Throwback Friday #22 Chimera Book One (2014)


Kyp Finnegan is lost in Chimera after running away from the imposters pretending to be his parents. Chimera is as remarkable as it is dangerous – a fantastical world of lost properties in which bowties evolve into butterflies and abandoned sofas transform into snorting herds of soffalos! With the help of Atticus Weft, a sock-snake with a secret, Kyp must evade the clutches of Madame Chartreuse, who is determined to add him to her collection of lost children and imprison him in Chimera forever…


What started life as a story inspired by – and written for – my nephew, the book series, Chimera took up more and more of my time as a creative writing project. The light bulb moment was small and simple, in so much as, back in early 2002, my nephew was experiencing some anxiety around moving house and moving schools, going through a moment when the circumstances of his parents’ lives were impacting on his own in ways that felt unwelcome, unfair or just plain mysterious. Really that was it – the tension between the world as it is understood by a child and the world of adult decisions.

I wanted to write the sort of story I wanted to read as a child. I remember vividly a book by Dalek-creator, Terry Nation, called Rebecca’s World, which I read many times, loving it for its cast of characters and vividly-described alternate world. I loved being scared too – or rather that ‘cosy’ sense of being imperiled by unseen things and deadly menaces, content in the knowledge you’re really safe and sound in your Spiderman pyjamas. I loved Doctor Who for its cliff-hanger endings (I remember the ending of one episode when my beloved Sarah-Jane had a giant spider unhatch from an egg onto her face – cue credits, and then the long agonising wait until next week to find out if she was okay… She was!). I adored The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, happily oblivious to its Christian teachings, entranced instead by that magical-humdrum portal into that winter wood, and by Mr Tumnus himself, with his parcels and scarf and little kernel of darkness. In all these ways, I was a very typical little boy. Certainly there is nothing ground-breaking about stories in which children find themselves mixed up in extraordinary adventures in strange alternate realities, so why sit down and write ‘another one of those’?

Because I wanted to. Because it was always inside of me to do it. After the light-bulb moment came the whole world of my story, and it came quickly in bright, finely-wrought flashes. There was something fun and addictive about writing something to be snaffled quickly, an episodic, high-peril adventure populated by larger-than-life characters and properly frightening villains. I conceived of the book as something to be read last thing at night under the duvet with a torch, with chapters brisk enough to keep children reading even when they were supposed to be going to sleep. I wanted to write something I could have been reading ‘back then’ under my own duvet.

The story of a little boy lost to an entire universe of lost things soon grew into something more complex and ambitious, and the project of writing it – actually of finishing it – grew too. What began as a creative writing project in the box room of small rural post office in a small village in Lincolnshire went on to become a years-long commitment of writing and re-writing and re-drafting. There was a time when Chimera was always with me, carried on a laptop on long National Express commutes between Lincolnshire and Dalston, and then on trains from Dalston down to Rochester, where I was teaching, and then all the way back again, over and over.


Chimera concept paintings by Phill Hosking (2008)


Back in 2008, my good mate, hugely talented artist and fellow-kick-abouter, Phill Hosking, produced some illustrations in response to Chimera‘s characters, worlds and dramatic set-pieces. I loved this process. It was fascinating to watch all my text-based imaginings being realised by another creative – my stuff, but now Phill’s stuff too, two imaginations finding their sweet-spots.

Phill and I collaborated again in 2014, when the time came finally to push the Chimera series of books out into the world as e-books with Troubador. I think I could have fiddled with them forever, but I wanted to know they were finished. I needed them to be finished. I wanted to be done with them and also see what I’d done. Phill produced the cover art used across the three e-editions, featuring Chimera’s villainous trio, The Oblivion Three, headed up by the imperious Madame Chartreuse.


Alternate Chimera cover art designs by Phill Hosking (2014)


With Chimera now out there, I soon received my first reviews, most of which you can read, warts and all, at Goodreads. There are nice reviews on there and some much less glowing examples! Note the author himself gives his own books five stars. This is likely the epitome of bad form, but well, you would, wouldn’t you? Anyway, here’s a flavour of the bouquets and brickbats:

“The world Gomm creates is vivid and interesting, and provides some long awaited answers: where the heck are my socks, and that book I swear I put right here on this shelf? The creatures of Chimera are born out of those lost to our world and they dazzle and scare and hunt and grab and suck and talk and fly and cuddle… But beyond the creatures, beyond the quest to escape Chimera (or help the children stuck in Chimera), the book is about loss, both in terms of losing someone or something that is dear, and in terms of being lost. It is also about being missed, being wanted, and belonging. There is a good balance of melancholy and good humor and creative genius of this strange world that keeps the story flying.

“This was a quite fun little story. It does end without resolution, as the story continues in book two. I think this would be great for school age kids, a younger Harry Potter and Narnia crowd… I think this is a perfect story for a younger audience, It’s written well; dark, but not too creepy, and I thought it was unique and imaginative.”

“I found this story to be a little bit of Toy Story, a little bit of Alice in Wonderland. I loved the different metamorphosis the things and people find themselves in once they’ve been in Chimera long enough. I thought it was fascinating.” 

Hard to stay interested, seems very childish

Almost 2.5 stars but not quite.


I think I’m going to put ‘Almost 2.5 stars but not quite’ on my headstone.

On balance, the readers who enjoyed the Chimera books outweigh those who found it ‘hard to stay interested.’ The decision to put the book out there, when it began so personally and lived in my brain for so long, was a strange and risk-filled one, but when, for example, I was notified of the review which so nailed the emotional landscape of the story – (the book is about loss, both in terms of losing someone or something that is dear, and in terms of being lost. It is also about being missed, being wanted, and belonging) – I was thrilled. To have someone feel your book, as well as read it, was a powerful moment of approval. To have someone hate your book has power too, and is a good lesson in learning to take hard medicine.


Dan Snelgrove, actor and voice artist, recording Chimera Book One in his studio


All of which brings me onto some exciting news. On Sunday afternoon on October 4th, Chimera Book One, the audiobook, will debut on here as a weekly podcast, performed by the actor, Dan Snelgrove. Dan and I have been in cahoots for a while on this project and I am bursting with excitement about it. A few weeks back, Dan sent me a demo of his reading of Chapter One, and I enjoyed it so much, I had the strange experience of forgetting I’d written it in the first place! That will read like hyperbole – but hand-on-heart, it isn’t. I just listened to it, feeling cosied, childlike and Spiderman-pyjamaed. If this sounds rather too much like I was ‘laughing at my own jokes’ or self-aggrandising, I just mean to say Dan took what I’d written (all those years ago) and gave it back to me as something fresh and full-bodied and sparkly! In other news, Berlin-based artist and kick-abouter, Phil Cooper, has very kindly agreed to produce new artwork in response to the new audio recordings of the book, and I’m currently working with a very talented composer, who is working on some musical cues for the episodes.

I hope to be inviting Dan to Red’s Kingdom very soon to talk about his work on bringing Chimera to life as a spoken-word experience. Without getting into spoiler-territory already, there are so many different characters in the book, Dan tells me he’s had to populate a spreadsheet! My anticipation only grows…


Throwback Friday #21 Arrivals III (2015)


Sometimes it is better not to know how something was achieved. For example, if I were to tell you how the ad-hoc apparatus used to produce this particular image was fashioned together from slats of wood, pound-shop torches, lots of black gaffer tape and a ratty length of blue nylon rope, some of its otherworldly allure may fade. Indeed, no one was more surprised than I when these unpromising constituents gave rise to this electrical feathered thing swooping through the darkness of rural France.


Throwback Friday #20 La création du monde (2013)


Last Friday, I featured a bunch of digital speed paintings created in response to Darius Milhaud’s ballet, La création du monde (1923), which was the first stage in a creative process wherein an entire community of creatives were challenged to visualise Milhaud’s jazz-inspired ballet. The next stage was using the resulting imagery to create an animation to be projected in live-synchronisation with orchestral performances of La création du monde (facilitated by Keith Burden, whose work with audio-visual installations and projection-mapping is highlighted here).

The not-inconsiderable job of re-working a selection of the original synesthetic paintings into an uninterrupted sequence of abstract animations fell to Tom Beg and Jordan Buckner, who took the paintings we’d created and gave them dynamism, character and energy, pushing the music back though the imagery it had inspired in our collective imagination.

Come the premiere of the animation, Tom, Jordan, Keith and myself were all stuck behind the screen onto which the animation was being projected while, in front of it, the orchestra performed, so we couldn’t see the audience’s faces as the film played out – but the moment of hush, followed by enthusiastic applause, confirmed something rather magical had taken place – a transportive synthesis of sight and sound.



Throwback Friday #19 Speed Paints – La création du monde (2013)


Back in March 2013, I was tasked with conceiving of a way in which an entire community of animation students, staff and alumni could work together on a big external EU-funded project, the goal of which was to visualise classical music engagingly and thus initiate new audiences into the concert-going experience:

On Friday, July 12th at Grays Civic Hall, Essex, the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne will be performing a programme of music on a theme of ‘rhythm’. The programme of music will explore ideas of rhythm in classical music and in the celebrated jazz of the late Dave Bruebeck. The director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne, Marc Feldman, has challenged our creative community to work collaboratively to create an original work of animation designed to accompany his orchestra’s performance of one particular example of early twentieth century music that blends classical and jazz rhythms to exciting effect. The animation will be rear projected onto a large screen measuring 8.5m wide by 6.2m high, in front of which the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne will perform live.

That ‘particular example of early twentieth century music’ was Darius Milhaud’s 1923 ballet, La Création du monde. I was entirely unfamiliar with the piece, but on hearing it for the first time, I was struck by its many contrasting textures, moving from lyricism to rattling percussion, and back again. My mind offered up abstract shapes, ribbons of colour, starbursts, wheeling cogs and the metropolitan rush of beeping cars and honking trains, and all the clamour and noise of modernity. What a gift to animators, I thought, and so it proved to be.



Over the course of ten consecutive days, the course community were challenged to listen to Milhaud’s ballet and ‘draw what they could hear’, producing abstract digital paintings as quickly and instinctively as possible in an effort to ‘photograph’ the synesthetic imagery inspired by the music. Of the many exciting projects my students and I undertook together, this stint of extra-curricular activity was particularly joyous, as everyone just rolled up their sleeves and painted. In the end, a huge range of speed paintings were generated in response to Milhaud’s music, the entire collection of which can be viewed here.

I’ve gathered by own efforts here, blowing off the dust. Produced very quickly, produced blithely, they still manage to cheer me up. When I look at these images, I recall the fireworks of Milhaud’s music instantly and likewise the very real pleasure of working side-by-side with such a lovely bunch of bright young things.



Throwback Friday #18 5×5 (2008)


There was a period in my life when I got used to editing other people’s video footage into coherency, inheriting hours of hand-held video and working with it to produce something engaging and resolved. Editing 5×5 was one of the more exciting and rewarding examples of this kind of work, not least because the slight chaoticism of the raw material was a big plus, in so much as it suited very well the splashy and instinctive fashion illustration of its subject, Neil Gilks (spelled Gilkes in the film, which I can only assume was considered correct at the time, but embarrassingly for everyone involved, may not have been!).

I was left with the challenge of turning lots of A1 fashion illustrations into animated sequences to propel the film along, and likewise seeking to pull the fashion illustrator himself into the world of his drawing style and of the drawings being produced by his students. The film accompanied an exhibition of drawings and was never meant to move outside of the hallowed halls of academia – hence my flagrant use of the exquisite final Bolero from the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! I haven’t yet been set upon by the powers-that-be, but that time may soon come, so for the record (and about twelve years too late), a huge thank you to composer, Steve Sharples, because editing to this music was a total joy.


Throwback Friday #15 Cyanotypes


More normally, I’d likely be in rural France now, but as everyone appreciates, 2020 is about ‘new normals’ and cutting our cloth accordingly. The old French house is pressed very deeply into the nature that surrounds it. It can even be difficult to relax at times because there’s always so much at which to look and to respond. One year (I don’t recall which) I stuffed a few packets of ‘sun paper’ into my luggage and spent a few happy hours producing quick-and-dirty cyanotypes from some of the more distinctive leaf and flower shapes culled from my immediate surroundings. I never tired of it, the pleasure of the immediacy of image-making in this way, and always, that perfect blue.



Throwback Friday #14 Foreshore (2007)


When you first move to a small seaside town there are certain irresistible behaviours, sociological tropes that cannot be swerved. Some of these include: eating more fish and chips than is good for you and sitting too long in the sun on the beach. Others include sneaking glances at men who are trying to put their pants on under a damp towel and failing, and of course, collecting shells, sea glass and soft, palm-sized pebbles from the foreshore and bringing them back to the house. Another classic behavior is photographing those artefacts in artful black and white. Images like the ones I’m sharing here are as ubiquitous as the very things they depict – and yet, when I look at them again today, I remember clearly those first few days, weeks, and months, when the novelty of the sea and its new proximity was a siren’s song, and in my sandy pockets, all this humble treasure.



Throwback Friday #13 The Lion & The Ivy (2006)


In writing about my enthusiasm for the Brothers Quay’s stop-motion animation, Street of Crocodiles, I was prompted to recall memories of my visits to Stoke Newington’s Abney Park cemetery. In turn, I was prompted to disinter some of the black and white 35mm photographs I knew I’d taken during these trips, but had otherwise forgotten about completely. I also forgot I’d written a short accompanying article on Abney Park for a magazine entitled Bite Me. The article was never picked up and the photographs likewise went unseen. For this week’s Throwback Friday, I’m sharing both.


The Lion & The Ivy

It will seem like a deficit of literary style were I to describe Abney Park cemetery as eerie – an ‘eerie cemetery’ is pretty much a tautology – and yet I can find no adjective better suited.

Abandoned by its original owners twenty-five years ago, but rescued from leafy obscurity by the London Borough of Hackney, Abney Park feels like a secret stumbled upon, its aura of neglect both poignant and perfect.  I’ve just entered its gates, but I’m already seeing ghosts, though not the maggoty kind – rather the diaphanous spectres of Victorian ladies, who once came here to perambulate with parasols.  After a moment’s hesitation, I follow in their long-dead footsteps.



Like the plush baize of ivy upholstering its tombstones, the extraordinary hush of Abney Park enshrouds me as completely. Before me lie thirty-two acres of simple slabs and sad-faced angels. Lying beneath me are three hundred thousand bodies resting in peace, and in pieces too – sixty-one million bones improving a soil that once nourished a thousand cultivars of rose, and a collection of named trees and shrubs surpassing that of the Royal Park at Kew. All of that was a hundred and sixty-five years ago. Today, the only roses on show are silk, their colours leached and cheerless. The only skeletons are those belonging to the withered docks, their desiccated flower spikes as upright as candelabras.



Again, the deep, evergreen quiet of the graveyard impresses me. Hard to believe that just beyond the boundaries of this once-forgotten necropolis, the yummy mummies and charity shop fashionistas of Stoke Newington are boarding buses, ordering lattes, and fretting about the organic credentials of their purple sprouting broccoli.

My ancient camera hanging from my shoulder, I journey deeper into the cemetery. 

Above me, the vaulted arcs of branches close out the milky November sunshine, but spy-holes in the shrubbery afford tantalizing views of inner sunlit chambers. With their cheery illumination, and table and chair-like arrangements of headstones and graves, these vignettes remind me of parlours, and my imagination populates them with skeletal families.  As clouds obscure the sun, these sanctums fade – as vanished now as the rooms of the original Abney House, the demolition of which in the mid nineteenth century inaugurated the cemetery.  All that remains of Abney House today are the wrought iron gates at the cemetery’s entrance and, less tangibly, a brooding sense of history.       



Departing from the graveyard’s more manicured pathways – so maintained by the Abney Park Cemetery Trust volunteers, who fight back the rising tides of ivy with garden shears and admirable philanthropy – I pick my way amongst the clutter of headstones.  The upheavals of trees and the worming of roots have left these monuments skewed, their angels leaning like drunks.  In places, the ground itself has opened, the graves cracked and yawning.  I try not to look inside these sepulchral hollows, fearful of glimpsing more than decomposing leaves and the corpses of crisp packets.  My ‘Rotten.com’ side wants to risk a closer examination of these cavities, but I sensibly pass them by, disallowing myself the sort of lethal curiosity favoured by first-to-die teens in dumb-arse ‘and-then-there-were-none-a-thons’.

Arriving now at the barred and burned-out chapel at the centre of the cemetery – an impressive gothic edifice boasting a large circular window and an air of despondency so potent the building almost seems to sigh – I do succumb more entirely to an involuntary attack of movie-induced paranoia. Craning my neck to gawk at the chapel’s impressive spire, I recall the moment Richard Donner made shish kebab out of Patrick Troughton, and I distance myself swiftly.



The Omen isn’t the only film evoked by Abney Park’s especial ambience. The mise en scène couldn’t be any more cinematic – an attribute not lost on the various film crews who’ve already snapped their clapperboards here.  Indeed, I’m tempted to think the prop-wranglers may have left some of their set-dressings behind. The decapitated statue of the maiden I pass seems too designed to unnerve to be the work of mere vandals.  Even some of the urns are gilding the lily by sporting Tim Burton-style fright wigs, fashioned from congested tendrils of ivy.



Somewhere behind me, dogs and their walkers are snapping branches. I can’t help glancing over my shoulder. As it happens, I am being tracked through the shrubbery. A furtive looking gentlemen wearing a black bomber jacket and a come-hither expression observes me optimistically from behind a voile of leaves. I realise I’m in more danger of having my bum pinched than my neck-bitten. 



Signalling my disinterest in any such brief encounter, I change direction, but soon find myself face to face with another constant inhabitant of Hackney’s unlikely Eden – not a lusty queen this time, but a king of the jungle. The great stone lion watches me from his plinth, his supine body so powerfully white against the cemetery’s patina of shadows, the light meter in my camera goes berserk. The lion stands out for another reason, its design being more ostentatious than most of the other monuments here. Abney Park is unusual in that no part of its grounds is consecrated, and – phosphorescent lions excepted – the graveyard’s general abstemiousness from ornament reflects the non-conformist principles of its occupants.  I’ve never heard of Frank C. Bostock – the individual commemorated by the show-off cat – but among the other eminent bones interred in Abney Park are the remains of William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army.



I notice the light is failing, and with it, a large part of my bravado. I didn’t even know I was nervous – until now. The lion is glowing with an almost spectral light, while the deepening shadows are stretching like panthers.  Both my eyes and my camera are struggling to see, but my ears are acutely sensitive to every snap and heart-stopping scuttle emanating from the black valance of undergrowth.  It’s time to leave this secret, sombre garden of the dead.

For a moment, I’m close to panic, certain suddenly I will be unable – or disallowed – to find my way out of these tangles of brambles and back to the noise and exhaust fumes of those red London buses.  I resist the urge to run, but there is little I can do to mitigate the cold slick of perspiration greasing my forehead.  The inebriated angels find me amusing, having witnessed this diminishing of courage a thousand times over, as cocksure visitors to the cemetery find themselves in this same race against the sunset.

I make it out of the cemetery safely, of course, and my fear is rendered instantly foolish by the inner-city milieu. I quickly dismiss my apprehension, but I cannot deny the impression Abney Park has made upon me; its inimitable character haunts my imagination – my camera film too – and like a serene, if lonely phantom, it boards the number 149 and follows me home.