Having graduated from Manchester I moved to Norwich, where my parents had decided to re-settle during my absence. Rural Norfolk was a complete contrast to Manchester. I knew nothing about Norwich at all, but there was a burgeoning music and arts scene which I slipped into pretty quickly. With virtually no budget I started anonymously publishing an indies music/arts fanzine The Blue Blanket, through which I interviewed bands, touring and local, ran local event listings, plus there were odd features on the arts, and opinionated flippant essays under various nom-de-plumes. And of course it was fully illustrated with my work. It was fun, made me a bunch of friends very quickly, and invariably sold out. Somewhere along the years of multiple housemoving I lost my own remaining copies, so I've only memories of the magazine now, but recently I did find one piece of artwork in my dad's house.
|from The Blue Blanket Issue 4, 1982|
After throwing most of my student artwork out of the window on the last day at Manchester Poly (see previous post) I just had a simple portfolio of graduate pieces I wasn't particularly happy with, mostly black and white. So I began looking with fresh eyes at the market for children's illustration. I worked on some story ideas and drew a full colour dummy picture book Bored Brenda, (a modern day twist on The Fisherman's Wife, set in Manchester) plus a couple of other watercolour portfolio pieces, and added drawings from The Blue Blanket to my degree show black and white work.
|Bored Brenda at home (original dummy) 1982|
|Brenda finds the teapot (original dummy) 1982|
On a bleak spring day I jumped on a train to London with around 4 or 5 appointments with publishers. It wasn't the first time I'd carted my wares around the streets of the capital, but previous times were as a student, showing college projects. This was different, my portfolio had a purpose, it was much more focused towards getting me employed. It's strange that all this energy had suddenly appeared after I left college, in retrospect, it was a combination of The Blue Blanket and fear of unemployment that cranked me into gear.
A and C Black were the last publisher I saw that day of lugging my portfolio around. It was belting down with rain and I was pretty drenched, I often wonder whether the art director (now Managing Director) Jill Coleman took pity on my bedraggled appearance. But she liked my drawings, and to my surprise and delight offered me a book to illustrate, written by the then largely unknown Jeremy Strong. Suddenly I was in business, the flat fee seemed very reasonable for the time (little did I know Fatbag would still be on the shelves 30 years later and I wouldn't earn a penny from any of the subsequent printings or editions!).
Eventually Fatbag meets his come-uppance thanks to the local school cleaner Elsie Bunce, with the help of a TV curry recipe.
Get Lavinia Goodbody! for the Andersen Press and A Canoe in the Mist for Jonathan Cape). My story Bored Brenda was eventually published (though truncated) in Storyteller magazine (Marshal Cavendish), by which time I'd moved to London. After a year of incubation I joined old Manchester mate Andy Royston to set up Façade Art Studios, from that point there was no looking back.