How to work with a friend?

With only one more week to go on the campaign to fund ‘The Case Of The Thinking Man’s Trumpet’ I took some time with my good friend Paul to reflect on our journey together…

Phoebe:  What was it like working with a buddy on this project?
Paul:  Working on this project with a buddy was an absolute necessity. This project would not have happened without you, PMu. This story wasn’t waiting for an artist, it was waiting for someone who liked it and could hack spending time with the person who wrote it (and who was also an artist, obvs). Making things can have small and delicate beginnings, like nurturing a flame which can be snuffed out by some gust from the bigger world of strangers who just don’t get it. It’s no wonder that collaborations happen between friends, people who just start doing stuff because they enjoy being in each other’s company. In a way friendship is like a culture, a set of shared beliefs and practices. Culture produces artefacts, and this is one of ours.This project was like hanging out, having fun making and thinking and just being us. Who wouldn’t want that experience?
Paul:  What did you learn from this project about yourself and your practice?
Phoebe:  I learnt that it can be difficult opening up creatively with other people.  My drawing is pretty much just me doing my thing, and it was harder to collaborate than I thought it would be.  Ultimately this lead me to missing deadlines, especially when I found a particular drawing difficult.  Working with a friend I learned that the more openly I spoke about this the less likely it was to overwhelm me, even if sometimes that sharing was a little bit jumbled and half worked through.  It really helped.
Working with you in particular I learned that I am not a natural completer, and that I have a tendency to just dive into something head first, but once that initial energy is gone, it’s hard for me to drum up the energy to finish things off well.  I think that’s where we differ slightly, and compliment each other.  You are good at pacing yourself and nurturing something through to fruition, and I would like to learn that more.
Phoebe:  Okay onto the juicy things, what did you find challenging about this project and working with me?  What would you do differently in the next thing we work on?
Paul:  The long timescale of the project and the variety of stuff we needed to do. It helped to have a shared idea of what finished and good looked like and enough of a plan to know what the key steps were and what the next action was to get us there. I’m glad we did it in this way rather than get lost in loads of planning -it meant we quickly got on with doing stuff.
Gaining a confident understanding of self-publishing and crowdfunding, both of which were new to us. What helped was us both researching other people’s experiences and knowledge and sharing back.
Shared knowledge lead to shared decisions and shared risk and benefit!
As ever it is a challenge to me to find the best way of describing the work for the people we feel might be interested. What helped was getting other people’s perspectives on what we have. Even if it wasn’t a readymade answer it helped our own thinking and grew our confidence.
Phoebe:  …and working with me? 
Paul:  What I found challenging about working with you was… okay grownup time. I felt sometimes challenged those times I noticed you fall easily into a narrative of self-doubt in your abilities or qualities or when I saw you defer to do what was quick or easy. I am sensitive to this because I think it of and struggle with it myself, so please forgive me if I’m just projecting my stuff.
I have seen you rise to the challenge of iteratively crafting images that elevate the thing you are co-creating. I have seen you develop your abilities and enrich the style you created off your own back through dedication to your passion and through prolific output. I feel you have made a contribution to our project that is not only unique but is essential to why it is appealing to people, including myself. You’ve done this and made illustrations I love to look at all without being a dick. Good job.
For your party bag then: a suggestion that you can choose to own your confidence in what you are and can do and trust the knowledge that, based on hard won experience, you are able to accomplish what is challenging and new.
Phoebe:  What would you do differently in the next thing we work on?
Paul:  Every project is different so it is difficult to say what I’d do differently. The thinking we did about our intentions for the project and keys steps felt really useful so I’d pay attention to that. I feel that plans, deadlines and the like are only as useful as how you check in on those and I’d like to have had more focussed time when things got crunchy.


Phoebe:  What was the first book that moved you to tears?

Paul:  My memory gets worse and worse and I’ve no hope of remembering that far back. There is a book called ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ by Sarah Winman, which my sister gifted me. It’s about a girl searching for her brother and about growing up and family and it’s beautifully written. I probably cried over that.

Phoebe:  What book do you always recommend to people?

Paul:  I rarely recommend books to people and don’t have a go-to recommendation. For a while I was really into David Mamet’s writing about writing and theatre. He has a book called ‘The Three Uses of the Knife’, which is a very slim thing all about dramatic structure. I must have recommended that because I don’t have my copy anymore.

Phoebe:  What was the first thing you ever wrote?

Paul:  My name? Some individual letters? That’s where most of us start I guess. I can’t remember the first thing, but I can remember being an 8 year old in Mrs Weir’s classroom and wanting a lot more to continue writing my story than do the other project the class was meant to be doing. I was adamant this was going to happen so I sat there with my arms crossed while she tried cajoling me and then eventually gave up. I don’t remember the story, only the feeling that I’d rather be writing that than doing whatever else was going on.

Phoebe:  When you are feeling de-motivated, what do you turn to for inspiration?

Paul:  When I am feeling low and uninspired I like going to the cinema and theatre. There is something special about the ritual of sitting in the dark to be told a story. It is no coincidence I think that, however we evolve technologically, as a species we are still moved to create spaces where the lights are turned off and our attention is directed towards something that someone feels is important to share.

Phoebe:  What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Paul:  I spend most of my time not writing so there are a great many things that I like to do. Sitting quietly with a cup of coffee is a favourite. I enjoy playing guitar. I am pretty good at staring off into the middle distance, or when I’m walking staring at the ground. These are places where ideas grow. I like eating food and I have become very good at this.

Phoebe:  Do you have philosophy or ethos, which you apply to your creative efforts?

Paul:  Oh man that’s a good and tough question. It’s an evolving thing I think. I’ve moved beyond the ‘beating myself with a club so I work to be creative on a regular basis’ thing. There are times to graft but nothing should be a total chore or else what’s the point? Otherwise the only ethos I keep coming back to is find what is joyful, painful and irresistible and focus on sharing that because that’s where the good stuff will be.

Phoebe:  What does writing give you?

Paul:  It helps create some sense of order in life. It gives an excuse to stare out of the window into the middle distance (I used to feel bad in doing this I wasn’t ‘being productive’, but now I realise one occasionally needs to suck in the words from one’s environment by keeping an eye on the zebra crossing or that person at the table by the window who’s eating a stroop waffle). There’s escapism to be had in stories and even more so when you’re making them up. A sweet session of ‘what-iffing’ and ‘oh maybe it’s that-ing’ is as good as a holiday and only costs the price of a cup of coffee. And it’s free therapy.

Phoebe:  What piece of advice would you give to people who want to write but find themselves unable to?

Paul:  Well it would depend on what any individual’s particular hurdle is. If they can’t hold a pen to paper because they’re spinning through space and have cat paws for hands then there’s not a lot of good advice I can offer. I shall speak more generally then.

Remember, you’re already qualified. Even if you’ve never written anything then you are beginning at the same place as anyone who ever did. To write successfully I think you must get comfortable with being not very good. If you can show up, write the words -even if they’re bad and you know they’re bad- and then show up again to make them better then you are on the right track.

There has to be joy in it somewhere for you, beyond just the delayed gratification of finishing whatever you’re making. The best way forward then is to make it fun. Find the space that you can go play in and enjoy making a glorious mess. It’s just making stuff up and writing it down isn’t it? A child could do it. And they do.

Phoebe:  How would you describe The Case of the Thinking Man’s Trumpet?

Paul:  Really well, thank you.

This is actually really important. Often there is an expectation that someone writing something already knows what it is they are writing. But I’ve found this to be untrue. People make things, out of words and otherwise, because they have a need and the answer to that need doesn’t yet exist. So they have to make something up.

Once you have made something, being able to describe that thing to others can feel really difficult and slippery, but it is so important. Otherwise how will you best gift it to the world? I’m trying to get better at pausing and asking ‘what is this thing? How can I describe its uniqueness?’ The perspective of a loyal supporter can be invaluable here as they will see what you might otherwise take for granted. They can help you find the words for ‘oh I don’t know it’s sort of a story about a cat astronaut, like a catronaut, and it’s kind of funny yeah but sad too. Aw please stop asking me, this feels like a job interview’.

Our friend Tamsin was wonderful in helping us describe The Case of the Thinking Man’s Trumpet. You can find the fruits of that on our Kickstarter page (where you can also pledge and get your hands on a copy of the book).

Phoebe:  Words to live by?

There is always something to be thankful for.

Have you ever felt trapped in a Sunday? Ever caught your pocket on a door handle? Ever regarded the buttons on someone’s coat as edible? Ever thought the sun a lozenge? Felt that roundabouts are the last colonised spaces in the world?

Bumble and Nitsy have, and their boundless awareness and imagination have made them the most renowned Detectors in the world.

‘The Case of the Thinking Man’s Trumpet’. Please check out our Kickstarter to support and to get a copy:

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