Chimera Book 1 – Compendium #1


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.

Enter Dan.

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…

*save for my limited involvement in a beautiful animation by Jordan Buckner, which Phil produced.



Dan & Phil in conversation, September 21st, 2020

Dan & Phil in conversation, October 13th, 2020

Dan & Phil in conversation, November 2nd, 2020


Phil Cooper: Painting Chimera

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 Sunday, December 13th, with Chapter 13 – The Plummet Pit


Of Service (2020)


I responded very strongly to the visual prompts for the Kick-About #15, particularly Eric Ravilious’ image of the high-end interiors shop, A Pollard. It says more about me, I suppose, that I detected some shadow at work in these nostalgic images of these well-to-do shops.


Eric Ravilious, 1938


I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the flicker of immediate associations included the animated series, Mr Ben, the production art for Disney’s 101 Dalmations and H. G. Wells’ The Magic Shop. I was struck too by the inter-war period, and it got me thinking about ideas of luxury and leisure time, and how doomed it all was, given what was looming on the horizon, but also about how wonderful it would be to discover a shop like Pollard’s on your high street, and the sorts of people it would attract, and the tensions in a small community it might produce.

It doesn’t always happen – and it rarely happens when a clock is ticking – but the resulting story just wanted out – and out it came. In Kenneth, the story’s protagonist, I find shades of Eleanor Vance, from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959), a character I’ve always found to be incredibly moving in her neediness to be needed.


You can find a ‘large print’ PDF version here.


Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #8

Phil CooperThe Temple Of Miscellany 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on paper

They now arrived in a large, open square surrounded on three of its sides by formal rows of orange feather dusters. In the middle of the square was a large crystalline structure made entirely of glass display cases, some square, some cylindrical, with bell jars on its roof. Lit from within, the building sparkled in hues of ice-green and frosty blue.  Thousands of objects surrounded the building, their Elsewhere Lights combining to create a dazzling display.  Kyp stopped and stared.

Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 12 – The Phawt-Gnoks Oligarchy


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…

Phil Cooper, November, 2020


Phil Cooper’s The Temple of Miscellany painting on his art table in his Berlin studio, November 2020




Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 12 – The Phawt-Gnoks Oligarchy


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!


Last time in Chimera Book 1:

‘Run,’ said Atticus, and the two boys did, sprinting towards the edge of the plateau.  Kyp looked back to see the lion pounce, pinning Atticus to the ground.  He saw white lint fly up into the air and blow away like snowflakes. 

‘No!’ Kyp screamed, looking around for a weapon.

A dark shape swooped suddenly from above, a concrete eagle, its beak lethal, and its talons out-stretched.  With a sudden sharp squeeze, it picked up Kyp by his shoulders and carried him into the air.  Kyp struggled furiously, the material of his jumper tearing, and then he was falling back towards the ground. He slammed into Jamie and both boys staggered backwards in a tangle of limbs. The eagle screeched, plunging towards them, but they were rolling down the embankment, their descent throwing up clouds of dust.  

On and on they tumbled, until finally, the boys’ descent came to an end, their bodies crashing into a gaudy sprout of feather dusters.  Jamie cried out as their heads banged together with a nasty crunch.  In the moments before passing out, Kyp was aware of an exciting murmur. 

‘Just look at their Elsewhere Lights!’ 

‘Are they dolls?’ 

‘No.  Look, they’re not even chipped.’

‘Puppets then? Are they puppets?’

‘No strings.’

‘Statues?’

No.’

‘What then?’

‘I don’t believe it.’ 

Something touched Kyp’s face.  There was a gasp of amazement. 

‘They’re children.’

Chapter 12 – The Phawt-Gnocks Oligarchy

Listen to all previous chapters at anchor.fm/chimerabook1


Tune in on Sunday, December 6th, when Chimera Book 1 resumes with…


Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 11 – The Boy In The School Uniform


Apologies! A little later than advertised… but certainly worth the wait!


Last time in Chimera Book 1:

‘Last one out is a toe-biter!’ announced Kyp.

Atticus hushed him.  He pointed with his tail to the body of the shear-shrike lying on the floor nearby.  The creature was covered in a crust of dirt, inches thick, its beak clogged with muck. 

‘We’re not alone,’ whispered Atticus.

Only now did Kyp see the cavern’s walls, floor and ceiling were crawling with large brown beetles.  There was a loud popping noise, as one launched its fat, drab body into the air, trailing grey powder from its backside. 

‘Dust-bugs,’ cautioned Atticus. ‘Try not to -.’  

His warning came too late; erupting like firecrackers, the beetles took off in unison, the air turning black and unbreathable with the dirt sprayed from their bottoms.  Kyp staggered towards what he hoped was the exit from the cave, dustbugs ricocheting off the walls all about him like artillery shells.  He managed to crawl his way out of the cave and stand up, a dust-cloud surrounding him.

Atticus?’ 

Over here!’  

Kyp froze.  

If Atticus was ‘over there’ then who, or what, had touched him on the shoulder?  

Chapter 11 – The Boy In The School Uniform

Listen to all previous chapters at anchor.fm/chimerabook1


Tune in next Sunday at 4pm for the next instalment

Chapter 12 – The Phawt-Gnoks Oligarchy


Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 10 – Caramels & Coconut Cracknell



It’s 4 o’clock, there’s a nip in the air, and with a little bit of luck there’s a slice of cake nearby. Time then to rejoin Kyp Finnegan and Atticus Weft in their continuing adventures in the fantastical realm of Chimera, the realm of lost things.


Last time in Chimera Book 1:

The freshly-hatched metamorph surveyed its surroundings, its feet scratching amongst the sediment. It ruffled its stubby plume of tail feathers and turned in a circle. It put its head between its legs and blinked. It began pecking at the remains of is cocoon, picking up the husks in its beak and arranging them about its body as if making a nest. The shear-shrike sought to nestle within in it, resting its head on its chest. Agitated suddenly, it kicked the remains of its cocoon. It cawed and flapped its wings, sending the dust of long-dead detritums whirling around it. The blades of its beak snapped open and closed. It made another sound, a scream that set Kyp’s teeth on edge.

‘What’s wrong with it?’ Kyp whispered.

The shear-shrike launched itself into the air. It struck the cave roof and fell back to the ground. Enraged, it took flight again. This time when it met with the ceiling, it emitted a shrill scream of frustration and began to half-fly, half-throw itself at the cave walls. The scissor-snap of its beak made Kyp queasy with dread. At any moment, he expected to be cut into bloody strips or find Atticus sliced into snake rings. The shear-strike began attacking the walls again, slashing at the mattresses. Kyp thought the creature would never tire of its tantrum.

When finally the beating of wings and tearing sounds subsided, Kyp peered up through the white whirl of wadding and saw the shear-shrike had managed what other metamorphs had not; using the formidable tool of its beak, it had cut a way out through the roof.

Kyp and Atticus were free.

Chapter 10 – Caramels & Coconut Cracknell

Listen to all previous chapters at anchor.fm/chimerabook1


Tune in next Sunday at 4pm for the next instalment:

Chapter 11 – The Boy In The School Uniform


Spotlight #3 Dan Snelgrove


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


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…


Under Milk Wood (1954)


To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.


Like caffeine, it is to this 1954 radio drama by Dylan Thomas, I turn whenever I feel my own creative mojo flagging. When the good words won’t come, I listen to this, emboldened always by the music of Thomas’s language and the rich meat of his imagery. When a character won’t materialise for me, I go back and spend some time with this fictional village’s ensemble of frustrated, thwarted dreamers, all of them caught, all of them poets, all of them rudely alive and real-seeming. I love the darkness here, and the way the extraordinary images just keep on coming, vignette-after-vignette sequinned with detail.

Whenever I listen to Under Milk Wood, I remember writing is nothing short of a magical act, and I scold myself for moping about, wasting time, and just not getting on with it.


The Kick-About #6 ‘A Field Guide To Getting Lost’


Arguably, all previous Kick-Abouts have been a response to this same prompt, courtesy of Francesca Maxwell, with each resulting showcase of work offering a guide to the ways in which different people take unpredictable journeys into new and unexpected terrains. As is attested to by a number of the works in this edition, ‘getting lost’ is never about losing time, but rather gaining experience.


Charly Skilling

“When I started thinking about this prompt – about how you plan a trip, about what can go wrong, about getting lost – I was reminded of this bit of family lore which is often trotted out at our family’s events: the day mother went to Shrewsbury and got lost.

It was actually in the mid-90’s (Cadfael was a very popular mystery television series at that time, based on the books of Ellis Peters) but everything about Mum’s story was reminiscent of a certain type of very British humour, which had its heyday in the films of the 1950’s and early ’60s, Ealing comedies like The Ladykillers, the early Carry On and St. Trinian’s films – and of course, the Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford. Check out “The 4:50 from Paddington” or “Murder at the Gallop” for a masterclass in British matronhood. Indeed, a precious golden thread of this tradition continues to this day, through the writing of Victoria Wood and Alan Bennett.

I have tried to capture something of the same spirit in “The Ballad of Ethel and Hilda” and reflect it in the images used, anachronistic though they may be. Along with Sir Derek Jacobi and Margaret Rutherford, you may also spot Joyce Grenfell, Sid James and Leslie Phillips, as well as a host of extras.

My thanks, as always to my techie, without whom this would not be half as much fun. I tip my hat, too, to my Mum Hilda, and her friend, Ethel. If there is an afterlife, they will be galloping through it, with gusto!”



Gary Thorne

Castle Road on Capitol Hill, Canada, (summers 1956 to 1961)

“Place holds strong significance, home on the city’s edge, schooling to begin in ‘58, summers beneath anchored clouds with shadows setting root, becoming cool dark pockets for secrets, and across the empty rolling range beneath bright light, daydreams ran wild being played out by shapechangers in search of possession. The house may still stand, the vastness of surrounding space has been lost, yet the place’s invitation, (in memory), to venture out and beyond is very strong.” Oil, canvas on board, 20x20cm.


linkedin.com/in/gary-thorne


Tom Beg

“I wanted to capture the feeling (in moody black and white photographs, of course) of what it can be like just to go for walk out on a summer day with no particular aim and take in the sights and sounds of the local neighbourhoods here in Japan. Initially the intention was to create a mini photographic book heavily inspired by Tales of Tono by Daido Moyriyama but in the end it became a short film using still photographs in the style of La Jetée.


twitter.com/earthlystranger / vimeo.com/tombeg


Vanessa Clegg

I must say thank you to whoever suggested this book as it was right up my street…loved it, especially “ the Blue of Distance” sections. This is a response to the part on maps…terra incognita.

When I was a child this island out in the Bristol Channel totally captured my imagination…and still does. I don’t ever want to go there or research its history as it’s a place of dreams that could be inhabited by giraffes and goldfinches or camels and weasels or simply exist in its own atmosphere of mists appearing and vanishing at will. A negative Uluru floating in cold northern waters.


Cyanotypes in notebook.


“This evolved from Thoreau …”not till we have lost the world do we begin to find
ourselves” and Virginia Woolf ..”to be silent; to be alone”


Three panels, 12” x 12” graphite and watercolour on gesso.

vanessaclegg.co.uk


Kerfe Roig

“Though I have not read the specific Solnit book, I have read at least one essay she has written about labyrinths (“Journey to the Center” from The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness), and that’s the first thing that came to mind. A labyrinth is not a maze–there is only one path in and one path out. Labyrinths have been found in cultures all over the world, and are often used as forms of ritual or pilgrimage–a way to return to the source, to lose yourself in something larger and as a result find yourself again.”



kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Marion Raper

“In A Field Guide To Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit says, “Never to get lost is not to live”. Such was the epic journey of Cabez de Vaca. He was the 2nd in command in a Spanish expedition led by Panfilio de Narvaez, which was commissioned by Charles V to establish colonial settlements and garrisons in The New World. However, after many disasters including hurricanes, shipwrecks, disease, starvation, attacks by hostiles and enslavement, only 4 of the original 600 men survived – including Cabez de Vaca. They spent the next 8 years wandering the S.W part of America and N.Mexico as traders and faith healers to some of the Indian tribes and were the first known Europeans to see the Mississippi River and cross the Gulf of Mexico and Texas. On his eventual return Cabez wrote a full account of the flora, fauna and Indian tribes he had encountered, and intended to conquer, but learnt so much from, including how to survive.

I decided to try something I had always wanted to do and experiment by doing a portrait of Cabeza using my old leftover makeup ie: various eyeshadows, eyeliners, bronzers and face powders.

So what did I discover? Well, yes, makeup is a good substitute drawing material – but Cabeza de Vaca – what a legend!”



Phil Cooper

“I don’t like the idea of being lost, and especially of being lost at night, so my contribution this week is a little sanctuary, just four walls and a roof, somewhere to keep the lost feeling at bay until the dawn, when the daylight banishes the monsters, real or imagined…”



Phil Cooper’s table-top model house

instagram.com/philcoops / hedgecrows.wordpress.com / phil-cooper.com


Francesa Maxwell

Looking at my work over the years, I found all my paintings could be titled “a field guide of getting lost”, whichever style I chose. It all seems to be about finding a path in the chaos. Not that chaos is not one of the most beautiful and creative things there is. Whichever path I take will take me into unknown territory, never again able to retrace my steps and never returning the same as before. And every path will propel me towards new unknown territories and new adventures the more significant when in the spirit of being “lost”.

These four paintings I chose started as concepts for a short animation I had in mind based on a recurrent dream I had as a child and on Dante’s opening sentence of the Divine Comedy “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai in una selva oscura…” They are inks on watercolour paper, cold pressed, 240x680cm.”


www.FBM.me.uk


Phil Gomm

“This was a bit of a no-brainer for me, given my many (!) excursions into the meadows and arable crops of my local countryside during the course of the lock-down and beyond. I haven’t quite managed a ‘Field Guide To Getting Lost’, but rather a guide to getting lost in fields in three parts.”


Knave’s Ash, June 2020


Hart Hill, July 2020


Boughton Scrub, July 2020


Graeme Daly

“I read a preview of A Field Guide To Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, and I think it couldn’t have come at a better time. Things are really unpredictable at the moment. At times feel like I am levitating in limbo, a bit stuck, a bit stagnant. I am a bit lost.

If you allow it, being lost is to be beckoned by brambles and tripped up; those brambles can cut you deep with its spikes; maybe those spikes are actually fangs embedded in the coil of a boa constrictor – or maybe the bramble is something you could simply skip over and bursting with mouth-watering berries?

I used to love getting lost. I think a lot of it has to do with my childhood, when I was always outside finding and climbing the highest trees, mapping them in my mind as a brilliant structure that would suit a tree house; and finding the highest hills of rural Ireland overlooking the derelict cottages falling to pieces of a life long gone.

I recently moved house; my senses spill into overdrive. I notice familiar sounds that feel completely fresh. I notice the cornice that has a gargoyle on it. I get lost so I can find my bearings. I go on excursions and explorations and scope out the quiet, dainty coffee and book shops, or the solemn parks budding with trees and wildflowers, or the grey cemetery I can have a jog around while listening to bird song.

I still get lost because to really get lost is to eventually find yourself.”


@graemedalyart / vimeo.com/graemedaly / linkedin.com/in/graeme-daly / twitter.com/Graeme_Daly


Maxine Chester

“I was reading ‘The Blue Distance’ chapter in ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost’, by Rebecca Solnit. I put it down and picked up a book on Eva Hesse, an artist I am researching. She had discovered this quotation in a Simone de Beauvoir diary of (1926). As soon as I read the quotation something opened up and I could hear the three voices in conversation.”


 Darning needle on blue distance, front to back, drawing, oil on paper, 42 x 29cm


‘Lost in the making’, fabric sculpture, 110 x 60 x 26cm

instagram.com/maxineschester / maxine-chester.squarespace.com


Marcy Erb

“These are my art responses to this round’s prompt – which was the book by Rebecca Solnit titled “A Field Guide to Getting Lost.” I haven’t read the book and wasn’t going to attempt it – so I worked with the title. My initial thoughts really hovered over the “Lost” part. I recently read a Reddit post about the Vietnam draft lotteries and how there appeared to be heavy bias in the initial lottery towards birthdays at the end of the calendar year. No one knows why – presumably the number draws were random – but there are explanations proposed of simple human error. Birthdays at the end of the year were added to the hopper last and then the whole thing was not properly mixed. These men, born at the end of the year in the years 1946-1950, “lost” that lottery.

My father was drafted in a different round, but the outcome was the same. The top picture is a reverse transfer monoprint I made from a photo of him and my mother shortly after he returned from bootcamp – he’s leaning on his beloved car from high school. The lower print was made from the first photo I could find of him after his first deployment to Vietnam. His face is different. He is different. Which is so strange to me, because I was born after he got out of the service and I’ve never known him any other way but after Vietnam. But making these transfer prints, it had never been more clear to me. It was shocking – and full of loss.”



“… but then Kerfe Roig posted her response to the prompt and it was about labyrinths and journeys and paths. I found it very helpful and comforting. So I made one more transfer print for her poem.”


marcyerb.com


In what I suspect is in part a response to the languor of lock-down, Charly Skilling is offering up Walter Richard Sickert’s painting Ennui as our collective jumping-off point for the seventh Kick-About. You’ll find the painting plus the new submission date below. Have fun, folks, and see you on the other side!