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.

 

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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!

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

Graphic novel progress

Here’s a timeline and brief diary for my graphic novel, The Facts of Life, to date. It’s been a case of ‘comics interruptus’ so far for all sorts of reasons, but it’s gathering speed now and I’m ‘in the zone’:

2006: After reading Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, I realise that it’s possible to be a middle-aged woman writing memoir using the medium of comics. Can I play, too? Seeds of idea for a autobiographical graphic novel germinate. Start an alphabetical card file of memories. I begin to sketch memories and draw my first comic strip How a Baby is Made. Tentatively show one or two amenable friends who emit positive noises and suggest I go for it. I go to a comics convention for the first time but feel that neither myself nor my story fits somehow, and leave discouraged. (It would be a long time until I discover the the indie self-publishing scene).

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2007:  I enter How a Baby is Made to the first Observer Graphic Short Story prize – but it’s not really a short story. Join Deviant Art as ‘Missnibs’ and post strip there – but I’m not yet au fait with social networking and don’t get very far.

How a Baby is Made 1

How a Baby is Made 1

2007/8: Submit idea to a new comics publisher – initial interest and very encouraging but nothing solid. My proposal is still a little under-cooked. And so am I.

2008-10: Hiatus – all will become clear in book! Discover Laydeez do Comics.

2010: Timeline of memoir ends so ready to start writing – theme of story has changed somewhat due to life events! I go to Laydeez do Comics for the first time and feel more encouraged that there might be a readership for my story. I start to transfer the card file entries to colour-coded post-its, which stay on the wall for over two years until the glue goes crispy and they start to drop off. I use these headings to start writing scenes in words. Join Twitter as a proofreader (my other work) but end up using it to meet comics people instead, thus discovering Graphic Medicine. Further enthused. Sadly, I don’t attend the very first Graphic Medicine conference because I mistakenly think it’s for academics and medics only.

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2011: Get going! Background research and much reading. Enter 17 pages to Myriad Editions’ inaugural First Graphic Novel Competition. It’s good to have a goal. Air project in public for the first time at Laydeez do Comics in May (where I hear about the competition). Attend Arvon Foundation Graphic Novels course where I receive some welcome feedback and meet more lovely comics people – in full flow of quenching thirst from the overflowing cup of comics camaraderie at this point. In November I speak about my project at Comics Forum in Leeds at the Graphic Medicine day. It’s the first time I’ve spoken at an academic conference and it seems to be well received, although I’m extremely nervous. I’ve finally met ‘my people’, professionally speaking, this year! Trawl through old photos.p1_2010_gray

2012: Good news – reach shortlist of Myriad competition! It’s the first time I’ve got so far in any professional competition. Keep in touch with Myriad as project progresses. More research, reading, and story-boarding in between paid freelance work. Make my first self-published comic, Spooky Womb, to dip toe into water. I take it to autumn Comiket and it sells well. My first children’s books as author are published this year, too. A year of firsts.

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2013: More good news! Sign contract with Myriad Editions. Then follows another unfortunate 8-month hiatus. In summer, I speak at the 4th Comics and Medicine Conference in Brighton, which buoys me. Unearth old teenage diaries and letters. Start working on book again towards the end of the year, when I finish the artwork for my prologue.

Gn_panel_pjk

2014: Finish first draft of storyboards. Feeding of recycle bin with superfluous splurge. Successful application to Arts Council England for funding to complete my book. Re-read letter to make sure! They definitely said yes. Have a go at making a handwritten font for the lettering – aka a week of faffing resulting in alphabet spaghetti rather than beautiful lo-fi fontage plus sore knuckles from all the gnawing. Begin to make working drawings from the storyboards, which I transfer to Bristol Board for painting and inking. Fonts can wait until patience is restored.

working-drawingPART_02_0003_workingcopy-copy

Onwards: Part three to jiggle,190ish pages of artwork and lettering to draw and complete, and the cover to design. Now working on it for six days a week stopping at eight o’clock most nights. I don’t get out much. I hope friends and family can bear with me for the confinement over the coming year. BBC Radios 4 and 6 are my friends now, plus garden snails and local cats at lunchtimes.

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Graphic Medicine podcast

mytalk_Comicsmedicine4_brighton _UniSussex.

Photo by Ian Williams.

Last year, I presented my work at Ethics Under Cover: Comics, Medicine and Society (4th International Conference on Comics and Medicine). I spoke on a panel named ‘Who’s Story is it?’ alongside Peaco Todd, Linda Raphael and Mita Mahato. Here is a link to the podcast (mine is second on the recording): Graphic Medicine Podcast: Brighton Panel 4A

My talk was titled ‘In or Out: Considering the impact on others of writing and sharing graphic memoir’. I spoke about my work in progress in relation to the responsibility for secondary characters’ stories in memoir (those who have not asked to be in a book), especially where medical details are involved. I also spoke about my other comics about fertility, miscarriage and childlessness and the response to sharing that personal work on social networking sites between 2011 and 2013.

The conference provided a generous portion of brain food, and I heartily recommend creators with medical/ health themes to their work to attend, or propose a paper to, future conferences. Also, do check out the Graphic Medicine Podcast archive where you will find interviews and talks by many talented comics creators and academics whose work reflects the ‘interaction between the medium of comics and the discourse of healthcare.’ (Graphic Medicine website quote).

This panel took place first thing on a Sunday morning, so I’m sure those delegates who were still wisely tucked up in bed will welcome the chance to hear it. Although I’m still not sure how anyone ever sleeps in Brighton with those tireless over-enthusiastic seagulls.

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.

‘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.