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.


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


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.


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!



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.



Here is a comic on the theme of heredity that I did a couple of years ago. It is part of my collection, X Utero (A Cluster of Comics) available from my shop, at Orbital Comics and Foyles in London.

It was a way to process the knowledge that, not having had children and not having siblings, family traits will die out with me. Quite an egotistical thing to be concerned with, really, but one that people who haven’t had children occasionally think about – possibly because they are glad or sad that they won’t be passing on their DNA! Rather than being too concerned about my own DNA coming to rest, I was more sad about the prospect of family photos becoming obsolete – so I made a comic with them for anyone who ‘cares to take a look’. It might have worked a little better if I’d been able to find a photo of my dad as a child wearing glasses!

And, this week, Andy Oliver has reviewed this comic along with my other comic of a graphic medicine flavour, Spooky Womb, in his Small Pressganged column on the comics news site Broken Frontier. You can read what he has to say here.


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



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 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…

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!