New graphic novel competitions

My publisher, Myriad Editions, has just announced its third First Graphic Novel Competition. I entered their inaugural FGNC in 2011/12 with work-in-progress from my graphic memoir The Facts of Life. Incredibly, I reached the shortlist, and eventually the book was published by Myriad in March, earlier this year. If you have a graphic novel in progress, it’s a veritable no-brainer to enter this competition! Here’s a page from my original entry: The style is slightly different, and this one didn’t make it through the edit. It’s about a little dare that happened at school. One can feel trepidatious about exposing oneself (and one’s work), but, believe me when I say it won’t be as bad as what happened in this incident… Do read on to find out what led me to enter the competition…

I started my book idea over ten years ago. However, I stalled on starting it properly for a few years for various good reasons but also for a bad reason. The bad reason was that I’d been to a large comics convention in the mid-00s and had felt somewhat out of place – too old and too female. I left feeling despondent – would there be much of an audience for my subject matter (childlessness and the circumstances that led to that)? It was a case of not seeing similar creators to myself represented in that environment, and feeling that myself and my work did not belong there as a result. A paucity of diversity, perhaps, especially in terms of gender, that I still see replicated to this day. This situation can be disabling for people’s enthusiasm, confidence, and ultimately their careers.

Enter Laydeez do Comics! Laydeez do Comics have also announced a fabulous women-only graphic novel competition for work in progress. They are currently crowdfunding for it here, so do consider supporting this important new writing prize for women, for reasons set out here.

I discovered Laydeez do Comics in 2009 and eventually plucked up courage to attend in 2010. That night, Nicola Streeten invited me to come along at a later date to talk about my work in progress. No way, I thought, but nevertheless I found myself in front of a lovely supportive Laydeez audience a few months later. It was when I spoke about my work there in 2011 that I first heard of Myriad Editions and the FGNC. Myriad is run by women and they publish many graphic novels by women. Going to Laydeez do Comics was a revelation in that I’d found plenty of other women making comics about all manner of autobiographical things, so I realised there might actually be a readership for what I wanted to write about. I was thus stricken by an overwhelming urgent imperative to write my book, so I entered Myriad’s FGNC with 15 pages of my WIP. Doing so gave me a deadline and thus a reason to focus intently on the project. It was also a horrifying reality check about what a huge undertaking this would be – but it felt very good to finally start properly. Starting is often the hardest part.

Being shortlisted in the competition contributed immensely to my self-confidence and feeling that I was creating work that people would be interested in reading. Entering the competition was the single most important thing I did towards getting this book published, not only because Myriad eventually became my publisher, but also because it was the catalyst that gave me momentum to keep turning up at the page. I daren’t even think about where I’d be now if I hadn’t done so. Although this is not the first book I’ve had published as an author, it was my first graphic novel, and having my book published has led to career opportunities I would not otherwise have had.

My advice is to turn up at the page a lot sooner than I did, and you have nothing to lose by entering. Potentially you could have much to gain, even if you don’t reach any lists. Make sure you’re not one those who didn’t go through with it: Go on – I dare you!

Both Laydeez and Myriad Editions have been very supportive in my comics career.

 

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Chronic illness and creativity comic

Sometimes ideas arrive fully formed, as this one did back in July when I started a non-dominant hand chronic pain drawing diary/ sketchbook! It’s the first comic I’ve made since finishing The Facts of Life this time last year. In March, my health became considerably worse and I’ve been bed bound at times, and often housebound. At the worst point, my arms hurt simply lifting a drink to my mouth – I had to use a straw. I have ME, and I’m also in the process of having diagnoses confirmed for Fibromylagia, and Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS). I’m now a sometime wheelchair user, Blue Badge holder, and I consider myself semi-disabled – although these are fluctuating conditions, so it depends on the day!

Part of the pain and stiffness I get in my dominant hand from drawing and writing is also likely due to the beginnings of osteoarthritis in my index finger/ knuckles. However, the parts of my body that I use the most become fatigued and sore due to ME/Fibrolmyalgia, so simply using my left hand is not necessarily the answer.

I’m trying to find new ways of working so I can somehow continue writing, drawing and creating comics. My hope is that if I use my left hand to draw, it will at least spread the load, and I might eventually become sufficiently ambidextrous to switch sides when one gets too painful. This might help to slow down the progression of any arthritis and ultimately extend my potential working life as an artist. Artwork is also made difficult by being unable to sit at a drawing board for long, if at all, hence using a sketchbook.

This comic is very much about a fear of losing my creative potential, expression and communication, and my means of making a living. My creativity is my backbone – it props me up in so many ways. The last few months have been frightening and sobering at times: I’ve learnt that nothing is certain, and life as you know it can change drastically at any moment, crushing hopes.

One of the things that has kept me going, and been of some comfort during particularly bad periods, is my imagination. It is still very much active – probably the most active part of me, in fact, and my illness won’t take it away. I continue to record ideas for times when I’m well enough to carry them out.

This comic no longer exists in a tangible form – it’s in the bin – trashed! For me this reflects the transient unpredictable nature of lives curtailed by chronic invisible illness.

 

 

 

Spotlight: Paula Knight

A short written interview I did for Bristol Comic and Zine Fair, which takes place this Sat at The Station in Broadmead, Bristol.

Bristol Comic & Zine Fair

We are expecting to see an absolutely fantastic bunch of exhibitors at Bristol Comic & Zine Fair 2017. As usual, there will be a good mixture of familiar faces and new names. If you love someone’s work, please make sure that you tell them so. It’s this kind of support which keeps us all going!

This year we will be following our own advice, and having our first Spotlight. This is a selection of exhibitors who we really don’t want you to miss. We have taken time to ask them some probing questions about creativity and life and they have been kind enough to share their thoughts and feelings.

BCZF Spotlight: Paula Knight

PaulaKnight_logo http://www.paulaknight.co.uk

What are you reading?

I usually have two or three books on the go in different areas of my home:

Bath: Amy & Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout

Bed: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

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The Facts of Life: playlist to the graphic novel

‘Break’: Early illustration work with a musical theme. Copyright Paula Knight, 1992

Music has always played an important part in my life. I learnt violin from the age of eight, and for most of my life until ME/CFS/Fibromyalgia stopped me, I was involved in music in some way – either in orchestras or indie bands. Over the years, playing music with others has provided me with lasting friendships, and even a husband. It was inevitable that any memoir I wrote would included music in some way – I’ve always been interested in its crossover with other art forms. In my early attempts at being an illustrator, I tried to find visual ways to combine music and art, but I always found it hard to represent one perfectly self-sufficient art form in another. In The Facts of Life, I used music in a far more literal way – to help describe the era; and to reflect the themes of the book by referencing popular culture that had informed my views in childhood.

I’ve made a page-by-page Youtube playlist of all the music references in my book. It’s not altogether accurately representative of my musical taste – some of the songs mentioned in the book are there because of how they influenced my delicate formative brain with regards to pregnancy, motherhood and child-rearing. Listen to the playlist HERE.

p95 The Facts of Life, by Paula Knight, Copyright 2016

Below are some expanded notes from the playlist with further explanations of the extra songs (19 onwards), because Youtube doesn’t allow unlimited words:

This is an annotated page-by-page guide of all the music references in my graphic novel/ memoir The Facts of Life. The book was published in March 2017 by Myriad Editions (UK) and Penn State University Press (N America). The playlist comprises songs that influenced me in my formative years, especially with regard to ideas about pregnancy and motherhood; and other songs I’ve collected that are significant to the themes and imagery of the book. Where a band rather than a specific song was mentioned, I’ve chosen one track by that band. One or two of them are bands I played in or to which I contributed music.

1. The Facts of Life Preview (Turnaround, book distributors)

2. The Beatles, Get Back

p14, This was No 1 when I was born (p15)

3. There Are Worse Things I Could Do – Grease, Rizzo

p27 A broken condom results in Rizzo’s pregnancy in Grease. A similar incident takes place elsewhere in the book… Incidentally, I discovered that the actress Stockard Channing does not have children.

4. The Specials, Too Much Too Young

p39 At age 9, I was rather intimidated by Terry Hall’s imposing image. Along with the lyrics, it somehow imprinted on my youthful brain that it was not a fabulous idea to get pregnant by accident when too young.

5. Adam & The Ants, Stand And Deliver

p41 Adam Ant was on the cover of the first Jackie magazine I had, and AatA are one of Jack’s favourite bands.

6. I’ve Never Been To Me, Charlene

pp47,48 This song is sufficiently saccharine to bring on a hyper, but I secretly liked it at age 13. The lyrics suggest that if you don’t have children you will end up lonely and regret it – perfect for my themes. I don’t agree with this notion, of course.

7. The Smiths, Reel Around the Fountain

p52 April is packing her LPs to go to Uni – The Smiths were her favourite band at that time.

8. New Order, Subculture

p54 Subculture poster in my college friend Sam’s bedroom. I used to listen to New Order solidly in 1989 driving to a holiday washing-up job at a hospital run by an order of monks in Scorton, N.Yorks.

9. Pixies, Allison

p54 Pixies poster in friend’s room. One of the girls in this panel is Alison, so this is for her!

10. Girlboy Girl, Unfamiliar

p57 This was my band Girlboy Girl in which I played bass and wrote songs in the late 90s/ 00s. The song (lyrics by R Taylor) is about family and belonging (or not), so a perfect fit for the themes of this book. We made this video with the artists John Wood and Paul Harrison who currently work at Spike Island studios in Bristol. I did some of the drawings for this. I still feel very proud of this video. It was made in 1998 for video, hence quality.

11. Lunchbox, Just Because

p57 Barely visible, but Rupert from Girlboy Girl is wearing a Lunchbox T-shirt on that page. They are a band we toured with around west coast USA in 2000 – lovely folks. Lunchbox are still playing and are situated in Oakland, CA.

12. Sigur Rós, Hoppípolla

pp95, 116 I was pregnant for the first time, but did not know it, when we went to see Sigur Ros in Liverpool. This song subsequently became famous as the theme for the BBC’s Planet Earth. I do love the track, but it reminds me of tricky times, and there was no escaping those BBC idents!

13. The Unthanks, Farewell Regality

p183 The Unthanks are one of my all-time favourite bands and one I often sang along to while making the book. Like me, they are also from Northeast England where part of the book is set. This is the song I’d like to be played at my funeral.

14. Prefab Sprout, Cowboy Dreams

p185 This Prefab Sprout joke has been deemed acceptable on the ‘Sprout’s Facebook fan-page. Paddy McAloon is also from Co. Durham, like me!

15. Beatnik Filmstars, Tearing Apart My World

p184 Another T-shirt ref on this page. Jack, from the book, played guitar in Beatnik Filmstars for many years, and I played violin for them on one of their five Peel Sessions. (We saw Lofty from Eastenders that day in Maida Vale Studios restaurant!) One of my all-time favourite bands; this is one of their best songs ever! I used to tour with them to do their merch in the 90s, and my band supported them on a European tour.

16. Roobarb and Custard, 1974 Roobarb and Custard ©1974-2012 A&BTV

p185 Also mentioned in this panel is Roobarb & Custard – one of the best 1970s cartoon theme tunes ever!

17. Girlboy Girl, Lightness And Weight

p192 I included some lyrics I’d written for my band on this page, because they were about oak trees and suffering from chronic fatigue (ME, as it later turned out). This is the original song that the lyrics are from. We recorded it for a cassette label called North of January in 2001 for a compilation: ‘Sweet Sweet Casio’ – the track had to feature a Casio keyboard.

18. The Lovely Basement, Mo Tucker

p210 This is a track by a band I joined in 2012 to play bass and violin. They’ve started playing live in Bristol recently – check them out – they’re really good! This was the song I enjoyed playing most with them. I had to leave the band because I had a graphic novel to finish (this one). I love this video because the imagery uses the elements – as I have in the imagery of my book.

19. Gillian Welch, The Way It Goes

This one reminds me of how friendships can change once people have children:
“That’s the way that it goes;
Everybody’s buying little baby clothes”

20. Jenny Lewis, Just One Of The Guys

For the lyrics: “I’m just another lady without a baby”. And I interpret ‘the little clock inside’ as the so-called biological clock.

21. Kirsty MacColl, A New England

I was 15 when this was in the charts, and I liked the edgy lyrics about girls at school already pushing prams, and the Pill. I took this as a warning.

22. Richard Hawley, Heart Of Oak

The humble oak plays an important part in the book. In the prologue, we are planting oak saplings, and the element wood is one of my visual themes.

23. Pale Saints, Babymaker

Well, for a start it’s called Babymaker, but it also seems to be about loss – and I love this band!

24. Foals, Albatross

In part 3 of the book there’s an albatross – it represents freedom from society’s pressures, and the element Air. And albatrosses are cool.

25. Dream Academy, Life in a Northern Town

Good song, but evokes a resigned teenage lassitude of being in limbo-land – of not yet being where you want to be. I grew up in a northern village.

26. Crescent, Impressions

Crescent’s video contains footage of the river that also appears on pp122-126 of my book; and the bridge on p157. These places used to be on my daily walking routes when we lived in that area. And I’d often bump into various musicians who have played in this band, who also lived in the area at the same time.

27. Iron and Wine, Swans And The Swimming

p126: Some young inexperienced swans attempt to build a nest on the same tidal river as above – the Avon New Cut

28. Wye Oak, Regret

p218 “But this is not a thing on which to dwell”. We only get one life, so there’s not much point in spending much of it on regret. And regret suggests there was a choice, which is not always the case in whether or not a person has children.

ps. This blog was inspired by our friend Jez Francis, who used to play bass in Beatnik Filmstars. He makes CDs and playlists for his family with written explanations about song choices. And, he and his wife Barb have a cameo in my book on p95 above – because we’ve been to many a gig with them.

 

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!

cover_couple_chartbluebg_redcrosses_darkerchart

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.

She…

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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.

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.

fertility_booklet_cover

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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