Graphic fiction: an illustrated talk

Graphic fiction: an illustrated talk

Event: Graphic fiction – an illustrated talk with Posy Simmonds 

Venue: Royal Society of Literature – Somerset House 

Report by Eleanor Baggley

When Posy Simmonds first heard of graphic fiction she thought it meant ‘relentlessly rude novels’. Thankfully she didn’t dismiss the genre altogether there and then, as I would argue that the literary world would be a very dull place without the likes of her creations, Tamara Drewe and Gemma Bovery.

In this talk Simmonds gave us a potted history of her career, from studying graphic design to her first job at a newspaper and beyond, which was wonderfully accompanied by images of her published work and glimpses into her sketchbook.

Simmonds was introduced by the writer Jenny Uglow who talked briefly about the excitement of graphic fiction as a genre. Graphic fiction is a fascinating genre. The novels occupy the same space as comics without actually being comics and ‘they can do anything’. Often they take us into realms that are surprising and make us read in a different way. Certainly they address a vast range of topics, frequently exploring parent/child relationships or ‘tough’ subjects.

Blended genre

Graphic fiction is a hugely blended genre and it shares characteristics with a number of other styles, including comics and films. Simmonds talked particularly about the link between films and graphic fiction and explained that creating a graphic novel is much ‘like drawing a film’. What Simmonds calls her pre-production stage consists of A4 notebooks filled with character sketches and drawings of objects and features such as noses, cars and toothbrushes.

Jenny Uglow called Simmonds a ‘brilliant observer’, almost like an undercover detective, and this became clear as the talk went on. Many of the characters Simmonds creates are based on real people; Gemma Bovery for example is based on Princess Diana. The sketches she shared at this point gave the audience a truly illuminating glimpse into her process.

Simmonds talked in detail about two of her novels, Tamara Drewe and Gemma Bovery, both of which have been made into films staring Gemma Arterton. The two novels were both inspired by classic works of fiction: Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert respectively.

Landscape

Simmonds visited Dorset and Somerset to research the setting for Tamara Drewe and the location is an important aspect of the novel. The countryside became another character and gave her the opportunity to explore landscape further, which is something that is not often included in serials.

Posy Simmonds is a brilliant speaker. She is personable and candid and spoke in the characters’ voices as she often does when writing and creating characters. As

a result of this the evening felt very intimate, almost like the audience were friends being invited to flip through her sketchbook, and she demonstrated a sincere passion for her work. Personally I came away with a renewed interest in graphic novels and an urge to thoroughly explore Simmonds’s entire back catalogue. I suspect and hope that many others felt the same.

Report by Eleanor Baggley

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