A New Lyrical Ballads

Last night I went to this poetry event: A New Lyrical Ballads, part of Bristol Festival of Ideas’ season of talks exploring the connection between Bristol and The Romantic Poets. Twenty-three poets were commissioned to write new works ‘in the spirit of romanticism’.

I must admit that I haven’t read much poetry since studying for A Level English Lit, and I haven’t strayed far from Sylvia Plath and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land since. More fool me. My husband convinced me that this event would be a corker – he’s the poetry buff in this household and writes prose poetry. Several of his favourite poets would be reading.

The idea of ‘lyrical’ attracted me because lyrics were the first type of writing I ever did, and that led on to writing picture books, which require a similar type of structure and rhythm. Indeed, some of the poets last night spoke of the ‘economy of words’ in poetry, which is also an important facet of writing picture books and graphic novels (my current work in progress). I’d also stumbled over the Romantic Poets in the course of researching my book – the Romantic era being a period when motherhood was much sentimentalised in literature.

Although poetry is not usually a medium I read, I found much to offer here and ‘discovered’ some poets’ work I’d like to read more. In my drawings of the event I became interested by how each reader held their paper – aloft and confident, tentative or grasped. Ian McMillan introduced each poet, so bits of him are dotted around. It was dark, and I found it hard to focus from bright lights to shady page, plus I need to get this middle-aged eyesight situation sorted!

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.

Everyday Sexism Project talk

Last night I went to a Bristol Festival of Ideas talk at The Watershed by Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project. The project first came to my attention by the Twitter hashtag #everydaysexism, where people were tweeting examples of their experiences. You can also add experiences to the website.

I scribbled some notes and drawings during the talk:

I grew up in the 1970s/80s – still an extremely sexist era when it was routine to hear sexist statements and to experience sexism. Naively, I thought that surely the situation must have evolved by now, so I was shocked to discover that, especially for schoolgirls, things seem a lot worse – certainly compared to my own teenage years. To hear examples, such as being told to ‘get back in the kitchen’ when putting their hands up to speak class, left me in dismay. And that was a mild example. I’m reading Betty Frieden’s The Feminine Mystique, which is set post-war to 60s, and I’m sorry to say that some of the examples I heard last night reminded me of the content and subject matter of this book.

Laura made it clear that the project is about human rights, rather than women’s rights alone, and she also gave examples of sexism against men, especially in the workplace with regards to paternity leave. And she encourages men to write in with their experiences. The audience was largely made up of young women, and, I’m happy to report, some men and a teenage boy or two. Laura is a fantastic role model for young women. The abuse she receives as a result of her public profile is truly horrendous, only highlighting the need society has for projects like this.

Sadly our government recently chose not to make PSHE classes compulsory in schools – classes which could highlight sexism and teach young people how to deal with it. When girls are dreading the idea of a future sex life because of the normative nature of the type of porn they are exposed to, someone needs to assure them otherwise. Thankfully, Laura does talk about the ESP in schools.

I walked home clutching my keys, as I’ve been doing since my 20s, (good for breaking collarbones – I refuse a curfew). I thought about the sexist incidents, past and present, throughout my own life. I won’t write them here – I’ve already put one or two on the ESP site. How I wish there had been an ESP when I were a lass…

Fairy princess cushion

I’m putting together a sketchbook zine with small drawings and comics made in my local park. This took place in the park but I drew it from ‘memory’ back at home.


I think we all have a Fairy Princess Cushion in our lives, don’t we?



I’ve had to make one or two journeys due to family illness this year and, when not driving, I’ve found it to be quite absorbing to draw the fast-changing landscape of motorways. It takes my mind off things. The drawings are very wobbly, of course, due to the movement of both the vehicle and subject matter – but I like that quality. I became excited by the shapes of those 1950s concrete motorway bridges – and I started to fixate on the CCTV cameras. I also found the black digital display boards to be somewhat foreboding and ‘looming’ when they didn’t contain any information. They’re just the right size to be spooky in some way. Maybe it was just the mood I was in! See if you can guess what I was listening to…

Sketchbook and earwigging

Sketches from the last week plus some overheard snippets of conversation.

Sketchbook pages

I’ve just come to the end of a sketchbook that I’ve kept for the last 18 months, so thought I’d post a few pages here. Ironically, when I was in the thick of being a children’s illustrator, I didn’t keep sketchbooks – the last thing I needed in my spare time was to be drawing. I had to rest my overstretched tendons and tunnels (I had recurring RSI). In recent years I’ve started to carry one around with me again. I’ve also included some pages from other sketchbooks – I have them of varying sizes from a tiny one that fits in my purse to an A4 book at home in which I do comics workings-out.

I don’t often attempt to do finished drawings in them – they’re more for practising looking, and planning (comics). I like to draw in cafes, on journeys, on beaches, and in waiting rooms etc. In these situations, people are in varying degrees of motion, which means fast drawing is required to get any sense of form. I like that challenge, and the results are very gestural lines – mere essence of movement or character.

My reasons for sketching are varied, and include: taking the opportunity to practise drawing when I’m not doing anything else; an attempt to be ‘in the moment’ and record it for posterity; on occasion, to escape from the moment or thoughts, or from boredom; note-taking at talks; and I also sketch in the wee hours when I can’t sleep – this tends to be when comics idea emerge. They can seem very urgent and important in a dozy half-slumber but often appear pretty rubbish later in the day. Like dreams!