Nathan Filer talk

I was lucky to get the last ticket to Costa winner Nathan Filer’s talk about his book The Shock of the Fall. Waterstones Bristol was packed out, as you’d expect for a visit from a highly successful local writer. Unfortunately, the downside of having read it on e-book is that I couldn’t get mine signed and it reminded me of how much I like books as objects. I won’t go into too much detail about the talk itself – I’ve put some of the salient points in my notebook, here: NFiler_notes3 NFiler_notes2 NFiler_notes It’s always a relief to hear a writer say, ‘Ten years ago…’ in relation to when they had the seeds of an idea for their book. I can give myself a break in that case, because, by the time mine comes out, it will easily be ten years since I started. Not that its genesis was altogether proactive at the time. I also found it encouraging that only the main character remains from his first attempt to write the book.

When I started reading The Shock of the Fall, although I knew Nathan Filer had grown up in Bristol, I didn’t realise the book was set here – some of it is based on a ward at Southmead Hospital, where Filer trained to be a psychiatric nurse. His characterisation of Matthew’s (main character) friend, who hangs around the corner at the junction between Stoke’s Croft and Jamaica St., made me think of the people you might expect to see there and thus made them more real to me – and is an illustration of how the book helps to break taboos about mental health issues (although I’m not suggesting that all who hang around there have mental health issues!) But it does beg the question: what becomes of people whose care services have been cut? For me, part of the importance of this book is that it draws attention to the fallout from government cuts in an implicit manner. The ward where Filer trained is now closed (although I’m unclear if that was a direct result of cuts).

The payoff for not being in the signing queue was that I had the pleasure of meeting the author’s mum. She came over to speak to me because she had seen me drawing during the talk – she’s also an artist. I apologised that it’s hard to get a likeness when someone is moving around! I can see where he gets his sense of humour: Mrs Filer suggested I look up her son’s poetry readings on the internet. She explained that he often alludes to the Oedipus complex in some of them: ‘It’s Not True‘ she assures me. We laugh. It was a pleasure to meet her.

I highlighted so many sentences from this book it’s hard to pick one. As someone who is both writing and drawing a memoir that includes taboo subject matter, I was particularly drawn to Matthew’s insights on that very process - how memory is so fragmented and how you put it back together in the writing process. I won’t quote them all here, instead I’d urge you to read the book. Here’s one of my favourites:  

‘Patient is engaging in writing behaviour’. From The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.

I myself, for the rest of day, will be engaging in writing behaviour, patiently.

ps: If you are interested in reading books about mental health care, I’d also recommend the graphic novel Psychiatric Tales by Darryl Cunningham, pub. Myriad Editions.

(M)others’ Day card

 

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I made this as a way to value all women who are childless by circumstance, because perhaps they deserve a bunch of flowers, too. Mother’s Day, for some, can be a saddening reminder of the myriad reasons why not. You could say it works in a similar way to Valentine’s Day if you’ve been dumped or are suffering unrequited love. I’m pretty much reconciled to not being a mother myself, and have been for some time, but I do have twinges – especially on ‘days’.

Of course, it’s a grand idea to demonstrate appreciation for one’s mother. I’ve just spent a good hour on the phone to my mum, mining her horticultural knowledge in a bid to rescue some ailing houseleeks that she gave me. She is a hive of knowledge for all things green-fingered!

I recently read about Anna Jarvis on TheNotMom.com blog - the woman who started Mother’s Day in the USA. I was surprised to discover she wasn’t a mother herself and equally unsurprised at how dismayed she became at the commercialisation of the holiday.

The source of this idea came from a post I read on Twitter last year when I was researching Mother’s Day. I read a tweet by a girl who commented about how she had accidentally written ‘Happy other’s day’ on a card to her mother. Laughingly, she remarked how it sounded like she was addressing sad weirdos on the edges of society. So I thought I would ‘own’ her error! My meaning is to bring attention to the ‘othering’ that childless women can feel in our society rather than, I hope, to perpetuate it! My intention in making this image is not to satirise Mother’s Day rather to suggest that we spare a thought for those in our lives for whom motherhood didn’t happen.

It just so happens that the M in Scrabble scores 3, which is the number of early miscarriages I had. I didn’t realise that when I had the design in mind – another synchronicity moment! The tulips at the top are made from my old NHS fertility temperature charts. I like to make new things from redundant material.

Possible sources of help, should you be struggling with childlessness:

Miscarriage Association

Gateway Women

More to Life

 

 

 

 

 

Everyday Sexism Project talk

Last night I went to a Bristol Festival of Ideas talk at The Watershed by Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project. The project first came to my attention by the Twitter hashtag #everydaysexism, where people were tweeting examples of their experiences. You can also add experiences to the website.

I scribbled some notes and drawings during the talk:

I grew up in the 1970s/80s – still an extremely sexist era when it was routine to hear sexist statements and to experience sexism. Naively, I thought that surely the situation must have evolved by now, so I was shocked to discover that, especially for schoolgirls, things seem a lot worse – certainly compared to my own teenage years. To hear examples, such as being told to ‘get back in the kitchen’ when putting their hands up to speak class, left me in dismay. And that was a mild example. I’m reading Betty Frieden’s The Feminine Mystique, which is set post-war to 60s, and I’m sorry to say that some of the examples I heard last night reminded me of the content and subject matter of this book.

Laura made it clear that the project is about human rights, rather than women’s rights alone, and she also gave examples of sexism against men, especially in the workplace with regards to paternity leave. And she encourages men to write in with their experiences. The audience was largely made up of young women, and, I’m happy to report, some men and a teenage boy or two. Laura is a fantastic role model for young women. The abuse she receives as a result of her public profile is truly horrendous, only highlighting the need society has for projects like this.

Sadly our government recently chose not to make PSHE classes compulsory in schools – classes which could highlight sexism and teach young people how to deal with it. When girls are dreading the idea of a future sex life because of the normative nature of the type of porn they are exposed to, someone needs to assure them otherwise. Thankfully, Laura does talk about the ESP in schools.

I walked home clutching my keys, as I’ve been doing since my 20s, (good for breaking collarbones - I refuse a curfew). I thought about the sexist incidents, past and present, throughout my own life. I won’t write them here – I’ve already put one or two on the ESP site. How I wish there had been an ESP when I were a lass…

Happysad memory comic

These pages are from a longer comic I made about my late father-in-law, Pete. I made it towards the end of 2011 when he left hospital to return home to be with his family in his final days after a long illness. The title refers to something later in the comic, but I won’t be sharing those pages yet (if ever) because it’s probably too soon.

These first pages are about my favourite memory of Pete. I’m not sure if I’ll ever finish the comic, but, at a difficult time, it felt cathartic to draw and it was my way of coping. Perhaps that’s enough and I’ll never feel the need to finish it. I wanted to share this, though, as my way of celebrating his life and what was an essential part of his character – humour. We laughed about this occasion for years afterwards and I prefer to remember this sort of thing rather than his illness.

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Panel two, page two, might worked better at a page turn – if I ever do finish it, I shall rectify that!

Guardian crossword doodles

I probably won’t be posting much here over the coming year due to being up to my armpits in writing my graphic memoir, The Facts of Life. Although feeling trepidatious, I’m looking forward to the challenge and feel privileged to be undertaking this creative endeavour.

However, today is my second blogiversary so I thought I’d better post something, hence these favourite doodles from 2013, including some scribbled on the Guardian crossword. Myself and my husband try to do the Guardian Quick Crossword every day. What is it about concentrating on words that prompts a doodle? I’ve also thrown in one that I did on a makeshift style sheet when proofreading a few weeks ago. It seems that words and pictures have an inextricable attraction and cannot be prised apart – at least not in my world. Ladies, houses, and trees, appear to be my main preoccupations – plus the occasional alien for good measure.

All the very best wishes for a creative and happy new year to my blog followers!

Synchronicity at Bristol Comic and Zine Fair

Yesterday I exhibited at Bristol Comic and Zine Fair, very-well organised by the Bearpit Zines people. It was a marvellous day, although I now have a sore throat – probably from six hours’ over-table chat, or perhaps from being a self-employed homeworker undergoing unusually prolonged exposure to public germs.

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A while ago I made a one-page comic using my cytogenetic report from a Bristol lab – it was part of a bank of NHS fertility tests myself and my husband underwent (this one to make sure that we were indeed male and female). It forms the centre spread of my collection X Utero, which I was selling at the fair. What’s synchronicity got to do with it? Well, one lady (pictured below) stopped to study that particular page in great depth and announced that she had recently secured a job at the very lab where my test was done (the address is on the comic/ report). She performs chromosomal analysis tests – there! What are the chances of that? A chromosomal analysis tester (I don’t know her exact job description) going to a comics fair and finding a comic made from a report produced at her workplace. She bought a copy!

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It’s the second-best incidence of synchronicity I’ve had so far – up there with meeting the American poet Robert Chrisman (who knew Maya Angleou) on a train-bus going to York, while I had Maya Angelou’s latest book right there in my bag. Synchronicity was first described by Carl Jung but I read about it in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She advises noticing synchronicity to help you to feel that you’re doing something right, in the right place at the right time. The idea borders on being slightly too mystical but it feels good when it happens – and that’s OK with me. Most people call it coincidence! Anyway – I guess you had to be there…

Here are some more photos from the comics fair:

Comics from Brighton and Bristol to the Lakes!

A long-overdue catch-up post:

Upcoming comics events

Next weekend, I’ll be tabling at Bristol Comic and Zine Fair, organised by the lovely folk from Bearpit Zines. There are 40 exhibitors – some from Bristol; some from beyond – it promises to be a fantastic day. I’m especially excited to see that Gareth Brookes will be there with his graphic novel The Black Project out from Myriad Editions (my publisher-to-be). I’ll certainly be buying a copy. Gareth was the winner of Myriad’s First Graphic Novel competition in which I was shortlisted with The Facts of Life.

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Then, on 18th October, I’m off to the inaugural Lakes International Comic Art Festival where I’ll have a table in the Comics Clock Tower sharing with Ian Williams (Graphic Medicine man). On the Saturday night I’m taking part in Quick Strips – Myriad Authors and Friends, where it is suggested that we will be ‘revealing all’. I’m hoping that this means a 6-minute presentation of work in progress! It will be my first time as a guest at a comics festival.

I’ll be taking Spooky Womb, X Utero, and a newly repackaged non-limited edition version of A Fray, along with some pages in progress from my book. If you can’t make it to these events, my latest comic X Utero is available in Blackwell’s at Wellcome bookshop and Orbital Comics. Or you can buy them direct from me.

Ethics Under Cover – Graphic Medicine conference

In July, I went to Brighton to present at Ethics Under Cover, Comics Medicine and Society (Graphic Medicine) on the panel Whose story is it? with Mita Mahato, Peaco Todd and Linda Raphael. I talked about the ethical considerations of secondary characters when writing memoir – especially if their stories also contain medical details. I felt that it went well personally (I sold all my comics) and our panel was well received. Podcasts from the conference are regularly uploaded here. It was lovely to catch up with old and new Graphic Medicine comics friends and spend time eating samosas(c/o Mita) on Brighton beach.

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In other news

As a result of contacts made at the Brighton conference, I was approached with an offer of some paid comics work, which I did over the summer. I can’t say much about it yet for confidentiality reasons, but I was happy to have been able to use my artistic skills in a way that might be useful to others in a healthcare setting.

I’ve also just received a contract for a new children’s picture book text (as author only). I wrote it earlier in the year and Bright Literary Agency have been representing it since May – so I’m please to have had this interest so soon.

I expect that’s just about enough for now – phew – worralorralinks!