A finalist’s front-row view – Judging a Graphic Novel

Last weekend I attended the First Fictions Festival in Brighton for the ‘Judging a Graphic Novel’ event in which I was a finalist. The judging panel consisted of Ian Rankin, Hannah Berry, Bryan Talbot, Corinne Pearlman (Myriad Editions), Ed Hillyer and Steve Bell (Guardian cartoonist), who was away on holiday. Gareth Brookes’ The Black Project won – a deserving winner. I love the look of embroidery used in such an innovative way, and the story is original too.

The week or so before the event, Corinne Pearlman asked if we would be willing to read some pages from our entries, and a couple of days beforehand we discovered that we would also take questions from the panel of judges… in front of a paying audience. The pressure was on!

Paul Gravett, who was sporting a rather fetching yellow comic-themed shirt, chaired the event. Us finalists had to sit on the front row of the lecture theatre within spitting distance of the judges. We didn’t spit on them, nor they on us, but I could see the very whites of their eyes and they could probably smell our fear. It was quite nerve-wracking but exciting.

It was good to meet the other finalists and to hear more about their book proposals: Tom Eglington, Hannah Eaton, Dylan Shipley & Adam Blackman, and Con Chrysoulis. My friend, Thom Ferrier, was also a finalist so I was already acquainted with his work. It was a shame that Gareth Brookes couldn’t make it, being on a different hemisphere, but he’d sent a representative to read his entry. I sat between the two T/homs and introduced myself to Tom Eglington by asking if he’d drawn his plane crash page from life… ah well.

The judges suggested that all of the shortlisted entries were publishable and they stressed what a gargantuan task they had in whittling things down to a longlist, let alone a shortlist or winner. Each judge had slightly different concerns: Ed Hillyer was interested in whether the text was physically readable; Ian Rankin was searching for a satisfactory narrative; Corinne Pearlman didn’t want anything too set in stone; and Steve Bell was checking if artists could draw – hands in particular.

My presentation seemed to garner a good response – the audience laughed in all the right places and it was rewarding to experience that. It was a chance for me to show that I intend part of my book to include elements of humour despite tackling a tricky subject matter. I was happy to discover that my attempts at humour so far (apart from what I said to Tom) aren’t in vain. So, it was a worthwhile exercise in that respect – thank you, kind audience!

I took along How a Baby is Made, the book I cite in my story, The Facts of Life, and the one that taught me all the mechanics! It was great to find that one of the event’s sponsors used to be a bookseller who stocked that very title. Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) might call this ‘synchronicity’.

We enjoyed a much welcome post-event glass of fizz, and apple tart served on First Fictions flyers in absence of plates – novel! Later, I also attended Bryan and Mary Talbot’s talk about their soon-to-be-launched collaboration, Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes.

All in all, the whole experience has been positive: I came away from the weekend with greater confidence in my work, feeling galvanized to further develop it. I’m sure the other finalists will agree that writing and drawing a graphic novel is a task which requires much time and dedication; I hope they all feel that it’s worth it because I can’t wait to read their books when they come to fruition.

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2 thoughts on “A finalist’s front-row view – Judging a Graphic Novel

  1. It sounds like such a great weekend and I’m so glad you’ve got the recognition you deserve. What a shame Steve Bell wasn’t there – would love to meet him, even vicariously!

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