“Sometimes I have an idea about what a character in Chimera Book 1 might sound like, or look like. Then I hear Dan’s narration and suddenly the voice he gives to characters is how they will then sound in my head for ever more. It’s like they really only could sound like that. The characters taking centre-stage in the book at the moment are good examples; Whirlitzer, Doctor Ossifer and Bertram have always been a joy, but Dan has brought them to life in such a delightful and thrilling way. This week I decided to try an illustration of Bertram, the cute but rather bolshy little skateboarding pig. And I LOVE his voice, ‘rules, rules rules’. How could I resist?”
“As usual, I’m spoiled for choice with subject matter in Chapter 14, there is SO much going on, and quite a few new characters appearing who would be great fun to illustrate. In the end, though, I couldn’t resist painting a skull with his brains showing so Doctor Ossifer it is this week. I’ve added a rather strange, shadowy background to the image, a nod to 1920s German Expressionist film, as Doctor Ossifer has Teutonic roots and I’ve recently moved to Berlin myself where some of those films were made. It’s tempting to go about the city speaking in Doctor Ossifer’s German accent and shouting at people, ‘It’s fascinating to meet you’ – but I mustn’t!”
“I moved to Berlin a couple of years ago and one of the things Berlin is very good for is second-hand bookshops. My favourite one is just up the road from where we live and one of my recent purchases is a book about the British artist Graham Sutherland. During the second world war Sutherland was an official war artist and some of the images he made from this period were included in the book. They really chimed with ideas that were springing to mind whilst I re-read Chapter 13 of Chimera last week; dark pits and claustrophobic tunnels, grinding machinery throwing up sparks, and a glowing, molten-hot colour palette. Kyp finds himself in a nightmarish place in this chapter, it seems to be a case of ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’!”
Kyp Finnegan’s parents are not who they appear to be. How can they be? They made Kyp leave his home for a new house, and his old school for a new one. Worse, they made him leave Sprat behind too – his best friend.
Kyp’s suspicions about his mum and dad are confirmed when the three of them visit an old junk shop, Open Sesames, where he overhears his dad plotting with the junk shop’s rather mysterious shopkeeper to replace him. Kyp runs away into the junk shop, where, quickly lost, he is pursued by some monstrous tentacled thing. Kyp has no choice but to go deeper into the strange labyrinth of the junk shop, where he encounters three mysterious figures. At first, Kyp mistakes them for his parents and the shopkeeper – they’re not! – and Kyp soon realises he is in terrible danger.
Fortunately, Kyp is rescued by Atticus Weft, a giant talking snake, who tells Kyp all about the strange world of Chimera. Chimera is the realm of lost things, but there is a way for lost properties to return home; first, they have to travel to the city of Thingopolis and join all the other lost properties at the Temple of Miscellany in the great Cavalcade of the Lost. Next, the cavalcade must travel together to the sanctuary of Saint Anthony, from where they can be returned to their previous homes and owners. In the strange and dangerous world of Chimera, there is only safety in numbers for lost properties trying to get back to their owners, and Atticus explains why.
The three figures Kyp encountered were the Oblivion Three; the Berserker, a giant marauding toddler that loves to smash things; the Tealeaf, a mosquito-like creature that feeds on a lost property’s elsewhere light, and Madame Chartreuse, who covets lost children because they shine most powerfully. Elsewhere light is the light being cherished imparts to an item of lost property. Atticus also reveals Kyp has been infected by the fugue, a forgetting infection the tealeaf carries on its long horrible fingers. Slowly but surely, the fugue will rob Kyp of his memories until he can’t remember who he is or where he came from. He’ll need to get home before that. He’ll need to get home and fast.
En route to Thingopolis, Kyp and Atticus encounter the broken remains of other lost properties that had been travelling to assemble at the Temple of Miscellany. Atticus explains the Berserker attacked them, their Elsewhere lights snuffed out. Lost properties without an Elsewhere Light are fated to remain in Chimera forever. Upset, Kyp runs away from Atticus and quickly gets lost in the fog. Kyp is upset because he has no Elsewhere light – and little wonder considering his mum and dad wanted to replace him! Kyp meets a shop-window mannequin, who is also lost in the fog. The mannequin warns Kyp about Atticus’s intentions, before revealing herself to be an agent of Madame Chartreuse sent to apprehend him. In the nick of time, Atticus rescues Kyp from the mannequin’s clutches, and together again, they arrive at the foot of Perdu Peak, a great mountain, where Atticus disappears suddenly. Alone again, Kyp is cornered by the Oblivion Three. Madame Chartreuse tells Kyp that Atticus is actually working for her; he is a ‘moppet-drover’, his job being to shepherd lost children into her clutches as soon as they arrive in Chimera. Madame Chartreuse, whose green eyes have mesmeric powers, is just seconds away from ensnaring Kyp, when he falls down a hole into the Bedrock Catacombs beneath Perdu Peak.
The Bedrock Catacombs teem with lots of nasty critters, including ankle-snatchers, which grab anything unfortunate enough to come their way. When Kyp discovers Atticus has been captured by the ankle-snatchers, he tries to save the sock-snake. Now imprisoned together in one of the ankle-snatchers’ hoarding cells, Kyp and Atticus are forced to confront the secrets they’ve been keeping from each other. Atticus did work for Madame Chartreuse as a moppet-drover, and Kyp is responsible for everything that happened with his mum and dad. It’s Kyp’s fault they had to move house because he took the old silver locket from his mum’s drawer – which he was forbidden to touch – and lost it. Kyp concludes the old silver locket must have been very valuable, because after he lost it, his mum and dad couldn’t pay the bills anymore. Kyp tells Atticus he has been wasting his time trying to get Kyp to Thingopolis to join the Cavalacade; after all, he doesn’t have an elsewhere light. Atticus is confused, informing Kyp he has one of the brightest Elsewhere Lights the sock-snake has ever seen. Everyone else can see it, including Madame Chartreuse, who is coming for Kyp and will not stop! Knowing his mum and dad don’t love him anymore, Kyp realises it must be Sprat who is missing him so badly.
Kyp and Atticus are finally able to escape the ankle-snatcher’s hoarding cell when another creature imprisoned with them cuts a hole in the cavern roof. When Kyp and Atticus make it out of the Bedrock Catacombs, they encounter another lost child – Timothy Bean. Atticus accuses the boy of working for Madame Chartruse, recalling how he saw Madame Chartreuse apprehend him. Kyp explains Timothy has an identical twin, Jamie, and that it must have been Timothy’s brother Atticus saw captured. Kyp tells Timothy he recognises him from the news, as back in the Elsewhere World, everyone is out looking for the missing twins. Kyp vows to find Timothy’s brother and return them both to the Elsewhere World. At first, Atticus refuses to help, but then they are attacked by the concrete menagerie, a horde of murderous garden ornaments, and Atticus orders the boys to make for safety while he holds off the menagerie. Kyp just has time to see Atticus being mauled by a vicious concrete lion, before he and Timothy are themselves attacked, the two boys rolling down a steep hillside and banging their heads together.
When the boys awaken, they find themselves being transported on walking sofas towards the great city of Thingopolis. The sofa carrying Kyp informs him that Atticus Weft is certainly dead. Moments later, Kyp and Timothy are arrested by a squad of armchair apes and escorted through the chaotic city. Kyp sees the Cavalcade of the Lost gathering in readiness at the Temple of Miscellany, but he and Timothy are under arrest and unable to join in it. Instead, they are brought before the Phawt-Gnoks Oligarchy, the three mayors of Thingopolis – Czar Samovar, Polly Honeydew, and the Bijou Cabal. While the Phawt-Gnoks Oligarchy bicker with each other over who among them is the most important, Kyp and Timothy await to be interrogated. When finally, they do get the chance to speak, the two boys are found guilty of spying for Madame Chartreuse in an effort to steal ‘the clavis’ – whatever that might be! – and they are sentenced at once, the floor opening up beneath their unsuspecting feet, the two boys falling away into darkness below…
As actor, Dan Snelgrove rests his vocal chords and artist, Phil Cooper puts his paint brushes down for a well-deserved break, I wanted to bring everything Chimera-related together in one celebratory compendium.
All in one place then, for your convenience and listening pleasure, we have all first twelve chapters of Chimera Book 1, a rip-roaring romp into an alternate universe of anthropomorphic lost property, populated by sock-snakes, shock-poppies, walking sofas, vanity sparrows, armchair apes, shop window mannequins, and talking teapots! Enjoy the ride.
Dan Snelgrove: Performing Chimera
But it’s one thing to write a children’s book imagining the secret physical and emotional lives of formerly inanimate lost properties, and quite another to bring all those outlandish characters to life. Fortunately, Dan Snelgrove is on hand, a one-man-band of vocal special effects and emotive storytelling, whose energy and imagination brings colour and dynamism to every word of the novel. One of my great pleasures of this collaboration has been catching up with Dan to discuss all the different ways he’s approached developing the book’s various characters and capturing them accordingly in his home-based recording studio. I’ve gathered together our various chats, and also asked Dan for a few words of his own…
Dan Snelgrove recording Chimera Book 1 in his home recording studio.
Dan: He’d asked the wrong guy, but I wasn’t going to tell him.
I first met Phil a year or so after Chimera had been unleashed, Xenomorph-like, from whichever fantastic recess it had burst. I’d been brought in to run acting workshops for the Computer Animation Uni course he headed up, which involved convincing often technically-minded individuals that waving their limbs around and physicalising a slice of bacon in a full-English breakfast was indeed a productive use of their university time. Exploiting a despicable array of tricks I’d picked up in the acting game, I managed this with some degree of success. For some reason, Phil interpreted this skulduggery as evidence I might be the right person to bring his masterwork to the listening masses. I said yes.
Now, never* during this time had any vocal versatility on my part been demonstrated to him, and I would caution you all that simply because someone can cook a good spag bol does not mean they can serve up an edible Baked Alaska Flambé. It is true that the acting classes were barrels of fun, and I do believe that everyone involved got a lot out of the experiences (I certainly did). However, that is an entirely different beast to bringing to life the overwhelmingly (intentionally so) vibrant and all-too-non-humanly populated world that is Chimera; with the power of the voice alone. For me, this presented an unrivalled challenge and opportunity to grow, to focus on an area of my skill-set that had long needed my attention. Phil would have certainly been better off with someone that could actually just do the job.
It is possible I am overplaying the task. My tendency towards a debilitating level of perfectionism undoubtedly acts as a multiplier, and dear reader, I shall leave the judgment in your hands. But as I first read the trilogy (that’s right kids, this is just the beginning!) I quickly realised I would have to employ the merits of a spreadsheet to organise my thoughts on the myriad characters involved. Looking at it now, I can see I got to 49 before abandoning the process. Having now recorded half of the first book, I realise the sheet failed to capture some of the voices needed along the way. To my count, we’re up to 23.
Some actors are naturals when it comes to accents (their resumés claim a ‘good ear’). Others have uploaded them to their internal databases through hard work and professional training with vocal coaches at drama schools and the like. I am neither. To be kind to myself, I could characterise myself as more of a ‘physical’ performer (I was a keen Irish dancer and clown in a cabaret-punk band), and could claim to have historically approached roles from an ‘emotional-truth’ perspective rather than a more ‘technical’ one. However, just as a carpenter needs a toolkit, so does the actor, and it is all our responsibilities to keep our chisels (and tongues) sharp.
So with a bit of forethought and decent run up, an actor with the particular set of skills (Liam Neeson perhaps?) could simply read the chapter out, switching to the appropriate voice as they went, and with the odd retake for mistakes, job’s a good’n.
Each and every character requires a good deal of Google and YouTube research time, as I cram like some ill-prepared student on the night before the exam. My search history, amongst other things, includes buffalos, apes, Ben Fogle, a Russian taxi driver, the Secret Lives of 5-Year Olds and Audrey Tautou. Then, to further cheat and allow listeners to imagine distinct characters, I give each of them their own track, often more than one each, and separate them in the stereo field. The last chapter I recorded, for example, comprises 19 different tracks, along with four out-take tracks replete with fierce swearing and self-rebuke. There are lots of outtakes. Lots. What may sound like a seamless track of narrative is in fact a secret patchwork of cross-faded single-word overdubs and inserted silences, with surgically removed accent errors and poorly expressed emotions falling into the track below; into a world of lost words and sounds. A Chimera, if you will. As a further consequence of these nigh on endless repeats, local sales of honey, ginger and lemon have skyrocketed as I try to squeeze out one more soffalo grunt or Atticus rasp between sips of this hot elixir.
My ‘producer’ credit hence rather grandly veils my continuing struggle to obfuscate my vocal shortcomings.
Doing all of this in various states of lockdown and isolation, and living alone in the first place, adds a level of intensity to the quality-control loop, stood as I am in my homemade vocal-booth with nout but my own voice, in its various forms, going around and around in my headphones. Phil has often sensed the danger and sent over emergency packages of chocolate… And then, when it’s finally done (often late) I tap the trackpad and it’s gone, into the void. Phil then has to step in again at that stage to mentally soothe and massage my broken remains, in order to start the process again for the next week.
I know how this sounds, and so please know that I am immensely proud of what has been produced so far. Going for a 10k run means pain, exhaustion and a mental battle, but also a sense relief and achievement. For an actor, this project is the complete challenge involving story-telling, epic-scale character-creation and emotional journeys that deserve digging into the soul for. Just don’t tell Phil he got the wrong bloke…
Not content with roping Dan Snelgrove into this epic undertaking, I also approached Berlin-based artist, Phil Cooper, asking him if he fancied using the various chapters as jumping-off points for a series of new paintings. Very fortunately for me, Phil agreed, beginning by producing the Chimera podcast cover art, that has since gone on to pepper Red’s Kingdom on a weekly basis. Phil had this to say about his involvement so far:
Phil Cooper hard at work at the art table back in September 2020
Phil Cooper: I found the prospect of making illustrations for Book 1 of Chimera both enormously exciting and rather daunting at the same time. Exciting because I’d loved the book since it was first published as an e-book several years ago, and daunting because I knew that choosing exactly what to depict out of the plethora of imagery and ideas that pour out of every page was going to be a challenge. But then, at the beginning of October, we were off, and with a tight schedule to keep to, there was little time for feelings either way, it just had to get done. The weekly schedule has been a good solid framework to work around, though, even if it’s felt pressurised at times. Now, towards the tail-end of November, I look back and feel a sense of satisfaction at what we’ve achieved in such a short space of time.
The characters and the environments Phil has conjured in Chimera are vivid and imaginative; the main challenge I’ve faced so far is choosing what exactly to depict each week. I’ve decided to steer away from painting the characters and the creatures that inhabit Chimera so far. Most weeks, I’ve chosen an object from the story, usually an important object like the silver locket or the conker on a string that Kyp keeps in his pocket. These objects are sometimes important elements of the story and I wanted to use them in images to contemplate whilst listening to Dan’s tour de force narration. I knew I didn’t want to describe visually what was being described in the words of the book as the writing and Dan’s expressive narration did that very well. And I also knew, I didn’t want the images to somehow be fighting for attention with the experience of listening to the podcast, I wanted them to work in harmony with it; a background to the action going on in the audiobook foreground.
At this halfway point in Book 1, and looking ahead at the chapters coming up, I can see that the approach I’ve taken may well evolve. Things are going to expand very soon in Chimera, in terms of the characters we meet and spend time with, and in terms of our knowledge of how things work in this universe, and who is really working with who. So, with so much about to go off, I think I might start to move away from depicting objects, as totems of the action, and start to explore the characters themselves as we get to know them more deeply. It’s going to be another challenge!
As well as the extraordinary words from Phil’s writing, I’ve also had the benefit of hearing Dan’s awesome narration for extra inspiration each week. The podcasts really do sound terrific. I’ve been listening to fiction podcasts for years now and Chimera is right up there with the very best of what I’ve heard, so a massive hats off to Dan and Phil for doing such a great job. It’s a real pleasure to be part of the adventure!
Andrew Fisher: Scoring Chimera
One of my little pleasures is listening to the thirty seconds or so of theme music beginning each episode of the audio book, composed especially by Andrew Fisher, into which the composer manages to cram a potent mix of magic, mystery, weirdness and melancholy – capturing the world of Chimera perfectly.
Andrew started composing from a young age, developing an interest in musical story-telling, especially musical theatre and film music. Andrew’s most recent musical Girl In a Crisis, starring Olivier winner Lorna Want, was performed to rave reviews in London in 2018. Other composition credits include music for the video games Guardians of Ancora (which has been translated into five languages and been downloaded 2 million times worldwide), the horror film, Nine Miles Down and the animated comedy-drama short, Lily White. His additional composition credits for television include the natural history series, Great Barrier Reef (BBC), and How the Universe Works (Discovery).
Kyp Finnegan’s adventures in Chimera will resume on Monday, December 14th, with Chapter 13 – The Plummet Pit
“Things move quickly in Chapter 12; we meet several new important characters and discover new important places. It’s a rather dizzying experience and I can only image that Kyp’s head was spinning by the end of this chapter! For the illustration this week, I’ve gone for the Temple of Miscellany, mainly because it’s really quite different to anything we’ve encountered before. The crystalline glass structure, glowing from within, has a bit of a sci-fi quality to it in my mind’s eye and it made me think of early 20th Century paintings, like Lyonel Feininger, the Italian Futurists and the constructivists, exploring shiny new materials and clean, geometric shapes. As the new characters we meet will be around for a while, I thought I could explore them in later chapters, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to paint the Temple of Miscellany when Kyp first encounters it…“
Welcome to Chapter 12 of Chimera Book 1. Apologies, loyal listener, yes, we’re running late again, but I think when you listen to this chapter, which is a tour de force of voice talent, you may appreciate why a bit more time was needed in the recording studio!
We’re at the halfway point in Kyp Finnegan’s adventures in the realm of lost things, and so as to give Dan Snelgrove’s vocal chords a bit of a rest, we’re taking a short ‘mid-season’ break, with the next instalment going out on Sunday, December 13th. Put the date in your diary! Until then, settle back and enjoy!
“I found Chapter 10 so touching, and Dan’s narration really brought out the emotion in the dialogue between Kyp and Atticus; I was quite teary by the end! Chapter 11 is very moving in parts too, but for the illustration I’ve focused on a scene that has a completely different emotional bandwidth – sheer terror! There are plenty of scary moments in Chimera, and the scene towards the end of Chapter 11 where the concrete sculptures and garden ornaments come to life is definitely one of them for me.”