Kit’s Wilderness

I just finished reading ‘Kit’s Wilderness’ by David Almond and felt inspired to do a couple of pictures. Set in the same wild and magical Northeast England that Almond has made his own across his books (he grew up in Felling near Newcastle), it tells of Kit, whose family returns to the town of Stoneygate to care for his elderly grandpa. There Kit falls in with a new group of friends, including the vibrant Allie and the brooding, tortured Askew, who introduces him to a sinister new game called ‘Death.’ As his grandpa’s continuing stories mix history with fact and fiction Kit finds his own experiences blending with the past and finds himself the unwitting pawn in a terrifying struggle between darkness and light.

As ever with Almond, it’s all lyrically written and hugely atmospheric. He always is particularly good at evoking the way in which reality and magic are blurred together during childhood: seemingly mundane events can take on huge symbolic significance and form the starting points for bewildering and exciting digressions into strange and unfamiliar worlds. When Almond describes the children leaving their homes to play on the wilderness at the back of their houses he also describes a journey away from rational civilisation and into an untamed, magical and sometimes terrifying childhood world. No one evokes that journey quite like him.

Anyway, it felt like the kind of book that would really benefit from illustrations – something semi-abstract in sharply contrasting black and white to reflect the epic life/death battle at the heart of the story. I also had in mind Almond’s recent collaborations with Dave McKean, ‘The Savage’ and ‘Slog’s Dad,’ both of which demonstrate a brilliant combination of words and pictures.

“It was a chilly evening and rain was pouring down on to the wilderness.”

“If ever a lamp went out or a pitman’s bait was pinched, that’s Silky’s work, we’d say. Little mischief, little Silky. A glimpse, and then he’s gone.”

Godwin Baxter’s Scream

I’ve just finished reading Alasdair Gray’s novel ‘Poor Things’ and really enjoyed it.

In 1881, Archie McCandless is introduced to the enigmatic and alluring Bella Baxter by his friend, the grotesque medical genius Godwin Baxter, whose secret knowledge has led him, via some unethical experiments involving rabbits, to attempt the most daring of all medical conquests. Archie’s book-length account of the first few years of their acquaintance is either an outrageous fiction or outrageous fact.

The book he writes is framed with ephemera including editorial notes, biographical details, letters, timelines and pictures, detailing the discovery of the book and an argument concerning its veracity – between Gray himself and the local historian who unearthed the manuscript.

As always with Gray, it’s all brilliantly playful, full of tales within tales and a wealth of tiny, nonsensical details that blur the boundaries between fact, fiction and fabrication.

This is a scene from the story within a story that struck me as a particularly good one to draw: Godwin Baxter’s tragic response to learning his hopes for the future have been irrevocably dashed.

“Then came the most terrifying experience of my life. The only part of Baxter which moved was his mouth. It slowly and silently opened into a round hole bigger than the original size of his head then grew larger still until his head vanished behind it. His body seemed to support a black, expanding, tooth fringed cavity in the scarlet sunset behind him. When the scream came the whole sky seemed to be screaming. I clapped my hands to my ears before this happened so did not faint as Bella did, but the single high-pitched note sounded everywhere and pierced the brain like a dental drill piercing a tooth without anaesthetic. I lost most of my senses during that scream.”

                    – Poor Things by Alasdair Gray