Monthly Archives: March 2012

Graphic novels, more please, publishers and illustrators.

Hot Key Books Blog

I’ve always enjoyed that magic combination of words and pictures to create stories and express ideas – from baby books to picture books and graphic novels for adults. Graphic novels and comics can explain complicated political, cultural and existential ideas with ease, making them accessible and a pleasure to read. Some of the best graphic novels tell apparently untellable stories through this medium like Maus and Palestine (read our read and tell blog posts about these).

As a child I read whatever I could get my hands on – including the weekly Dandy and Beano and the frankly weird Rupert the Bear annuals. I was never really into superheroes or fantasy, preferring explorations of domestic worlds or periods of history.

As an adult, favourites include PersepolisMarjane Satrapi, Fluffy by Simone Lia and Kikki de Montparnasse by José-Louis Bocquet and Catel Muller. I’ve been following the Cape/Observer/Comica Graphic Short Story…

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Looking for somewhere to visit?

Fleur Hitchcock's View from my Velux

The model village is a masterpiece of outsider art, generally dismissed as ‘kitsch”; living in the same place in the nation’s heart as buckets and spades and soft ice creams.

Many of them are by the sea, surviving because of the tourist trade, and visited by hordes of grannies and young children.  Unlike the piers and other seaside architecture, the model villages have to fend for themselves – not often getting the help of English Heritage and The National Trust.

But – in my view- we’re missing something here – these strange little villages, made of stone and cement are magical reconstructions of real life.  They were often begun by an enthusiast seeking some form of self expression, and built with love and an attention to detail that only a craftsman can deliver.  They represent something from a bygone Britain, where people built their own henhouses and knew how to…

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Model Villages and Miniature Parks – Celebrate them this Easter.

The model village is a masterpiece of outsider art, generally dismissed as ‘kitsch”; living in the same place in the nation’s heart as buckets and spades and soft ice creams.

Many of them are by the sea, surviving because of the tourist trade, and visited by hordes of grannies and young children.  Unlike the piers and other seaside architecture, the model villages have to fend for themselves – not often getting the help of English Heritage and The National Trust.

But – in my view- we’re missing something here – these strange little villages, made of stone and cement are magical reconstructions of real life.  They were often begun by an enthusiast seeking some form of self expression, and built with love and an attention to detail that only a craftsman can deliver.  They represent something from a bygone Britain, where people built their own henhouses and knew how to do an oilchange.

So, in this ridiculously global society, where nine tenths of us have at least one computing device,  we should celebrate these pieces of vernacular art; promote them, drag overseas tourists round them so that they can see what we used to idealise as the British rural idyll.  Because if we don’t – they’ll disappear – and the world will become a blander place, homogenous, with an IKEA in every out of town shopping park and none of us able to make anything for ourselves, unless it comes in a  flat pack, or a peelable box.

Godshill in the Isle of Wight was the model village of my childhood.  Littered with thatched roofs and with an exact copy of my great Aunt’s house in Shanklin, it fascinated me.     I took my children a few years ago and they were drawn in, clamouring to build one for ourselves in our garden. Since then I have taken them to Babbacombe, probably the biggest of the model villages, and Corfe Caste, possibly the smallest.  If we had another, closer by, I suspect it would be a regular watering hole.

So if you’re looking for something to do with your kids over Easter – bury your “kitsch” monitor and head on down to your nearest Model Village.  I can’t promise wonders from the cafes, I can’t promise good weather, but I do promise an experience that makes you wonder why you ever thought about visiting Legoland.

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www.modelvillagegodshill.co.uk/

www.modelvillage.co.uk/

www.corfecastlemodelvillage.co.uk/www.bekonscot.co.uk/www.greatyarmouthmodelvillage.co.uk/

http://www.theoldnewinn.co.uk/village.htm

http://www.visitlincolnshire.com/things-to-do/skegness-model-village-p20011

www.southportmodelrailwayvillage.co.uk/

And if you thought they were only a british phenomenon:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miniature_park  for a list of Miniature Parks around the world, including more in Britain.

40,000 Calories

So now an update.  The wall is now nearly two thirds, or possibly three fifths built.

It took about ten hours to pull the wall down.

By my calculation, so far, we’ve spent 131 man woman and dog hours,  and consumed about 40,000 calories apiece putting it back up.

In the last few days, between two men, one woman and a dog, we’ve eaten eight Mars bars, eight Snickers bars, two packet of jammy dodgers, two super sized bars of Cadbury’s dairy milk, two cans of tomato soup, three pot noodless, a can of beans, six packets of Jaffa cakes, 16 hot cross buns, 14 KitKats and twenty four cheese sandwiches as well as three meals a day.

I have moved at least two tons of stone, mostly back and forth over a squashed flower bed, developed a permanent stoop and a black fingernail.

I have learned to mix cement.

I have learned to dream about stone, and cement.

And we still haven’t finished the job.

But we will, honestly…

 

 

Cement, and the end user.

For the last five days, I have become a wall ‘lad’.  A ‘lad’ on any building site makes tea, mixes cement, and sweeps up.  Almost never does a lad get to do anything creative or interesting.  He’s mostly not even allowed to watch the master at work as it’s “offputting”.  Technically, I’m not even a lad.  My husband is Lad number one, I’m sub-lad, and we’re working under the instruction of Dave, master wallbuilder and all round useful person.  For the last five days, I’ve been moving stones from one side of the wall, to the other, and back again.

Sometimes I think Dave is having me on.

The only person more lowly than me, is Laddie the dog, who lies in the middle of the stones and waits for me to throw a root that he brings back, instantaneously. I throw the root because it gives relief from breaking rocks and mixing cement.  I’d listen to the radio if I was allowed, but it seems that wall building is best carried out in silence, or with the gentle drone of a cement mixer.  The whole exercise is designed to empty your head.

And that’s the problem.  With all this thinking time, I keep having thoughts.  Thoughts about edits, ideas for characters, things I could change in my stories, all turning over in my head without a pen or paper in sight.

I’ve also had thoughts about engineering, and funnily enough, about cement mixers.  Cement mixers are designed for giants.  Mere mortals find the shovel too heavy, the angle too steep, the cement dust blows back in your face, the whole tipping thing is fraught with danger, and they’re horribly noisy things to work with.

Recently, Sir Paul Nurse, in the Dimbleby lectures, talked about the need for the scientist to liase with the end user.  He had a particular interest in biology, but I think more engineering students and product designers need to spend time with cement mixers.  They need to talk to material scientists about ways to make the cement mixer lighter, easier to clean, to rocket scientists about silent and more efficient engines;  to lads on building sites about access and height and cleaning out.

It got me thinking about end users and creators, about industries where one influences the other, where they are one and the same people.  Amateur astronomers still make their own telescopes, cooks design their own kitchens, but gardeners don’t make their own spades, and do readers design their own books? Do children really get to say what they want to read?

I’ve  thought long and hard about this.

I’m still thinking.