With Mervyn Peake’s drawings laying down the gauntlet for The Kick-About 57, I decided to attempt some character drawings of my own, as inspired by the trio of villains in my own work of fantastic fiction, Chimera. I don’t really draw, or identify as someone who does, but this bloody Kick-About business keeps prompting me to make exceptions to this and have a go. In common with my approach to these self-portraits, I kept drawing and re-drawing onto the same bits of paper, using the eraser as much as anything else to understand what was working and what wasn’t. I’d say the final illustrations were not so much ‘drawn’ as materialised out of a succession of mistakes, but anyway here they are: the Berserker, the Tealeaf, and Madame Chartreuse, and for your listening pleasure, a short extract from the Chimera audio book, in which the Oblivion Three first make their proper appearance…
Actor Dan Snelgrove has been working really hard in his home recording studio giving his heart and soul to his reading of Chimera Book 1. We’ve released six chapters so far, with the sixth chapter introducing the story’s principle villain, the alluring and sinister, Madame Chartreuse. Getting under the skin of all these larger-than-life characters is no small creative feat and in our recent conversation, I was keen to learn more about Dan’s approach to inhabiting Madame Chartreuse.
In this short chat, Dan tells me about his past-life as a student of physics, the pivotal role of chocolate, and we discuss too the ways in which Dan’s post-production of each episode is lending enhanced dynamism to the characters’ dialogue.
Dan & Phil in conversation, October 13th 2020
Dan’s workstation in his recording studio – note bottles of beer and multiple chocolate wrappers!
Phil Cooper, Perdu Peak, 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on paper
“Pushing their way through the last few Christmas trees, they arrived in a flat, barren space illuminated by strings of bare light bulbs. The bulbs were so far above their heads, they glimmered like constellations. Before them, a crag-topped mountain dominated the horizon, its summit shrouded in purple mist.“
As Kyp Finnegan’s adventures in Chimera Book 1 continue, so too does Berlin-based artist, Phil Cooper’s adventures in pigment, texture and colour. In addition to painting the audio book’s cover art, Phil is drawing on the other-worldly sights of Chimera’s larger-than-life landscape as the inspiration for an ongoing series of new paintings, which I’ll be sharing here at Red’s Kingdom every week.
“I think I made the decision quite early in the process of developing images for Chimera that I wouldn’t try to depict the wild menagerie of creatures and characters for the illustrations, tempting though that was. They’re so fantastical, I’d prefer them to live in the readers’ minds and not be shaped by my take on things. I’ve veered towards environment, or the more mundane objects in the story as a counterpoint to the extraordinary beings we encounter in each episode.
So, for Chapter 6 – The Mannequin, we have the looming mountain of Perdu Peak, and a single marble. The marble, for me, conjures the idea of the ‘world within a world’ or the ‘world within a grain of sand’. Kyp has discovered the vast universe of Chimera on his own doorstep, and within that, he’s finding further layers of existence, deeper and deeper.”
Phil Cooper, October 2020
The completed ‘Perdu Peak’ painting on Phil’s desktop in his Berlin studio, October 2020
Phil Cooper, A Single Marble Fell, 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on paper
Phil’s thumbnail sketches for ‘A Single Marble Fell’, October 2020
Phil’s marble painting in development, October 2020
Last time in Chimera Book 1:
“Kyp wondered how long it would take for the fugue to vanish his memories. He thought about the magician in the top hat with the nice face and pockets filled with silk. He imagined the fugue extinguishing the rainbow-coloured spotlights above him one by one, the light around the magician shrinking inch-by inch until there was nothing but the dark. The idea of that slow, shrinking circle chilled Kyp, but there was comfort in it too.
He stared down at the babyish crayon drawing in his hand, and at the silly patch of wallpaper. He thought too about the soft green leaf he still carried about with him, and about the conker on its long red bootlace, his pockets stuffed with all this pointless rubbish. What good to him was any of it now? It was all just so much dust, and yet how it weighed on him too. He might just as well have filled his pockets with rocks.
Kyp was about to tear up the crayon drawing and the wallpaper and scatter their pieces amongst the other scraps and outcasts, when a cry startled him from his chair. The periwigs ceased their chatter. Something else was lost in the fog…”
Chapter 6 – The Mannequin
Keep up-to-date to with all the latest chapters here at anchor.fm/chimerabook1
Kyp Finnegan’s Conker, Phil Cooper, 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on board
It gives me great pleasure to share the first of Berlin-based artist, Phil Cooper’s new paintings inspired by the world of Chimera. As each new episode of the audiobook goes live, a further painting will follow here at Red’s Kingdom. One of the most exciting aspects of collaborating with other creatives is the way in which your own work is vivified by the imagination and talents of other people. To hear actor Dan Snelgrove inhabiting the different characters of Chimera has been an addictive delight for me, and it’s no different each time Phil Cooper sends a new painting my way. I’m asking Phil to contribute a few words as preface to each painting, and so….
In the opening chapter we find ourselves in the mundane world; the back of a car, rain, and a family where there’s a ‘bit of an atmosphere’. Familiar stuff to most of us, probably. But by the end of chapter two we’ve entered another world entirely, we pass through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole, the back of the wardrobe. Somehow Kyp has stepped through a portal to another world, a world full of wonders and terrors, a very long way from the back seat of a car in a rainy street.
So with this first image I wanted to get a sense of the portal from one world to another. The portal itself can’t be identified precisely, but once through it, there’s no going back. In the image, Kyp, and the mundane world he is leaving, are represented by the conker in his pocket. The conker is passing through a swirling ‘no-place’, the bridge between the world he was rejecting and the place where his feelings were unintentionally sending him. Colour is heightened, everything is moving, swirling round, being drawn inescapably into the universe of Chimera…
It gives me great pleasure and a squizz of excitement to announce the first five chapters of my children’s novel, Chimera Book 1, are now available as podcast episodes, with subsequent episodes released on Sundays at 4pm. I’ll be sharing them here at Red’s Kingdom but you can find them on Spotify, Anchor.com, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, and Breaker.
Lots of people to thank, not least actor, Dan Snelgrove, who has given Chimera its many voices and worked so imaginatively to bring this project to life. Big thanks also to composer, Andrew Fisher, for Chimera‘s thirty seconds of musical magic, and to artist, Phil Cooper, for Chimera‘s ‘book cover’. Phil is also creating special edition paintings to accompany the release of new episodes of the Chimera audiobook, which I’ll be sharing on here in due course.
I don’t want to say too much more, except if you’re eight years old or thereabouts you should enjoy this, and if you’re eighty years old, I think you’ll enjoy it too. A short synopsis follows, but why not just pop your headphones on, press play, and prepare to lose yourself to Chimera…
“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…”
Chapter 1 – The Mum & Dad Who Weren’t
Chapter 2 – The Tentacle & The Tea Tray Bridge
Chapter 3 – A Talking Snake
Chapter 4 – The Oblivion Three
Chapter 5 – The Elsewhere Light
Keep up-to-date to with all the latest chapters here at anchor.fm/chimerabook1
Berlin-based artist Phil Cooper at work in his studio, September 2020
Regular visitors to Red’s Kingdom may already be familiar with the work of the artist, Phil Cooper, who is a regular participant in the fortnightly creative Kick-Abouts, in which artists based all over the world come together to create new work (or curate existing work) in response to a prompt. So far, Phil has given us beautiful hand-cut, hand-painted tableaux of lycanthropes and enticing portals, short spoken word fiction, maquettes of forlorn-looking buildings bracing themselves against storm and tempest, black and white photography, and one very sexy – if self-absorbed – lighthouse keeper!
When not kicking-about with the rest of us, Phil’s proper job is producing wonderful paintings, drawings and collages, which get snapped up almost-at-once by his followers on Instagram and via his website, phil-cooper.com. Phil also keeps a very beautiful and generous blog – Hedgecrows – which he began all the way back in 2012, and is a rich source of pleasure and inspiration, a veritable treasure trove of dreamy, transportive imagery that offers up a comprehensive insight into Phil’s passions, preoccupations and talents.
The completed Chimera Book One cover art painting on Phil’s suitably untidy table-top.
Given all his existing artistic activity, I was delighted when Phil expressed his interest in working with me to produce my children’s book, Chimera as an episodic podcast – or rather, produce new original artworks in response to the book to accompany the release of the audiobook here on Red’s Kingdom next month.
Our first priority was to start thinking about a ‘book cover’ for the Chimera podcast. Phil and I have been chatting little and often about the project for a number of months, but we caught up for a proper natter just after Phil completed the Chimera cover art and sent it my way, a conversation in which Phil and I explore the provenance of his creative direction. Highlights include Phil discussing Clive Hicks Jenkins winning the V&A 2020 Illustrated Book Award for his work on Simon Armitage’s Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes and two middle-aged men reflecting on the strangeness of growing up in the 1970s!
During the course of our conversation, Phil and I make enthusiastic reference to a number of our mutual childhood touchstones – kitsch Christmas cards, boxes of fireworks and Halloween window displays. Consider the following a visual aid!
Phil Cooper and Phil Gomm in conversation, September 2020
The finished Chimera Book One cover painting by Phil Cooper, September 2020
Details from Phil’s painting for the cover art for Chimera Book One
Last Friday, I was excited to announce the first in my series of children’s books is being produced as an audio book to be shared here at Red’s Kingdom, starting next month! I have the pleasure of collaborating with a number of talented individuals on this project, including actor, Dan Snelgrove, who is lending Chimera Book One (and its many characters!) his vocal dexterity and flair for rich characterisation.
I caught up with Dan between his recording sessions for Chimera, largely because I couldn’t wait to find out how he was getting on, and to learn more about his approach to giving voice to the book’s array of fantastical characters.
Some of the highlights of our conversation include, ‘the omelette of acting’, and A Dungeons and Dragons Guide To Characterisation…
Actor and voice artist, Dan Snelgrove at work in his studio performing and recording Chimera Book One
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…