PRECIOUS THINGS: ANDREW J McKIERNAN

Andrew J McKiernan is a writer and Illustrator, living and working on the Central Coast of New South Wales. His stories have been everywhere since he first appeared in 2007, the length and breadth of his talent resulting in multiple Aurealis, Ditmar and Australian Shadows Awards nominations, and a metric fucktonne of Year’s Best anthology appearances. He was Art Director for Aurealis Magazine for 8 years and his illustrations are as good as his stories, the talented bastard: you can see a bunch of them over on his website, as well as on covers and internals all over the shop. He even looks natty in a hat, a skill I envy with much greenness of the eyes.

Here then, is he, hat and all:

Precious Things: Andrew J McKiernan

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I thought that choosing a single Precious Thing from all my Literary Precious Things was going to be a difficult task. I have a personal library of over 2,500 books. When we bought our house, a major criteria was having enough library space to store and display them all. I’m not a hoarder, really. All of those books are important to me. They’re mostly first editions and books that have had a lasting impact on me as a reader, a writer, and as a person. I thought choosing just one Precious Thing would be really hard… but it wasn’t. As soon as I walked into the library, I knew exactly what I would choose.

When I was a little kid, my grandparents on my mother’s side were a huge influence on my early development as a reader. My grandmother was the night-cleaner for our local Public Library, and she would often take me with her when she worked. While she cleaned, I would wander the eerie half-darkness of the library shelves, allowed to choose whatever books I wanted to reader… even from the Adult or Reference Sections! And, at their home, my grandfather had an old set of Charles Dickens books in hardcover that he had been given as a young boy in the 1920s. I would spend hours at my grandparent’s house just leafing through those books; first, when I was too young to read them, just looking at the illustrations, but later on delving deep into the strange Victorian worlds of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.

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I adored those books. I coveted them.

Released sometime in the early 1920s (they have no dates on them), the Charles Dickens books were printed in London by Collins Clear-Type Press. The books are small, almost palm-sized. Cloth-bound. Burgundy in colour with gold text and decoration on the spine. Each one is illustrated by artists as wonderful and diverse in style as AA Dixon, J Eyre, AH Buckland and WHC Groome (did illustrators only have initials intead of first names back then?). Oliver Twist is ‘Illustrated throughout’ with ‘Ten Photographs in Character’, with photographs by FW Burford of young urchins and grizzled old men in period costume, each one meticulously staged. It is an amazing and beautiful collection.

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Sadly, my grandmother passed away in the mid-1990s. My grandfather hung in there, despite his leukemia, living on his own until he too passed away only a couple of years ago. I miss them both.

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These then, are my most Precious Literary Things: the love of books my grandparents and parents instilled in me; the hours I spent roaming the local library alone at night while my grandmother worked; and the set of beautiful 1920s Charles Dickens hardcovers that were passed on to me. A set of books that now hold pride of place on a top shelf in my own library.

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