Throwback Friday #31 Snails & Spiders (1993)


Back in the day, I wanted to work in the movies, building animatronic puppets and larger-than-life monstrosities. You can blame the likes of Rick Baker and Rob Bottin for my fascinations, the transformation from An American Werewolf In London (1981) and this physical effects tour-de-force from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

Some would argue I haven’t transformed all that much myself since those days on my Art Foundation course, when I walked about the place in collarless shirts and floppy ‘curtains-style’ hair, wielding jars of latex, hot glue guns, tubs of PVA … and nylon stockings. Okay, so I’m older, greyer with a lovely bald-spot getting bigger, and I’ve dropped the collarless shirts, but I still have a real fondness for a big bug, creature or too-many-legged thing and the haptic, tangible delights of an old-school puppet.

I thought I’d lost these sketches, of two of the creatures I made during my fun, busy Foundation year. The big ‘spider woman’ was indeed very big by the time she was completed, fashioned as she was around a shop-floor mannequin I’d purloined from someplace or other. Her abdomen was fashioned from large hoops of MIG welded steel, and each of her legs made from jointed steel rods, their ends fashioned onto cruel-looking points by successive hammer blows by the heat of the workshop’s forge. She was ultimately a formidable sight, though I can’t seem to find any final images of her. I suspect they’re lurking somewhere and may one day surface again.

The other sketches are for a large snail glove puppet, his shell made from carved polysterene, the process of producing it littering my studio with extraordinary amounts of bright white beads. His eyes were controlled by wires, which, when you tugged on them, caused them to wriggle about comedically.

I suppose this is what fun looked like when you where a certain kind of nineteen year old, his head stuffed with monsters.



Throwback Friday #30 The Hoover Bag In Tweed – Illustrations (1997)


Back in July, I rediscovered a collection of ancient 3 inch floppy discs and CDs dating from my years as an undergraduate, which makes this data storage technology (and the work it contains) 23 years old. I knew I couldn’t access the floppy discs anymore, but I also found none of two-decade old CDs would play ball either – on any computer.

Gripped by the sudden need to preserve whatever might be on these discs, I entrusted their crustiness to someone who retrieves landlocked data from obsolete tech for a living. That done, I then didn’t hear back from the said retriever for weeks on end. I worried their silence meant one of two things, the first being they couldn’t excavate the work at all and couldn’t bring themselves to tell me, and the second, that I’d somehow forgotten my Jurassic discs actually contained inflammatory government-destroying secrets and they’d been impounded by British Intelligence.

Yesterday, however, I got the email to say my formerly marooned files had been restored and were ready for collection. I’m only now beginning to sort my way through all the detritus, digging up old short stories and bits of imagery I haven’t thought about in years. I predict ‘Throwback Fridays’ may quickly become the obvious repository for some of these relics – and I’m beginning with these strange tableaux vivant-style illustrations I created back in 1997 to accompany a macabre short story I’d wrote in 1995 entitled The Hoover Bag In Tweed.



The story is about a woman who is obsessed with her vacuum-cleaner following the death of her baby, much to her husband’s escalating distress. The images themselves are digital collages of photography of real objects (a real hoover, for example), miniature stage sets (the table and chairs), and 35mm photographs taken in the rather forlorn environs of my student house.



“The vacuum-cleaner still stood in the middle of the room. It was the sort with an upright handle and a hoover-bag zipped up in tweed. Looking for all the world, she decided, like a chrysalis hanging from a stem.

The Hoover had been a gift, something modern and something new. She’d thanked him with a kiss, and he had laughed out loud when she refused to throw the box away. She said she liked the bold black writing on the box and taken time to memorise the serial number. She made a point of hoovering the entire house when they first moved in, the first of their many preparations. Now, several strands of the bathroom landing’s carpet were wrapped around the Hoover’s roller, trailing green against the grey of the living-room; caught up again, no doubt. Tied in difficult knots.”

The Hoover Bag In Tweed (1995)


Throwback Friday #28 Weak Kneed (2003)


It’s a lesser known fact about me that I’m sometimes known to write a song or two when the mood strikes. That mood used to strike much more often, I think because I didn’t second guess myself as much as I do now. I’m no musician after all, so what gives me the temerity to write music and think musically? Good question! Regardless of my innate abilities or otherwise, song-writing is something I’ve done and continue to do, only now it is usually in the service of some bigger, visual ambition.

Back in the early 2000s, my heart was sore and broken, and I wrote a number of songs as a means to move on from one thing or another. They make for quite a collection now. Weak Kneed is one of those songs from that period, a wistful, melancholy little ditty about unrequited love (of course).


Weak kneed

1

If life’s a cabaret and all the world’s a song
then meet the guy with two left feet, whose notes are often wrong
and if life is not a song then the world is but a play
but one in which I’m corpsing or drying or pratfalling
or hissing prompt and stalling and forgetting what to say

But I do know how to cheer, how to roll and break a fall
how to jump through hoops if need be, how not to drop the ball
and I guess I’ll walk a tightrope, I could learn the high trapeze
if I thought you might be watching, like me, weak now at the knees

2

If life’s a circus tent and a carnival of chance
I think I’ll sit this routine out, let the acrobats advance
‘cos you need a winning act for successful vaudeville
and I’m not so great at singing or keeping the plates spinning
or levitating women or topping any bill

but I do know how to cheer, how to roll and break a fall
how to jump through hoops if need be, how not to drop the ball
and I guess I’ll walk a tightrope, I could learn the high trapeze
if I thought you might be watching, like me, weak now at the knees.

3

If love’s a magic trick, a clever sleight of hand
my magician’s hat is empty, my best performance panned
‘cos they want a bigger flash, more glitter for their buck
but my repertoire is thinning and my face aches from the grinning
and my hopes I am unpinning from the whims of lady luck

but I do know how to cheer, how to roll and break a fall
how to jump through hoops if need be, how not to drop the ball
and I guess I’ll walk a tightrope, I could learn the high trapeze
if I thought you might be watching, like me, weak now at the knees.

4

If love’s the leading role, I’m in the chorus on the right
I’ve been singing just as loudly, I think my face was out of sight
so I don’t know if you saw, I wasn’t on for long
but Shakespeare I was quoting near the spotlight, and emoting
no claim to fame supposing distinction from the throng

but I do know how to cheer, how to roll and break a fall
how to jump through hoops if need be, how not to drop the ball
and I guess I’ll walk a tightrope, I could learn the high trapeze
if I thought you might be watching, like me, weak now at the knees.

April 2003


Throwback Friday #27 Three Five One (2016)


I was drinking Red Bull and eating handfuls of almonds to sustain me through my long night alone in the sprawling impressive house in which this image was taken. At this point, I’d made it as far as the top of the house, finding myself in a richly wall-papered room blossomed with damp, the ceiling sagging above me and the floor chalky with dust. When I look at this image today, I like to think about the people in the other buildings you can see through this room’s windows. I imagine them standing by their own windows, their attention riveted to the strange other-worldly light manifesting in one of the old abandoned rooms of the old abandoned house across the way. I hope they’re still talking about it now.


Throwback Friday #26 Six Spot Burnett


I can’t really remember very much about this photograph, except it was very likely taken up on the cliff top paths of Polperro, Cornwall, sometime in the early part of the 2000s. I can tell you the insect pictured is a Six Spot Burnett, the wildflower is Purple Vetch, and this photograph was taken on slide film, hence the rather oceanic quality of the light and colour.


Throwback Friday #25 Phantasmagoria (2011)


There’s a lot of it about at Red’s Kingdom this week, ethereal beings and diaphanous figures that may or may not be tricks of the light or just a photographer’s sleight of hand.

This photograph from the Summer of 2011 is what play looks like when you’re otherwise supposed to be too old for nighttime pranks, and again, in common with these other images, the phantasmagorical goings-on captured here belie more prosaic activities. I guess all magic is the same, transformations produced through the bringing together of largely unpromising things; eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog, adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing…



Throwback Friday #24 A Quick Thumbnail Sketch (2017)


And now we see what has brought everyone here under the guidance of the conductor’s organizing light. Now we understand this urge to converge. Now we see what Red is looking at: there, in the velvety dark circular basin before us is a glowing facsimile of the entire Kingdom of Sound. Think of it as mostly line drawing, but with block lustrous colours we’ve come to associate with the various districts. The camera is tracking slowly around the facsimile, which is extruding as we watch…

From the script for Red & The Kingdom of Sound, August 2016


Back in August 2016 I finished writing the script for an animated adaptation of Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra. Script-writing is a funny thing; you’re essentially describing the action of a film or animation that exists very completely in your own head, but nowhere else. More peculiarly, you’re watching something that already exists in your mind’s eye and transcribing the action onto paper in order for someone else to ‘remake’ it.

It is one thing to describe something in words, quite another to translate it onto the screen. I started this Throwback Friday post with an unspecial thumbnail drawing I did on the back of an envelope – literally – before hastily photographing it and sending it to Red & The Kingdom Of Sound’s production designer, Emily Clarkson. This untidy little sketch was my attempt to show what I was seeing at the climax of the animation – a hovering, extruding citadel, comprised of musical instruments, hovering within a deep architectural basin, while a giant modernist effigy of a conductor towers above it…

Yes, you’re quite right; my small quick sketch conveys very little of that grandeur and spectacle, but when you have the good fortunate to work with people who likewise have very powerful film projectors installed in their heads, a small quick sketch is often enough.

So from a few describing words on a page, via that hurried thumbnail sketch, we arrive at these concept paintings by Emily Clarkson…


Emily Clarkson, concept drawing of the maestro’s city in Red & The Kingdom Of Sound, 2017

Emily Clarkson, concept drawing of the maestro’s city in Red & The Kingdom Of Sound, 2017


… and, eventually, from these concept paintings – via the ingenuity and hard graft of an entire team of other creatives – we arrive at the climatic scenes as seen in the final animation, which has now been enjoyed by thousands of people all over the world in concert halls and at film festivals.


The maestro’s city in its full pomp at the conclusion to Red & The Kingdom Of Sound (2018)


Trailer for Red & The Kingdom Of Sound (2018), including the Maestro’s City


Sometimes, particularly at the moment, there are days when it’s harder to apprehend the value in what we do, or to find the motivation to keep doing it. On days like that, I take comfort from what is unremarkable about my quickly-scribbled thumbnail sketch, and the world it went on to build with the help and vision of so many other talented people. I think to myself, ‘yes, this is how everything of value begins’ – with a big idea made visible and shared.


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…