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  • Helen Lederer

A prism of humour etched into a gloriously graphic novel

Helen Led here - we have been so inspired by Susannah’s rich tapestry of visual and humour filled revelations, we simply had to use the word ‘prism’…

Susannah Felstead, on the 2020 CWIP Humorous Graphic Novel Prize longlist with The Trials & Tribulations of Mr. T. Deeyum

When did you first hear about the CWIP Prize and was your entry specifically written for it or were you working on it already?

I was scrolling through twitter one day, when I read about the CWIP prize and its new category for humorous graphic novels. I had recently finished and self-published a short graphic novel- but it was a few short of the pages required in the entry criteria, and a few days before the deadline! I got to work on the spot, and sent it all off in the nick of time.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I’ve always enjoyed storytelling by combining drawing and writing. My first efforts at picture books were way back in 2001, with my dad typing up my dictated stories, which I enthusiastically illustrated in felt-tip. Since then, I have been refining my skills, most recently studying at Kingston School of Art. This brings us up to 2019, when I worked on the graphic novel longlisted by your fine selves.

Have you ever started a novel and then abandoned it?

Not exactly. I’ve definitely had ideas which I’ve put in my mental recycling bin for another time, though. Sometimes, an idea I had ages ago was just waiting for the right moment to slot in with something else.

Did you write poetry as an angsty teenager?

I didn’t write poetry, but I did express my angst through short comic strips and drawings with scrawled text. I got through a lot of biros. It’s quite therapeutic, actually, and sometimes I still do it. They always go in the bin afterwards, though!

Extract from The Trials & Tribulations of Mr. T. Deeyum © Susannah Felstead

Can you describe what your novel’s about in two sentences?

Yes I can. My short graphic novel, The Trials & Tribulations of Mr. T. Deeyum follows the adventures of Terence, a down-in-the-mouth businessman, as he learns the importance of letting himself have fun.

What made you write your book? Where did the idea or impulse behind it come from?

I was in my final year at Kingston School of Art, studying Illustration Animation. I was really enjoying trying out different forms of storytelling, from picture books, to comics, to spot illustrations for paperbacks. I wanted to use the luxury of an extra long project to really go in-depth with something new. Writing and illustrating a graphic novel was a goal of mine for a few years before that, but in truthfulness, the deadlines made me actually do it.

Did you set out to write a funny book? Where does the humour come from in your book?

I did set out to write a funny book. Humour is a common theme in my work; I like to make people happy, as most people do. In my graphic novel, a lot of the humour comes from wordplay. There’s a rich language of business jargon, which was a delight to combine with visual humour. What would ‘blue sky thinking’ look like? What sort of a character would ‘the middle-man’ be? Aside from wordplay, I had a lot of fun drawing the stiffly portentous Terence in increasingly bizarre situations.

Can you tell us about your writing routine – are you a planner or a pantster?

I always start off by planning. I love to make elaborate pages of ideas and possibilities, exploring angles. A lot of thinking isn’t a lot of doing, though, and I keep all these plans in mind before just diving in and having a go at whatever project is in front of me. If I get stuck, or need to fact-check, I consult my plans. Otherwise, I let my hands get to work, which lets my brain wander and come up with spontaneous additions. I can always review it afterwards.

Where do you write?

I’m afraid my desk is a messy nest of papers and inks right now, so I’ve drawn it instead…

My workspace © 2020 Susannah Felstead

You can’t find the right words to make a sentence chime: do you (a) swear? (b) cry? or (c) eat? - if (c), what item of food?

When I get stuck on the words, I have a coffee. When I get stuck on the pictures, I go for a walk. When I’m stuck on both, I spontaneously combust (or sleep on it).

What difference has being longlisted for the CWIP prize made to you? What would you say to anyone thinking of entering next year?

A great deal of difference! In the year after graduating it gave me a much-needed confidence boost. I’d say, ‘Yes! Do it! The ‘worst’ that can happen is that you enjoy working on something that you’re pleased with.’

Me again – We love your thoughts and art and the words ‘do it’ – well, they do it. 

Susannah's work centres around creating stories which engross the reader and give a moment of light-hearted relief from what is so often a serious world.

She's partial to pinching plausibility from a mundane observation or situation and using it as a foundation on which to build absurdity and humour.

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