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!



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.




Ten year comicsiversary!

It’s ten years since I drew How a Baby is Made, a short strip which was to be the genesis for my recently published graphic memoir The Facts of Life. I entered it to the very first Observer Graphic Short Story Prize, even thought I knew it was probably going to be a much longer story (240pp, as it turned out!) I didn’t get anywhere with that, but, never mind, I eventually reached the shortlist of Myriad Editions’ First Graphic Novel Competition in 2012, and, they published my book. It is also published in N America by Penn State University Press as part of their Graphic Medicine series.

At the time I started it, I’d had two early miscarriages, and the reality was beginning to dawn that we might never have children. I began to reflect on life’s expectations and where they had come from – social priming, family, education and politics etc. I began keeping a card file of memories stretching back to childhood. I’d also become obsessed with graphic novels and gobbled up Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Jefferey Brown’s back-catalogue – and Maus by Art Spiegelman. I was an illustrator – I could make autobiographical comics, too! This unavoidable urge to draw about my looming personal situation and its societal background would not go away.

It was the first time I turned to drawing as a means of exploring and expressing hurt and complicated emotions. As I pointed out at my book launch, if someone had told me the project would not come to fruition for another ten years, I’m might not have believed them, and, if I had, I’m not sure I would have had the wherewithal to continue. As it turned out, I couldn’t do much more about it until 2010, because I was diagnosed with ME and had to cease work. The story wasn’t over until then, anyway, and it would have been a very different book if I’d carried on with it straight away. It was definitely better for having been put to one side for a few years: As is the case with some stories, it simply isn’t their time yet, and you fold them away at the back of the airing cupboard where they mature – at least until you shake out the moths which have left the holes in your story more clear to see.

Here is the strip I drew in 2007, plus a page from my book The Facts of Life.


Page from The Facts of Life, pub. Myriad Editions (UK) and Penn State University Press (N America), 2017

If you’ve read my book, you’ll see how different the drawing styles are from the original strip – another element that benefited from percolating. I wanted to move away from cute, and, if I was going to spend a few years working on something, it needed to be a style I was comfortable with and one that people familiar with the subject matter, but not necessarily with reading comics, could relate to. Many elements from this strip remain in the book, such as our Sindy dolls enjoying relations under the bed, and the whole sorry sandpit debacle.

I’d like to say here’s to another ten years, but, since my book came out I’ve had a bad ME/ Fibromyalgia relapse which left me bed-bound at first, and I’ve been unable to draw without considerable pain. Once again, many ideas have been consigned to the great airing cupboard in my mind (and a few sketchbooks), so let’s hope there comes a time when I can unearth them and get back to the only work I love. Let’s also hope for a cure for the chronic illnesses ME and Fibromyalgia, which wreck so many lives.