I’m interested in the natural world and how human beings think they are somehow apart from nature when, in fact, we are very much a part of nature. My subject matter is personal proof of that. Recurring visual themes in the book include water, tides, wood, trees, and various animal metaphors. I’ve often used nature metaphorically for added poignancy or a more poetic way of communicating something than a simple head-to-head conversation would have.
For example, these swans were trying to build a nest on a tidal river soon after we first suffered a miscarriage: It’s a single incident that reflected many things happening in our lives: living in a damp leaky flat; loss; and being unable to find affordable suitable accommodation etc. Pages of house viewings and ranting over extortionate rents might have been visually boring, and the swans said it all better. And I’m interested in wildlife and environmental concerns – the rubbish they are using to build the nest is indicative of the destructive nature of how humans and wildlife can collide. Taking the focus away from the main characters also opens it up more for readers to identify with. Tides are driven by moon phases, and, in certain traditions and cultures, linked to the menstrual cycle. Tides and water are both destructive and renewing in the book, and this reflects how the forces of nature can affect life beyond our control, such as in pregnancy loss. All in all, this scene was a perfect fit for my book and its subject matter.
The tree/ wood theme in my book is integral to its narrative structure – from climbing trees in childhood to planting them in adulthood; a squirrel hiding an acorn in the part dividers; and a wood grain pattern for the part titles. The main framework of the book is a cycle-of-life structure built around tree-planting, which reflects growth, loss and renewal. (The end of the story time-wise actually forms the prologue).
I was very much influenced in using nature and the elements by having studied The Wasteland by TS Eliot for A-Level English (quite a long time ago)! The elements are necessary to support life, and the story is about being unable to support life in my body: I used them to strengthen the narrative, and to nourish an otherwise commonplace tale. Taking the focus away from the main characters by using easily identifiable metaphor also opens a gateway to allow the reader in to engage and identify more readily with the story – most people are familiar with trees and water and understand that they can represent strength and life.
Although the subject matter is a little gnarly, I’ve tried to use humour as much as possible, especially in part 1, which is all set in childhood. My dad used to call my best friend ‘Peppermint Patty’ because she had poker straight hair and lots of freckles. Peanuts was on TV in the 70s around that time, and we loved it, so this panel was my chance for a subtle nod to Schulz! I definitely had Peppermint Patty in mind when drawing the character April in the childhood pages – but that’s because she actually looked a bit like that.
This book is very much focused on my own experiences. Although the male experience of suffering miscarriage is sorely underrepresented in society, it would never have been appropriate for me to write my husband’s story – this would have been crossing an ethical line. No one asks to be in a very personal memoir, and he’s still coming to terms with there being a panel about sperm samples, and having his face adorn the front of a book! Of course, it is very important for men’s personal childlessness stories to be told, but in this case it wasn’t my place to do so in more depth than I have.
I tend to think that once a creative work is released into the world, it no longer solely belongs to the author – people are free to interpret it howsoever they wish, despite an author’s intentions. However, I hope that outlining some of the themes here might help to enhance the book’s meaning for readers.
This article was originally written as a guest feature for the Forbidden Planet International blog and was published here on 18 December 2017.
Tickets for our event on Paula Knight’s The Facts of Life on 14th February 2018 are available on Eventbrite and will feature a short video introduction and Q&A conducted over video link with Paula herself, followed by two speakers who will discuss the formal aspects of the graphic novel and psychological aspects of fertility.
Helpful resources are listed below.
Miscarriage and Infertility
The Miscarriage Association
Phone: 01924 200799
Phone: 0800 0147 800
Phone: 0845 293 8027
Fertility Network UK
Phone: 01424 732361