Yesterday, March 3rd, would have been my youngest sister’s birthday. I waited for the Thames to float this paper boat, a sort of ritual to celebrate my sister’s memory. Yellow seemed a good colour to represent a kind, mischievous, generous and beautiful sister. Very few people about, the morning’s river mist cleared and I got chatting with a mudlark. So good to smell and hear the river as the tide came up, and feel connected to the sea as well as to my sister. The river water was exceptionally clear, and everything quiet apart from two chattering Egyptian geese. The friendly mudlark told me, amongst other things, how being by the river had comforted her after her mother’s death a few years ago.
Broadstairs is one of my favourite seaside places to visit, and in the past, before it closed to the public, I often called in at a house once used by Charles Dickens for summer holidays. Here’s my story for the Royal Literary Fund, about the house, and about the many notes written to Dickens by visitors, and left in what is claimed was once his desk.
When I was very small I visited Sweden with my mother and my much older sister. During our visit we went to Skansen, a folk museum. For years afterwards, my mother denied we’d ever been to Sweden, despite letters (and a gold ring concealed in a book shaped box’s secret compartment) arriving from Sweden for my mother. And despite my memory of the visit of course. Who was the man by the lake? This is the starting point of my graphic mystery/memoir Stranger, about identity and displacement (see rough frames), a work in progress. Not a children’s book this time.
How do we make sense of the world when those we trust make us doubt what we experience? Particularly relevant during the current time of plague, Brexit and political double-speak.
About twenty years ago I was commissioned by Discovery, Cathay Pacific’s inflight magazine to illustrate a journey round the Isle of Man, travelling with writer Ron McMillan who drove the car. I was supposedly the navigator of our trip, following the TT circuit round the island (Ron’s idea). Due to my rather misleading navigational skills, we initially drove the wrong way round, having all sorts of adventures en route, encountering an exciting tractor competition (or was it a race?), excellent puddings and a fairy bridge. Sadly no fairies glimpsed though. We also had tea with my uncle and aunt (see top right) whom I hadn’t seen for many years. My uncle, an RAF pilot during WW2, then an elderly boy racer, is dead now, and I’ve lost touch with my aunt again. Whilst I was there I sent my mother some kippers by post – you can still get them. She didn’t appreciate the surprise at the time.
Today I spent too much time searching for a stash of my favourite new Muji A5 notebooks but instead stumbled on: a dried starfish, six drawings of an octopus (from my Draw It! book series) drawing a picture, a radiator key and my Acme Duck Whistle (see above left) amongst other things, but no notebooks. I’ve spent many a happy hour wandering the Essex salt marshes pre-Covid and have to say the Acme does not work. No ducks flocked to my side to say a friendly quack. I’m now thinking of taking the Acme to the Regents Park lake to try it out. At the very least it may scare off some of the non-socially-distancing runners etc. puffing and panting and blocking the paths.
Late addition … this lunchtime spotted this on a nearby railing … maybe the Acme does work after all …
Whilst trying to clear some space in my tiny flat I decided to sort through photos taken during my travel writing days – writing features for the Independent, London’s Evening Standard and others. I’ve never felt so restless as I have this year, probably like many others. Looking at my photos induced a powerful feeling of nostalgia for the days when a pandemic didn’t rule our explorations. Sometimes the photos were a bit puzzling, see above for instance, taken at a Garlic Festival on the Isle of Wight
I’m still in touch with some of the members of a fantastic press trip to Shetland seen here. Our goal was to eventually reach Muckle Flugga, the UK’s most northerly lighthouse, but bad weather and sea conditions meant we never quite made it. I was commissioned by a magazine which didn’t use my piece in the end as it didn’t have enough info about shopping on Shetland apparently. Later I returned to Shetland, having an exhibition there and running workshops
A big adventure – sailing from Falmouth to Lisbon in a Dutch brigantine taking part in a Tall Ships Race. The Independent sent a photographer to see me off at Falmouth, but photographed the wrong ship.
Sometimes it’s tricky to follow your own advice … here’s a comic strip I made for SCWBI a while ago about overcoming a writing/drawing block. At the moment I’m dithering about content for my mystery/memoir graphic book so … Here are the pencil stages of the BLOCK comic strip before I inked it. Maybe it will be helpful to others (and me!) to have confidence in developing an idea, and to just get on with it … Whoops, may have to go and do some more staring into space …