This is one of the pictures that didn’t make it into the final book. in fact, I don’t even think I offered it to my publishers, preferring to keep it to myself. You can see the rough pencil marks and un-rubbed out bits, but there’s something very child-like about the dragon – his pelican bib and expectant claws are, dare I say, endearing? However, the little human is wearing a welder’s mask, tongs and gloves- she’s not taking any risks with accidental snorts of flame.
She’s offering the giant beast a madeleine. This is a Proustian moment (if that doesn’t make me sound like a complete tosser… ) This is a precious memory she’s handing over in the hopes that – I have no idea what she’s hoping will happen to that memory. It’ll be cleansed by fire? Turned into ash? Alchemised into gold? I drew it because I have a quote from Proust pinned to the wall above my drawing board and I wanted to illustrate it.
Forgive me while I mangle Proust. I think the quote goes something like ‘Griefs, at the moment when they change into ideas, lose some of their power to injure the heart.’ Sorry, Marcel. But it illustrates what I was doing when I was drawing the pictures for Night Shift. It wasn’t self-therapy. It was trying to take the dross, the base metal of the experience of depression and turn it into something valuable, something that might help other injured hearts find their way.
Of course, the experience of actually drawing what it felt like to hit rock bottom was beyond weird. I’d open up my studio in the morning, and there, on the easel, waiting for me, would be one of the humungous illustrations in progress.
Nostrils flaring, wings outspread, there was my monster in black and white. I could only take a few days of this and I’d have to cover my illustration over and go do something else. A fluffy bunny perhaps? A dear little penguin. Ahhhhhh, that’s better. Then the monster called, and I carried on. When I finished an illustration, I added it to the growing pile, but without any idea of what the growing pile was for. From time to time, I’d show friends and family what I was doing and we’d all suck air through our teeth in a fashion beloved of car mechanics or school nurses. As in – ffffffff that’s going to cost you. Or – yikes, that’s a bit of an owie.
Being a writer though means that you spend rather too many of your waking hours trying to make sense of things through the medium of story. And the pile of drawings were no different. Obviously they were charting a journey of sorts, but what route map was that journey taking? Reminded of my inability to read maps ( I am a legend in that respect) I decided to dispense with an order, a map or anything like a framework and simply drew how I felt.
Simply.If anyone wonders what the little squiggly bits on the cover of Night Shift are, they’re spent matches. Beating back the darkness, one Swan Vesta at a time.
One small thing to lighten the load – Spring is already on its way. Bulbs are pushing through the black earth, tree branches are slowly swelling, prior to bud break. The Earth turns towards the sun again, and although we don’t sense it yet, the nights are getting shorter. Go outside just before twilight, maybe hunting for crocuses poking through the soil and while you do, have a listen to the birdsong. They’re not in full and glorious chorus yet, but here in Scotland, they’re certainly tuning up. Who knew that robins could sing so sweetly? They know the light is returning. Birds are a reminder that nothing stays the same, light follows darkness and seasons turn. They’re seizing this day.