The Facts of Life – thank you!

This year saw the publication of my first graphic novel, The Facts of Life. I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to anyone who has read, bought, borrowed, reviewed, written about, left ratings, shared, ‘liked’, tweeted, retweeted, mentioned, or supported my book in any way this year. It’s been a year of highs and lows for me, as I will continue to explain.

I’ve had some heartfelt emails from readers – especially from those who’ve been unable to have children, people experiencing ambivalence over the decision to try for children or not, and those with chronic illness. It’s always gratifying to know that what I intended as an author has worked in some way, and that people have found it relatable. Of course, I’m always sorry to hear that others have suffered similar and far worse situations than I describe in the book, and, due to the subject matter, it always feels somewhat incongruous to say that I’m glad that a reader has found it relatable.

In the book, I describe my health problems with ME, and, unfortunately, this year things became worse: I’ve also been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, and, recently POTS (Disautonomia). These three chronic illnesses form a tricky triumvirate indeed! At present I need a wheelchair to go any distance; I’ve been bedridden and housebound at times; and I’m now investigating stair lifts and mobility scooters – quite the opposite of what I’d hoped for life this year, especially my literary life.

This has all meant that I’ve had to cancel and turn down a great deal of professional opportunities to go out into the world with my book and give talks, and sell face-to-face at events etc. I’ve managed a couple, and although it was great to be out and about, it involved a lot of payback. ME is truly an invisible illness. This has made me all the more appreciative to those who have done this on my behalf, especially my editor Corinne Pearlman and publishers Myriad Editions and Penn State University Press, but also to anyone who has helped to spread the word about my book. I won’t list them here because I’d be afraid of missing people, but they know who they are! Believe me, it has made all the difference and warmed my heart over a difficult few months.

I’ve still managed to write interviews and articles by working on a laptop in bed (where I wrote this) or reclining on the sofa – and for this I’m thankful, at least. As long as I still have words at my fingertips I have a means of expressing creative ideas, therefore I’ll be OK!

All that remains is to wish you a very Happy New Year for 2018, and may your creative lives flourish! I’ll be continuing to try to find ways that I can still partake in mine. All the very best and, again, THANK YOU!

 

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Heredity

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.

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‘Do you have children?’

Last week I attended a meeting by Gateway Women, an organisation run by Jody Day for women who are ‘childless by circumstance’ – be that infertility, chronic illness, or by marriage etc (there are many and varied reasons). It was full of interesting, vibrant women, none of whom appeared to live up to the pejorative stereotype of ‘crazy cat lady’. Well, blow me down with a feather!

One of the hot topics at this particular meeting was what to say in social situations when asked: ‘Have you got kids?’ This question can be very difficult for some women to hear, let alone answer. All women are asked this at some point in their lives; we live in a pro-natal society that, if you haven’t reproduced, demands to know why not. Never mind whether you wish to answer such an emotive question.

Here are some storyboards I drew on the subject in 2011, and which I presented at the Graphic Medicine Comics Forum day: Visualising the Stigma of Illness in Leeds, November 2011. I talked about the stigma surrounding miscarriage and resulting childlessness. You can hear the podcast of my talk here. These pages comprise a generic and condensed version of events. Thanks to Deb Joffe for modelling!

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I feel that many people who do have kids hope to hear ‘yes’ in reply and are ill-prepared for a ‘no’. In my experience, they tend to: carry on their line of inquiry; make assumptions; and offer unsolicited advice. There’s a fine line between genuine interest and intrusiveness – and I’ve experienced both. But I acknowledge that it’s awkward for both parties. I no longer ask people that question and have now developed antennae that help me to read between the lines. I don’t mind being asked as much as I used to, because I feel better prepared (I’ve had plenty of practice). It’s not only childless women who struggle with this: I know mothers who wish people would take more of an interest in the non-mothering side of their lives too – they don’t want to be defined by their reproductive status alone. And men are not immune either.

I’ll expand on this when it comes to artwork, and I’ll save my reasons for foregoing adoption for the book*. I’ll also be addressing my own thoughts on remedies for sticking those severed panels back together, but in the meantime there are some good suggestions on the blog No Children, What now? I hope that, in future, both parents and non-parents will settle into a mutually respectful way to handle this hot potato without anyone getting burnt.

*The Facts of Life (working title) is due to be published by Myriad Editions in 2015.

Childless or child-free?

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There are supportive communities online for those who are childless by circumstance and for those who are childless by choice. I’ve never felt that I can totally identify myself with either label.

I’m not keen on any term that defines you by what you are not. It seems rather negative. There has been much discussion about this topic on Gateway Women, a site conceived by Jody Day to bring together, and celebrate, women who don’t have children for whatever reason. She coined the term ‘nomo’ (not a mother). Again, the term certainly isn’t for me for the reasons stated above, but the site has some interesting articles and is a good place to go if you’re seeking solidarity with others in a similar situation.

In short, people who didn’t procreate shouldn’t have to be defined by that very fact. However, and all too often, women of my age are.