A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the wonderful, gut-wrenching and incredibly powerful graphic novel by Henny Beaumont, Hole in the Heart.
It’s a memoir of parenthood, specifically of finding out your child has Down Syndrome and the consequences of that. It’s funny, smart and unforgettable, and we’re not the only ones who think so… Hole in the Heart has been pulling in amazing reviews from pretty much everywhere, from the Guardian to the Mail to the Herald.
This week we were lucky enough to speak with Henny about her decision to create the book, her influences, and her background as an artist …
How did the idea to create a memoir about your experiences with Beth come about?
I am an artist. I was working on a ‘sketch book’ when Beth was little. It was going to be a sort of anti-travel book, a catalogue of the mundane and difficult journeys I was doing as a mother of four children. As the sketch book grew, I started to become more focused on my experiences with Beth. Around the same time I discovered an organization called Laydeez Do Comics. It’s a forum where women (and men) present graphic novels and comic work in progress about the drama of everyday life. I saw a doctor present her work in graphic form. It struck a chord. I knew immediately I wanted to write a graphic memoir.
Was it difficult to create something so honest?
It was very difficult at times revisiting the early part of Beth’s life, very painful, but it felt important to be honest about my feelings. I think the only way I could be helpful to other parents going through something similar was to tell the truth and not hold back.
Your family feature heavily in the book. How involved were they in the process?
They were all very involved. My two eldest, who are now eighteen and twenty-one, read several drafts and were very encouraging. There is a sequence, when Beth is having heart surgery – incidentally the toughest sequence to draw – and my second daughter encouraged me to make the drawings even more explicit, to make my ambivalence to Beth and her survival more obvious. I think the cruelty or harshness of that sequence is what makes it work and helps the reader understand what we were going through. My daughters and my husband read everything in draft form before it was published.
My husband probably saw more of the book than he wanted to. He was also incredibly encouraging and patient. He helped me when I got stuck and posed for countless photos and drawings. My two little ones were much younger and wouldn’t have understood the book, but they both knew what I was writing about.
As well as being an incredibly honest and beautiful story, it’s also a vital one in terms of opening up a discussion about how we approach disability. How would you like to see things change in the future?
I don’t really see myself as a spokesperson for disability, but I would like there to be much more visibility for disabled people. Things have changed a bit, but inclusion in adverts for example is often tokenistic. There needs to be proper support for disabled people to have the independence they want or need and support for their families too.
Can you tell us a little bit about your artistic background and why you chose this medium to tell your story?
I trained as an artist and did an MA in printmaking at Camberwell. I’ve always enjoyed drawing people and spent some time working on portraits. I love colour but I felt that it would be distracting to use colour to tell this story, so it is all black and white.
Are you a comic book reader? If so, what sort of thing do you like to read and who are your influences?
Yes! The last book I read was Hubert by Ben Gijsemans. It’s a beautifully drawn book, about a lonely man’s obsession with the Museum D’Orsay in Paris. It sounds a bit dry, but it isn’t at all, so moving and well observed. I was influenced by Nicola Streeten’s book Billy Me and You. It’s a graphic memoir, drawn from her diary after Billy, her son, died, aged two years and two months. I was inspired by the way she treads a delicate line between complete honesty, terrible sadness and at the same time moments that are genuinely very funny. It’s an extraordinarily moving book.
I loved Richard McGuire’s book Here, another beautiful graphic novel. All the action in Here takes place in the corner of one room. Seemingly static, the drama comes through the characters, leaping backwards and forwards in time. It’s very clever and mesmerising the way Mcguire plays with time and ideas about memory.
Do you have any plans to create another comic in the future?
Absolutely! It was all too steep a learning curve not to do something with the knowledge I’ve gained. It would be such a waste. I’m very interested in the idea of duplicity and how that can work in a graphic novel. So the way you can show in one image someone saying one thing and thinking something entirely different at the same time.
Hole in the Heart: Bringing up Beth was published on 9 June by Myriad Editions (£16.99, Paperback, 288 pages, 9781908434920)
Read more about this title here