's father read C.S. Lewis to him, providing him with another world to imagine. When he read The Lord of the Rings at twelve Cornish was completely convinced that other worlds existed: they were plausible, and writers had a key to these worlds. But words were not yet his tools. Drawings were. His earliest memory of being praised for being a 'good drawer' was when he was seven years old. Fellow students gathered around and admired his work. It was an established fact a year later - he was the best drawer in the class. From then on he drew, and drew and drew. By age eleven he had made his first book called 'Attack from Mars'. It featured Jupitans and lots and lots of drawings of space battles. (It has never been published, and world rights are still available.)
After school he trained at the University of South Australia, completing a Bachelor of Design majoring in illustration. This gave him four years to shake off his childhood desire to create a new world, grow up and become an adult. The fact that he failed to achieve these aims led him somewhat indirectly into the world of television illustration. After a few years of taxi driving (he was once hit on the head with a bottle) and then the most boring job he ever had - market research - he began drawing cartoons for a TV game show called Catchphrase. This job required him to be creative on demand - it was a good time and he learned to be productive and stick to a deadline.
He was once asked to be a judge at the Australian Portuguese Association's beauty contest. He had trouble saying which girl was the most beautiful and was prepared to spend as much time on this as it required. Unfortunately, it had to be decided in an hour. He has attempted to hire himself out for similar positions ever since but has discovered that these jobs are thin on the ground.
Meanwhile, since his third year at university, Cornish had begun to compile a series of notebooks, beginning with #1 in 1993. He had read the Gormenghast series and the Iliad and Love of Seven Dolls. Classical ideas as well as the great desire to continue what Mervyn Peake had begun but not finished led him to delineate his own world. Herman Hesse, Kafka and other writers convinced him there were ways to be fantastical without conforming to the generally accepted notions of fantasy. Over the next ten years he filled 23 journals with his pictures, definitions, ideas and histories of his world, the Half-Continent. It was not until 2003 that he had an opportunity to develop these ideas further. Arriving back in his home town of Adelaide by accident, Cornish was introduced to a children's publisher by an illustrator friend and began to illustrate picture books. At a meeting with his publisher he fished in his backpack for a piece of gum, and journal #23 fell on the floor.
'It was not the fact that a notebook fell on the floor that caught my attention,' she says. 'It was the fact that it had the number 23 on the spine. This indicated there was a great deal more of whatever this was.'
His publisher talked him into writing a story from his world. She found it difficult to believe that he had developed such a wonderfully thought-out world but had never written its stories. Cornish showed her a list of names he had made for the people in his world, among which was the name Rossamünd.
'Is this a girl?' she asked.
'It's a boy,' he replied.
'A boy with a girl's name? Why?
And so Rossamünd's story was born. Cornish was sent away with the task of delivering 1000 words the following week and each week thereafter. Slowly and beautifully the story of Rossamund grew. Enriched by the detail of the world the creator knew so well, enlivened by his desire to write a fantasy that was not a quest, he had embarked, without realising it on one of the greatest loves of his life, his world. Having decided that he wanted to be a writer as well as an illustrator, Cornish abandoned all other paid work and spent the next two years being propped up with one small advance after the other as his publisher tried desperately to keep him from eating his furniture. Poverty, however, was no deterrent. As the story developed so did his world-view; and the plot grew from his deep understanding of the Half-Continent. His publisher became ever more excited and impatient for the next instalment.
'It was exactly like reading a serial - I couldn't sit still for wanting the next chapter.'
Cornish's teachers were wrong. He has never stopped talking or drawing in the margins. He may be a little slow to develop his ideas, and possibly he could have applied himself more, nevertheless, he has found his life's occupation. Monster Blood Tattoo is the beginning of a very big story.
DM Cornish books reviewed
Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling
Rossamund has always dreamed of a career in the Navy, fighting tentacled monsters and rescuing damsels from hook-handed pirates. But fate has chosen him for a different pat...
Monster Blood Tattoo: Lamplighter
Rossamund Bookchild has successfully negotiated the treacherous route to High Vesting. But even within the sturdy walls of the great city he is far from safe. For the path ...
- Monster Blood Tattoo Book One: Foundling
- Monster Blood Tattoo Book Two: Lamplighter
'A meticulously imagined place, full of echoes of literary luminaries from Dickens to Patrick O'Brian and bristling with joyous erudition. Here be not just monsters, but muskets and flintlocks, haubardiers and habilistics, florins and factotums and mighty vessels of war.' Washington Post
'Lamplighter...ends on a dramatic cliff hanger that left me astonished and eager to read the next in the series.' Writeaway.org.uk
'A slow burning classic of the sort that will make you hair stand on end when you remember reading it for the first time.' The Daily Telegraph