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.

Heredity1_PaulaKnightHeredity2_PaulaKnight_webHeredity3_PaulaKnight

(M)others’ Day card

 

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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 TheNotMom.com 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

 

 

 

 

 

Mother, or not?

This one’s dedicated to new friends in the Gateway Women sisterhood! It’s (probably) the last of the short comics around this subject matter that I’ll be doing until The Facts of Life is published by Myriad Editions in 2015.

My sharing of this work has been about trying to get people thinking, if not talking, about issues around fertility, miscarriage, and non-motherhood. I think it’s important that there’s discourse about this in society, so that people who feel isolated in their suffering (due to stigma) can perhaps gain confidence to talk more openly – only if they wish. I’m hoping that comics can be part of that – a jumping-off point, if you like. So thanks to everyone who has helped to share and support the posts/ work I’ve created on the subject over the past year or so. I’ve had some long-overdue conversations; connected with women I barely know over the subject; and heard  things on the grapevine that have made me glad I’ve put it ‘out there’, despite, at times, feeling unsure about it.

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I’ll be adding ‘Mother, or not?’ to a collection of comics I’ve done about miscarriage and childlessness over the past couple of years – coming soon (if the faffing with colours for print doesn’t finish me off). For me this one represents acceptance and new things.

ps: Texture = terry towelling (the stuff that nappies are made of). In yellow, it seemed just right for the centre of a daisy.

‘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.

Early pregnancy transvaginal ultrasound comic page

Hopefully this will be a page in my graphic memoir, so it’s not intended as a standalone comic. It will have context!Paula_Knight_transvaginal_ultrasound

I used a blank scan of white paper to make the ultrasound image, turning up the contrast to pick out texture. And I fiddled with ‘warp’ in Photoshop. I liked the connection between scanning this artwork about having a scan, and making my own scan image by scanning ‘nothing’ to illustrate my ‘nothing there’ scan at the Early Pregnancy Assessment Clinic (EPAC). The results of the actual scan are in my medical notes, which I extracted from the hospital last year. The medical notes helped me to remember certain details about it.

It’s probably a bit odd to those who understand comics that the radiographer’s speech isn’t in bubbles. She has taken over my narration – I did this to reflect the feeling of having no control over what happened in my story at that point. It was more about the scan machine governing my story – telling me what might happen next. Maybe it will be too confusing in context – any thoughts welcome.

Pixelmix 8-bit font by Andrew Tyler: http://andrewtyler.net/

Pregnancy test comic

Click to view gallery. The numbers relate to actual blood hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) readings taken from a notebook I was keeping at the time. I hope to use something like p2 in my graphic memoir. Page 2 is the original drawing I used to trace p1.

I considered using other text such as: Shall we watch Curb Your Enthusiasm again tonight? Coz it helps. Or: Once, twice, three times a lady not having a baby (bit cheesy). But it was mainly about drawing itself: giving the lost,  the thing that never came to fruition, some permanence by drawing it.

Thinking about it – this is something I’ve done in the past. As a lovelorn teenager dealing with unrequited love, I would draw the object of my affection – perhaps my way of ‘having’ something of them in the absence of ‘having’ them – or the only tangible way to express secret feelings!  This must surely be a common occurrence with artists – sometimes obvious in their work – where secrets are hidden behind seemingly fictional characters.

Here are the pages bigger in case the gallery is too small (click to view larger).

Once a collection of lines p1

Once a collection of lines p2