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

Drawing in the dark : Low

I went to Cardiff last night to see one of my favourite bands, Low, play at the Tramshed.

I’ve avoided standing gigs since my ME/CFS symptoms escalated over the last year. I can’t stand for long periods, but I was determined to see Low on this tour. It occurred to me that I could ask if it was possible to be seated – and so it was done (thank you very much Tramshed)! I was offered a sofa on the balcony with a great view. This meant an opportunity to draw. Drawing at gigs means drawing without being able to see the marks you are making, thus making it a good exercise in looking. I don’t draw all the way through, because I find it does distract a little from a band’s overall performance, and listening properly. Perhaps concentrating so much with one sense (sight), takes from another. Although, you do get a good sense of movement – bodily quirks and posture – which shows in the lines. And I love to draw moving hands.

The gig was amazing, as usual, and they played my favourite song, Murderer, so that well- and-truly iced the cake for me.

London Plane

I recently had an diagnostic laparoscopy. I felt like I’d been kicked by a frisky mule! I’m having a week or two off to rest and recuperate. What has the London Plane tree got to do with that, you may ask? Maybe nothing, unless you have a oxycodone-soaked post-laparoscopic brain.

I’ve recently been taking photos of trees and birds, and have taken lots of London Plane trees in their winter finery with those pendulous pods hanging a pattern against the flat winter sky.

London_Plane_photoThey remind me of 1950s atom designs, but also something visceral and bodily that I couldn’t quite put my finger on – maybe testicular? It wasn’t until I was in hospital, and there was one outside the ward window, did I begin to make a connection – one that might have been lurking in my subconscious all along. To pass the time and calm my nerves while waiting my turn on the surgical day-case unit, I did some sketching and stream-of-consciousness writing to record the experience. There wasn’t much time, because I was second on the list.

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Here’s what I wrote before my op, and afterwards when I was waiting to go home. I’ve never really tried stream-of-consciousness writing but I enjoyed reading A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride recently, so why not? I need more practice!

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Needless to say, I’ll never be able to look at another London Plane tree without thinking of uterine fibroids! The ‘O’ the surgeon made with her hand was pretty much the same size as the seedpods hanging off the tree out of the window. Perhaps I’ve been noticing these trees more recently in a subconscious bid to understand my pain. Or maybe I just like the look of them! Nature often echoes the human condition, but that’s only because we have the consciousness to consider ourselves apart from it and thus reflected in it*.  I think we probably see what we’re searching for or need at that time. In reality, the London Plane seeds are its fertility – not unwanted troublesome growths, which is what I now see. Some sort of transference has happened between me and those trees – perhaps because I’d rather my experience could somehow be located somewhere other than inside my own body. Whatever my interest in the trees is about, at least drawing, writing and taking photos is a distraction from pain!

*I’ve also been reading some nature writing recently – Nature Cure by Richard Mabey describes these ideas quite well.

 

Halfway: Graphic memoir update

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HALFWAY! Through the artwork stage of my graphic memoir The Facts of Life. What? Only half way? I know – I’ve been on with the thing since 2010. Most comics creators are well aware of what a gargantuan labour-intensive task writing and drawing a long-form comic can be, many taking a good ten years to complete one alongside other work.

My personal reason for derailment has been health issues this year. When I signed the contract with Myriad Editions, and got my grant from Arts Council England, I was relatively well and thought that I could get the deed done in a couple of years. But this year has seen a relapse in my ME/CFS/Fibromyalgia symptoms. I was first diagnosed with this in 2008, and when I started working on this project in earnest, in 2011, it felt like I was comfortably in recovery. I started out working for six days each week to get the artwork stage of the project done by my original deadline, but it wasn’t to be. The illness raised its ugly head again around March/ April of this year after a particularly rapacious bout of blood-spitting bronchitis. (Never come near me if you have anything vaguely viral or snively.) Many describe it as a ‘fluctuating illness,’ and, well, it fluctuated the wrong way.

I’ve had to cut back on how much work I can do each day, and in summer I had to stop work completely for a few weeks due to chronic muscle pain/ soreness and clobbering fatigue. I’m back to work again now, but doing only four pages a week and that mostly seems manageable – although not every week. I’m grateful to Myriad Editions for their patience, support and understanding. The book is now due to come out in 2017 but no specific date has been decided yet. Here is the latest cover design: COVER_Couple_ChartBlueBG_redcrosses_darkerchart

In other news, my book was mentioned in The Bookseller recently, and in last week’s Sunday Times online, alongside some of my talented comics contemporaries – Nicola Streeten, Ian Williams, Rachael Ball, and Henny Beaumont. It was an article about the growing popularity of graphic novels with a medical theme (aka Graphic Medicine). There are some amazing books coming out, and already published, by those folks, so do look them up. Also look out for Una’s new book from Myriad Editions – Becoming Unbecoming.

Also, I occasionally post snippets from the work in progress, and ‘deskies’ at my work Instagram account: @paulajkstudio

Three Little Words / #MEawareness

It’s ME Awareness day. I’ve had ME/CFS for over twenty years to a mild-moderate degree, since I had Glandular Fever in 1993. I’ve had better years when I’ve almost felt normal, but it’s always been lurking. I’m only as well as I am because I’ve been lucky enough to be able (just) to pay for tests and treatments unavailable on the NHS (I have regular B12 and Magnesium injections from a private GMC-registered doctor of environmental medicine.) Others are not that lucky and the NHS still does not provide adequate treatment for this illness.

This blog is about attitudes and what to say – I’ve put up with some rancid comments over the years, not least when I wrote for Guardian Comment is free under the pseudonym Jayne Austin about ME and welfare benefits. Last night, I made a very quick and messy little comic to celebrate ME Awareness day, and to suggest how easy it can be to say the right thing (with a nod to Schulz, Peppermint Patty and possibly a few others – what can I say – it just came out!) TLW_web1_PaulaKnight TLW_web2

FFI: http://www.meassociation.org.uk/      http://www.actionforme.org.uk/