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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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 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.

It Takes Two to T’wit T’woo on CBeebies!

On Thursday I was very excited to discover that my children’s picture book It Takes Two to T’wit Twoo was read on the BBC children’s programme Cbeebies Bedtime Story, by Isla Fisher. It was a complete surprise – my cousin told me about it when she was watching with her daughter. It’s still available on iPlayer and you can see it here for the next 27 days. I love the way they’ve added sound effects and animated some of the illustrations (by Guiliano Ferri).

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The book was published in 2012 after being signed by Hinkler Books in 2010 for their Bonney Press series of picture books. It was the first time I’d been published as an author, and they signed two of my stories at once, the other being Robles’ Rain Dancewhich I’d written several years before.

The inspiration for the story came indirectly from another BBC programme  –Springwatch. Myself and a fellow bird-loving friend were discussing having seen an episode about how tawny owls call to one another. They explained that ‘t’wit t’woo’ is actually the sound of two separate owls, not one. On the way home, my husband and I were engaging in some motorway boredom banter, and I said: ‘It takes two to t’wit t’woo’, and the title had presented itself. I’m always on the lookout for potential titles, and many have come from daft casual conversations and a tendency to mess around with words.

The male owl in my book is called Albert, named after my grandfather who died when I was six. I don’t remember much about him other than that he always had a bad chest, and held the teapot very high when pouring a cup of Yorkshire tea. He came from Fulham, and rumour has it that he once played for Charlton Athletic. Football didn’t pay enough, so he became a heating engineer and moved to the Northeast where he met my gran at a Labour Party rally in Darlington. So, if you’re reading the book aloud, a cockney accent will do very nicely for the twoo-ing and a Teeside accent for the twit-ing.

Sadly, I’ve never heard ‘t’wit tw’oo’ all at once in the wild myself, mostly only a t’woo. That must have been an Albert searching for an Olive, who was too far away for me to hear.

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

London Plane

I recently had an diagnostic laparoscopy. I felt like I’d been kicked by a frisky mule! I’m having a week or two off to rest and recuperate. What has the London Plane tree got to do with that, you may ask? Maybe nothing, unless you have a oxycodone-soaked post-laparoscopic brain.

I’ve recently been taking photos of trees and birds, and have taken lots of London Plane trees in their winter finery with those pendulous pods hanging a pattern against the flat winter sky.

London_Plane_photoThey remind me of 1950s atom designs, but also something visceral and bodily that I couldn’t quite put my finger on – maybe testicular? It wasn’t until I was in hospital, and there was one outside the ward window, did I begin to make a connection – one that might have been lurking in my subconscious all along. To pass the time and calm my nerves while waiting my turn on the surgical day-case unit, I did some sketching and stream-of-consciousness writing to record the experience. There wasn’t much time, because I was second on the list.

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Here’s what I wrote before my op, and afterwards when I was waiting to go home. I’ve never really tried stream-of-consciousness writing but I enjoyed reading A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride recently, so why not? I need more practice!

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Needless to say, I’ll never be able to look at another London Plane tree without thinking of uterine fibroids! The ‘O’ the surgeon made with her hand was pretty much the same size as the seedpods hanging off the tree out of the window. Perhaps I’ve been noticing these trees more recently in a subconscious bid to understand my pain. Or maybe I just like the look of them! Nature often echoes the human condition, but that’s only because we have the consciousness to consider ourselves apart from it and thus reflected in it*.  I think we probably see what we’re searching for or need at that time. In reality, the London Plane seeds are its fertility – not unwanted troublesome growths, which is what I now see. Some sort of transference has happened between me and those trees – perhaps because I’d rather my experience could somehow be located somewhere other than inside my own body. Whatever my interest in the trees is about, at least drawing, writing and taking photos is a distraction from pain!

*I’ve also been reading some nature writing recently – Nature Cure by Richard Mabey describes these ideas quite well.

 

Halfway: Graphic memoir update

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HALFWAY! Through the artwork stage of my graphic memoir The Facts of Life. What? Only half way? I know – I’ve been on with the thing since 2010. Most comics creators are well aware of what a gargantuan labour-intensive task writing and drawing a long-form comic can be, many taking a good ten years to complete one alongside other work.

My personal reason for derailment has been health issues this year. When I signed the contract with Myriad Editions, and got my grant from Arts Council England, I was relatively well and thought that I could get the deed done in a couple of years. But this year has seen a relapse in my ME/CFS/Fibromyalgia symptoms. I was first diagnosed with this in 2008, and when I started working on this project in earnest, in 2011, it felt like I was comfortably in recovery. I started out working for six days each week to get the artwork stage of the project done by my original deadline, but it wasn’t to be. The illness raised its ugly head again around March/ April of this year after a particularly rapacious bout of blood-spitting bronchitis. (Never come near me if you have anything vaguely viral or snively.) Many describe it as a ‘fluctuating illness,’ and, well, it fluctuated the wrong way.

I’ve had to cut back on how much work I can do each day, and in summer I had to stop work completely for a few weeks due to chronic muscle pain/ soreness and clobbering fatigue. I’m back to work again now, but doing only four pages a week and that mostly seems manageable – although not every week. I’m grateful to Myriad Editions for their patience, support and understanding. The book is now due to come out in 2017 but no specific date has been decided yet. Here is the latest cover design: COVER_Couple_ChartBlueBG_redcrosses_darkerchart

In other news, my book was mentioned in The Bookseller recently, and in last week’s Sunday Times online, alongside some of my talented comics contemporaries – Nicola Streeten, Ian Williams, Rachael Ball, and Henny Beaumont. It was an article about the growing popularity of graphic novels with a medical theme (aka Graphic Medicine). There are some amazing books coming out, and already published, by those folks, so do look them up. Also look out for Una’s new book from Myriad Editions – Becoming Unbecoming.

Also, I occasionally post snippets from the work in progress, and ‘deskies’ at my work Instagram account: @paulajkstudio