Monday, 27 July 2020


I'm currently working on a weird Prog rock follow up to the Kickball issue - here's some work in progress...

Friday, 19 June 2020

Art Diary Day One

During lockdown I've been doing a bunch of reading including Lynda Barry's Syllabus which has really made me want to keep at the discipline of not only doing daily art but art that pushes me - so I've been doing copies of stuff very much out of my usual comfort zone. Here's day one of extracts from the last six weeks or so

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Raven by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray

I spent much of my childhood reading Doctor Who novelisations to the extent that in many ways Terrance Dicks’ sometimes brisk but always accessible writing is my default memory of the original show. But I’ve never conducted an experiment whereby I watched a story for the first time and pretty much immediately followed it up with the book: I already know most stories either through their TV form or as book. So reading Raven is actually a pretty new experience for me – I finished the series this time last week and now have finished Burnham and Ray’s novel. And it’s a fascinating experience to encounter both so close together.

A little background to the show: it’s Burnham and Ray’s follow up to the legendary Children of the Stones and, probably, isn’t as impressive as the predecessor mainly because Burnham and Ray seemed to be throwing idea after idea at Stones, so there are few longeurs (there’s more than a few in Raven). The problem is the show finds it hard to wrap it all up in twenty five minutes so the final episode is almost a classic but never quite manages to cap the complex plot lines simmering along.

Raven is a far simpler story – Borstal kid is sent to the “midshires” to stay with a crotchety archaeologist and his ornithologist wife; he gets involved in attempts to turn a system of caves near a stone circle into a nuclear waste dump, despite the caves showing very obvious historical and religious importance to someone; Raven also has a mysterious past that seems linked to the caves… and any more will probably spoilt a few surprises. Because it’s simpler it never quite feels as adventurous as Stones, and there is definitely padding, but in terms of storytelling (as opposed to acting which is great, with Phil Daniels acting veteran performers off the screen effortlessly) this does allow the final episode and a bit to be far bolder. Because there’s less to wrap up, the TV version ends episode five on something very ambiguous which manages to remain so into episode six which then holds off the dramatic meat until the very last five minutes which is… either insanely and boldly brave in terms of how much it embraces lack of resolution or maddeningly vague depending on your viewpoint.

The novelisation is fascinating because it manages to tease up some ambiguity (the television crew’s appearance now seems definitely part of a design) whilst also clarifying some narrative points (the weird scene with the vicar mowing his lawn being the prime example), but also ends up very muddled in other places. Partly I assume this is because the book is written by the TV show’s authors but through a combination of the shooting script and trying to describe some of the performances. With the Professor and his wife and Bill this is absolutely fine because they’re very much “types” and that’s easy to write. Naomi sort of wobbles a bit because she’s far more, creepily, an object of lust to several people in the narrative where her performance on screen was such that you could quite easily nudge people’s fascination with her to be being impressed  by how driven she is.

The problem characters are Clive Castle and Raven himself, mainly because the performances seem very different to how the characters were probably written. The Castle in the book is a bit of a mess: a weird combination of shallow poseur, effeminate ladies’ man and helpful idiot. The book can’t ever take the various elements and combine them to make a believable whole: the TV show does, with Hugh Thomas performing a dazzlingly odd performance as the calculatingly camp but deeply charming Castle. It’s a very nuanced performance so the jealousy of Raven manages to feel natural and mostly as paranoia on his side. That’s also helped by Daniels whose performance is incredibly naturalistic. He manages to convince several emotional pivots from angry to confused to excited to charming with startling ease. On the page Raven just seems like he’s barrelling towards a breakdown.

The other problem is the lack of ambiguity. One of the strongest bits of the show is the cliff-hanger, of sorts, of episode five which seems to resolve at the start of episode six but then suddenly settles again into a really strange shift which goes from the legendary, Arthurian themes of the plot into something more universal. That works beautifully on screen but on the page it loses a considerable amount of the magic. Similarly the reveal of the final chamber and the sequence with the minister are a lot less weird on the page than on screen which again blunts it considerably. However I am very glad to say that the final scenes of the book, whilst not having anything like the power that they have on screen where they play out the show in almost complete silence, are significantly better and the final paragraph is beautifully judged: the focus is not so much on ambiguity as to whether there might be another series (as it sometimes feels like the show’s ending is) but as to the rest of what Raven is here to do. That’s very nicely done.

A few other points: the introduction was probably a bit too tricky to make so it’s a nice extra to get a Raven origin story of a sort. Also, you can tell that much of Raven was filmed in the worst weather imaginable – sometimes this is a strength, such as Raven shouting at the supporters in the stone circle as rain pours down which is impressive even if difficult to film, and at other times there’s a grimy dampness to the proceedings as opposed to Children of the Stones which benefits from obviously being made during the legendary 1976 heatwave. Thankfully the book can at least escape from that a little, although it’s slightly disappointing there are no other attempts to open up the story. The book does benefit hugely from art by Les Matthews, strange and spidery little illustrations which manage to evoke something of the visual magic of the show’s dream sequences but in a very different way.

Finally: a word on why I’m reading this. I’m working on finishing a novel about a “lost” 1970s British kids TV show and this show – as book and as television – is absolutely perfect to tidy up a few plot points. Raven has for some reason a lesser reputation than its flashier forebear (probably why the book was so affordable) but that’s very unfair I think. It’s much more focussed and mature and willing to embrace ambiguity in a way no other show of the period – other than The Owl Service maybe, and that had an Alan Garner shaped head start – managed to do so lightly.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

A Home For Mr Blubbery Tussle: A Collage Novel Part Four

Those waves were also observed by the House of Ghosts, crying with laughter at the fate of the robber who sang of the Red House at the end of every day. The way through the woods, the narrow path and the whispering door: these Mr Pickering would never return to, his face an orange of obligations. “All is mystery and all is misery”, he claimed to the mouse, a cherub of wisdom and with the smile of the Knowing Darkness, who merely laughed.

In a vision, the Diadem of Subsidium found a scent of the famished hemisphere that had been written in the infamous Manuscript of International Hopscotch. A comically conical clue but one that had resulted in the fenestration of the Lamed Wufnicks. Festooned in their growths, the home of Iolanthe Feint affronted the Blubbery Tussles. The flaw in the law was that the cellar augured badly for the home – and what was this? In the festering vestibule, hugging themselves and giving pious chase, were none other than the dreaded Black Coats of Diadem of Dark Mass. And again, a gust was felt in the gibbous vestibule. 

This reduced the wisdom of Mr Blubbery Tussle, but the pipes whispered in his ear “The Orbs! The treacle! The Men are on the highway! Digging trenches”

“Wormwood of my soul!” cried Mr Blueberry Toussel. The domicile of Cagliostro Cosmos had pursued the Orbs of Flat-nosed Pete. 

Elsewhere the Orbs of the Peanut Devotion had deftly located Irma Collusion. Bordeaux Castle, where snugly hidden was the Plinth of the Eleventh Ganglions, was threatened by the foetid teeth of the Orbs of Tourniquet Mount. The helicoidal cohort shunted the domestic fortress in sceptic triumph, while the scavengers eclipsed the tumour of the pedant. “Woot! Creed! Cultivate!” cried the Magdeburg Hemispheres.

And Twenty Five Orbs, within the humid orbit of the chasm, passed the wisdom of the Goblin Archive which shuddered in shame and in vain. The House of the Isle of the Vein allowed Merry Phillip Glimmer to present his fatal victory. But in the Country of the Demented Compasses, the Olive Orbs awaited the approach to the Island of Esme.

And the actor, Lasky, knew exactly where everyone everywhere would be. His friends, in those moments, lived not by the White Horse of the road but in the exterior of tomorrow. But when he got there, the chasm opened and the Orbs and Prisms pulled him fatally within.

And in that pungent dawn, Mr Blubbery Tussle sat and thought. And as he did so the guileless song of a Ball and Hammer arose within him.

“And all is quiet now, as the sea sees the ant. The wisdom of the night weighs the doubt of the sun’s fall, the folly of guiding the paths of tomorrow and the wisdom of lamentation and love for all birds. This is the wisdom passed down from moon to sun, daughter to father until the very end.”

And the actor, Lasky, whispered “And all is quiet now, as the sea sees the ant.”

And the rest was salience.

First Show in Two Years!!!

 This Saturday! The old college! Todmorden Folk Festival! I will be selling all the things! Come and buy them and tell your friends!!! (And ...