Ten year comicsiversary!

It’s ten years since I drew How a Baby is Made, a short strip which was to be the genesis for my recently published graphic memoir The Facts of Life. I entered it to the very first Observer Graphic Short Story Prize, even thought I knew it was probably going to be a much longer story (240pp, as it turned out!) I didn’t get anywhere with that, but, never mind, I eventually reached the shortlist of Myriad Editions’ First Graphic Novel Competition in 2012, and, they published my book. It is also published in N America by Penn State University Press as part of their Graphic Medicine series.

At the time I started it, I’d had two early miscarriages, and the reality was beginning to dawn that we might never have children. I began to reflect on life’s expectations and where they had come from – social priming, family, education and politics etc. I began keeping a card file of memories stretching back to childhood. I’d also become obsessed with graphic novels and gobbled up Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Jefferey Brown’s back-catalogue – and Maus by Art Spiegelman. I was an illustrator – I could make autobiographical comics, too! This unavoidable urge to draw about my looming personal situation and its societal background would not go away.

It was the first time I turned to drawing as a means of exploring and expressing hurt and complicated emotions. As I pointed out at my book launch, if someone had told me the project would not come to fruition for another ten years, I’m might not have believed them, and, if I had, I’m not sure I would have had the wherewithal to continue. As it turned out, I couldn’t do much more about it until 2010, because I was diagnosed with ME and had to cease work. The story wasn’t over until then, anyway, and it would have been a very different book if I’d carried on with it straight away. It was definitely better for having been put to one side for a few years: As is the case with some stories, it simply isn’t their time yet, and you fold them away at the back of the airing cupboard where they mature – at least until you shake out the moths which have left the holes in your story more clear to see.

Here is the strip I drew in 2007, plus a page from my book The Facts of Life.

 

Page from The Facts of Life, pub. Myriad Editions (UK) and Penn State University Press (N America), 2017

If you’ve read my book, you’ll see how different the drawing styles are from the original strip – another element that benefited from percolating. I wanted to move away from cute, and, if I was going to spend a few years working on something, it needed to be a style I was comfortable with and one that people familiar with the subject matter, but not necessarily with reading comics, could relate to. Many elements from this strip remain in the book, such as our Sindy dolls enjoying relations under the bed, and the whole sorry sandpit debacle.

I’d like to say here’s to another ten years, but, since my book came out I’ve had a bad ME/ Fibromyalgia relapse which left me bed-bound at first, and I’ve been unable to draw without considerable pain. Once again, many ideas have been consigned to the great airing cupboard in my mind (and a few sketchbooks), so let’s hope there comes a time when I can unearth them and get back to the only work I love. Let’s also hope for a cure for the chronic illnesses ME and Fibromyalgia, which wreck so many lives.

The Inking Woman/ April news

My graphic memoir The Facts of Life was published last month in the UK by Myriad Editions, and in N America by Penn State University Press. I’m hugely pleased by how it has been received so far. I’ve had emails from strangers telling me how much it meant to them – how the themes reflected their own experience of trying for children, growing up in the 70s and 80s, living life without offspring, and, for others, how it has given them recourse to consider choices to come. It means such a lot to discover that my hopes and intentions for the book are being fulfilled and that it appears to speak to the people I’d hoped. I’m a great believer in the notion that once you create something for public consumption, and it’s out there in the world, it no longer wholly belongs to you: People are free to project what they wish onto the work and share their thoughts and responses whether positive or negative. Whatever is to come in that respect, I will just have to suck it up! Hopefully it will be palatable, though. 

I’ve had some great reviews and written a few interviews; including from Bristol 24/7 and Teddy Jamieson of the Herald, Glasgow. I also wrote an article for my childhood newspaper The Northern Echo, much to the pride of my parents! The Northern Echo is where I first read cartoon strips – Garfield, Peanuts, and Fred Basset, and the first part of the book is set in Darlington, where the newspaper is based.

I have a page from my book in The Inking Woman exhibition opening tomorrow at The Cartoon Museum in London. I’m proud it has been chosen alongside many of my contemporary inky women, and also those who have been cartooning and making comics for decades. Do go along to see it if you are in London!

The facts of life they don’t teach you at school

A great review of my book, The Facts of Life, from Different Shores – a blog about childfree living.

Different Shores

I’ve just read a graphic memoir by Paula Knight called The Facts of Life that seemed to reflect my own life. It’s an intensely personal story that tells of how the 47-year old author came to give up her pursuit of motherhood.

The novel follows the story of Polly, a 1970s child who grows up assuming she’ll probably have babies one day like most people. Along the way she watches nuclear-horror drama Threads and witnesses the AIDS tombstone adverts on prime-time TVthe EXACT same things that put the shits up me. Also, that dirge that was in the charts for ages, ‘I’ve Never Been To Me’? Who knew she was singing about being childless and pitiful!

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Polly is ambivalent about parenting: her head is filled with the same “negative chatter” about becoming a mother that plagued me, too – it’s almost as if she is trying to talk herself out of it, which is exactly how I was.

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The Facts of Life news

After working on The Facts of Life over six or more years, if feels so good to say that it’s an actual book now and I’ve held it in my hands!

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I’ve also pleased to announce that, in a deal negotiated by Louisa Pritchard Associates, Myriad Editions have sold the N American rights for The Facts of Life to Penn State University Press, and I’m excited that it will be joining their Graphic Medicine series. I’ve long been a fan of Graphic Medicine and I’ve spoken about this work at three of their events and conferences since 2011. It feels like the right home for my book over the pond. It will be published there around the same time as MK Czerwiec’s (aka Comic Nurse) book Taking Turns. I met MK at a Graphic Medicine event that was part of 2011 Comics Forum in Leeds, and we’ve had a similar timeline to publication over the past few years. I’m very much looking forward to reading this book, which is a memoir about her time working as a nurse in a HIV/AIDS unit in the 1980s. Other excellent books that I’ve read from the series include The Bad Doctor by Ian Williams, Hole in the Heart by Henny Beaumont, and Things to Do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park by Aneurin Wright, all of which were first published by Myriad Editions in the UK, so PSUP already feels like home!

In other good news, I’m delighted that my book is currently Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller for Biography/ Memoir. I’ll keep you up to speed next year with news about events I’ll be attending and at which I’ll be speaking about the book. All the very best for the festive season and wishing you health and happiness in 2017!

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The Facts of Life will be published by Myriad Editions and Penn state University Press in March 2017.

It Takes Two to T’wit T’woo on CBeebies!

On Thursday I was very excited to discover that my children’s picture book It Takes Two to T’wit Twoo was read on the BBC children’s programme Cbeebies Bedtime Story, by Isla Fisher. It was a complete surprise – my cousin told me about it when she was watching with her daughter. It’s still available on iPlayer and you can see it here for the next 27 days. I love the way they’ve added sound effects and animated some of the illustrations (by Guiliano Ferri).

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The book was published in 2012 after being signed by Hinkler Books in 2010 for their Bonney Press series of picture books. It was the first time I’d been published as an author, and they signed two of my stories at once, the other being Robles’ Rain Dancewhich I’d written several years before.

The inspiration for the story came indirectly from another BBC programme  –Springwatch. Myself and a fellow bird-loving friend were discussing having seen an episode about how tawny owls call to one another. They explained that ‘t’wit t’woo’ is actually the sound of two separate owls, not one. On the way home, my husband and I were engaging in some motorway boredom banter, and I said: ‘It takes two to t’wit t’woo’, and the title had presented itself. I’m always on the lookout for potential titles, and many have come from daft casual conversations and a tendency to mess around with words.

The male owl in my book is called Albert, named after my grandfather who died when I was six. I don’t remember much about him other than that he always had a bad chest, and held the teapot very high when pouring a cup of Yorkshire tea. He came from Fulham, and rumour has it that he once played for Charlton Athletic. Football didn’t pay enough, so he became a heating engineer and moved to the Northeast where he met my gran at a Labour Party rally in Darlington. So, if you’re reading the book aloud, a cockney accent will do very nicely for the twoo-ing and a Teeside accent for the twit-ing.

Sadly, I’ve never heard ‘t’wit tw’oo’ all at once in the wild myself, mostly only a t’woo. That must have been an Albert searching for an Olive, who was too far away for me to hear.

Thorns and Flowers

As well as finishing my graphic novel this year, I’ve also been involved in designing a booklet, Thorns and Flowers, for a research project by an all-female team from Cardiff and Aberystwyth Universties. Their research explored the infertility experiences of Black and Minority Ethic women living in Wales, and it was funded by Welsh Crucible. You can read and download the booklet here.

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The team used my comics about fertility and childlessness to prompt discussion in an art workshop attended by nine women at Women Connect First in Cardiff, whose charity is a partner on the project. It was interesting for me to discover their responses to, and interpretations of my work, especially differences in understanding due to varying cultural backgrounds. My intentions for certain pieces did not speak to everyone. For example, my use of the sun as a visual metaphor for hope (see comic below) was interpreted as a symbol of infertility – it represented dry barrenness to some women. They suggested rain as a more appropriate metaphor, because rain would represent the possibility of new growth and replenishment.

Mother, or not? 2

Mother, or not? 2

There was also a basic drawing class, after which the women produced their own artwork about their feelings around their experiences of infertility. I attended the workshop and was so touched to see such personal and beautiful artwork being produced. I also knew immediately which image I would use for the centre spread! Many of the women were not trained artists, but, for me, this means that the work is often more honest and raw. Without the shackles of trying too hard to make something look perfect, and the self-consciousness of line that that brings, the immediate emotion is laid bare on the page and the images are all the better for it. It is my opinion that anyone can draw.

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My job was to bring together the artwork, research conclusions, and quotes from the women, in an aesthetically pleasing presentation for a printable booklet. This meant adding colour to some of the women’s drawings and illustrating one or two images. At first, I was wary of doing this on such personal work, out of a sense of respect, and because I didn’t want my ‘hand’ to show too much on their work. For this reason, I chose to use felt-tip pen as a medium for colouring the work – many of the women had used felt-tips in the workshop, and I felt that this would keep the aesthetic look of the booklet coherent and authentic. I did my own felt-tip colouring, but added it digitally so as not to change their original pieces of artwork.

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I went to the booklet launch in Cardiff earlier this week, which was part of Women Connect First’s AGM where they were outlining their community projects. I was glad to meet the woman whose image I’d coloured for the front cover again. Her approval was very welcome, and she said that the other women were also happy with the booklet. The feedback for the booklet and the importance of its message was very positive, and I’m happy to have been part of this project. The main thing I took away was the importance of talking to one another about infertility, and to take the issues out into the wider community. Art is an altogether levelling and accessible way of doing this. And Women Connect First definitely have the right name – it was a very connecting experience, after all.

Sofia introducing the booklet

Sofia Gameiro, introducing the booklet

The research team included: Sofia Gameiro, Alida Payson, Berit Bliesemann de Guavara and Elizabeth el Refaie. They now hope to distribute the booklet to healthcare providers and community leaders in order to raise awareness of the particular issues faced by BME women suffering infertility.

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FINISHED! Graphic memoir update

FINISHED! Work on my graphic memoir, The Facts of Life, is now complete, and the file is in the safe hands of my editor, Corinne Pearlman of Myriad Editions. She has been finalising work on the book jacket and getting it all ready for printing. The book will be published by Myriad Editions on March 16th 2017. I’m very excited about jacket quotes and reviews that I’ve had so far – from some excellent authors whom I’ve admired for many years! It’s six years since I started work on this book, and ten years since I first had the idea, so it feels incredible to have finished at last.

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There has been much toing and froing in recent weeks with the copy-edit, book jacket, and mysterious missing speech bubbles, which had fallen foul of the digital ether (i.e. mistakenly overwritten files that InDesign had a dizzy spell over in the final package). Such a huge learning curve! That packaged ID file was a hefty lump of over 4GB of data.

I’ve mentioned my health issues here before. I could not have completed this work without the help of my husband John Austin, who did the majority of my scanning and digital tidying. Computer work (any work) can leave my arm muscles very sore, so this meant that arm energy could be used solely for completing the hand-rendered artwork. I’m extremely grateful for his help, otherwise it might have taken another year, and I was already pushing myself to get things finished as it was.

I’m also grateful to one or two friends who’ve taken the time to read it and put my mind at rest about general brow-furrowing I’ve developed since the realisation of it being real!COVER_Couple_ChartBlueBG_redcrosses_darkerchart

I feel honoured that my book will be joining the Myriad stable of graphic novelists, which houses many books that I admire – some written by people who have become friends and/or supportive colleagues. I’m looking forward to taking it out into the world and crossing paths more often with these talented folk.

In the meantime, I’m having some time off to rest properly, and to catch up with friends. I’ll also be starting HBOT treatment soon, which I hope will help my ME/ Fibromyalgia symptoms. Some people have had good results, and I’ve wanted to try it for some time, but it requires a whole month of daily treatment. I’m hoping to do a HBOT diary with drawings and notes, but I’ll have to see how it goes, and whether it will be possible to draw while tooled up in an oxygen chamber with others who might not want to be drawn!

For more regular updates from my studio, please follow my Instagram account: @paulajkstudio