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.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

The Inking Woman/ April news

My graphic memoir The Facts of Life was published last month in the UK by Myriad Editions, and in N America by Penn State University Press. I’m hugely pleased by how it has been received so far. I’ve had emails from strangers telling me how much it meant to them – how the themes reflected their own experience of trying for children, growing up in the 70s and 80s, living life without offspring, and, for others, how it has given them recourse to consider choices to come. It means such a lot to discover that my hopes and intentions for the book are being fulfilled and that it appears to speak to the people I’d hoped. I’m a great believer in the notion that once you create something for public consumption, and it’s out there in the world, it no longer wholly belongs to you: People are free to project what they wish onto the work and share their thoughts and responses whether positive or negative. Whatever is to come in that respect, I will just have to suck it up! Hopefully it will be palatable, though. 

I’ve had some great reviews and written a few interviews; including from Bristol 24/7 and Teddy Jamieson of the Herald, Glasgow. I also wrote an article for my childhood newspaper The Northern Echo, much to the pride of my parents! The Northern Echo is where I first read cartoon strips – Garfield, Peanuts, and Fred Basset, and the first part of the book is set in Darlington, where the newspaper is based.

I have a page from my book in The Inking Woman exhibition opening tomorrow at The Cartoon Museum in London. I’m proud it has been chosen alongside many of my contemporary inky women, and also those who have been cartooning and making comics for decades. Do go along to see it if you are in London!

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.

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.

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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