Telling someone else’s story

Last week I’d started drafting page 74 of Satin and Tat, and this week I’m about four fifths of the way through finishing it.

Not very fast progress, but my excuse is that we’ve got a new kitten – kitten! – and my time has been spent fishing her out of plant pots and saving her from jumping on the cooker. And the teen daughter is starting college, requiring a bit of admin and a bit of moral support. So there’s lots going on, and moreover page 74 is a boring one with lots of tiny details.

I need to figure out a better way of drawing small things: in this case, a specific panel (not the one I’m showing here, but even more crowded) set in a school corridor, seen from quite a distance and full of small figures. I know it’s a matter of elegantly placing blocks of colour and not worrying too much about the detail, but apparently that doesn’t mean I actually do that.

Still, it’s just one page and when I’ve got through this I can move back onto the scenes featuring Alex, thrilling and slightly-older punk rocker, and much more fun to draw than a bunch of girls in school uniforms.

As a side note – it’s interesting/terrifying to see how much the colours differ when I view this page in Affinity Photo on my laptop and in Photoshop Elements on my desktop. Really hope it doesn’t look too lurid on your machine.

An interesting question came up in the chat side bar at the Graphic Medicine conference: not just for me, but for all the artists whose work is based on true stories about other people. How do you reconcile the fact that you’re telling someone else’s story with their right to privacy?

It’s certainly true that Satin and Tat revolves around the suicide of a character based on a real person, and that person still has surviving family and friends in the real world. Of course, it’s something I’ve thought about a lot: should I contact those people before the book is finished, to let them at least know about it? That’s always assuming I could find them: we haven’t kept in touch.

My main thought here is that although real life events were the seed of the story, it has become something else, something at least half fictional. The main character is based on my own experiences, thoughts and feelings, and like me, she was a goth in the 80s and she lived in Devon; like me, she rode a bike and dressed in jumble sale clothes, and then she grew up and got married and had one child and worried too much about what people thought of her.

But she’s also a theatre director, with shorter hair and a much better jawline than me. She lives in a posh converted house in London, with a swanky kitchen (the sort I’d like, but can’t afford); and her husband wears sweatpants, something that’s definitively not true, and will never be true, of my own spouse. He’s obsessively into an obscure band (that doesn’t exist in the real world), called Marshall’s Trousers.

Ella’s teenage friends are based on a conglomeration of people I knew back then, plus a bit of the essence of being an eighties Devonshire goth. Alex’s housemates are generic art school kids. A crucial part of the story is made more dramatic by an event that didn’t really happen.

I guess this is true of most fiction or semi-fictionalised work. It comes down to the fact that you’re attempting to convey your experiences and feelings rather than any truths about specific individuals. It’s not a particularly new train of thought, but it feels like one that it was worth working through.

2 comments

  1. “He’s obsessively into an obscure band (that doesn’t exist in the real world), called Marshall’s Trousers.”

    I love details like that. And I particularly love that detail!

    I so look forward to reading the whole thing all in one fell swoop.

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