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The graphic novels and cartoons of Posy Simmonds have been acclaimed for their razor-sharp satire on London literary rivalries and English middle-class pretension. She talks to Andre Paine about the best bus routes for inspiring dialogue, the latest film adaptation of her work and the pleasures of radio phone-ins.

NAME: POSY SIMMONDS
JOB: CARTOONIST, WRITER AND ILLUSTRATOR
LOCATION: BASEMENT STUDIO, GEORGIAN TOWNHOUSE, CLERKENWELL

The graphic novels and cartoons of Posy Simmonds have been acclaimed for their razor-sharp satire on London literary rivalries and English middle-class pretension. She talks to Andre Paine about the best bus routes for inspiring dialogue, the latest film adaptation of her work and the pleasures of radio phone-ins.

How long have you lived in Clerkenwell?
About 22 years. I lived in Holborn for 24 years, and even when I was a student at the Central [School of Art in Design], I remember coming to Clerkenwell a lot because there was a wonderful paper shop called TN Lawrence in Bleeding Heart Yard.

What do you enjoy about this area today?
I’m quite near Exmouth Market, so there’s Farringdon Locksmiths: all the things outside it are often full of rainwater but it’s the most terribly useful shop. There are good places to eat like The Modern Pantry, The Clerkenwell Kitchen and it’s quite nice having lunch at St John at the bar. I like The Gazzano’s, the Italian shop; and Moro and Morito – and there’s Gail’s for bread. There’s a very good dry-cleaners, Royal Dry Cleaners. It’s very sad that the bookshop, Clerkenwell Tales, has gone – I’m going to miss it.

Your characters Tamara Drewe and Gemma Bovery both moved to the country, but you’ve stayed in central London – why do you prefer the city?
I like knowing my neighbours, but I also like the fact that I can go down the bottom of the hill and just be in a great tide of people, none of whom I know at all. It’s wonderful and, yes, it’s good material.

Does Clerkenwell inspire your work?
Yes, absolutely. In [Gemma] Bovery, they lived in Hackney but I did a street scene that was certainly in Clerkenwell - somewhere near the Barbican. I go to the Barbican cinema a lot. 'When I’m drawing, I listen to the radio. I love phone-ins - you hear all kinds of people's experiences'

The 2010 film of Tamara Drewe was very faithful to your graphic novel, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was. It was very surprising that a lot of the costumes were really taken from the book. There’s going to be a film of Gemma [Bovery]. It’s got Gemma Arterton as Gemma, and because it’s a French production it’s got quite a famous French actor [Fabrice Luchini] who’s playing the baker. I think it will come out sometime this year.

 How do you gather material for graphic novels and cartoons?
I usually remember it, particularly if it’s items of dress. If it’s a building or even a car, I might get my trusty phone out and take a photo.

How did you find dialogue for The Great Book of Mobile Talk?
That was certainly going on the bus a lot, because almost everybody is on the phone. I think Clerkenwell has two of the best bus routes – the 19 and 38.

And the 38 is a new ‘Boris’ bus…
Oh yes, it looks a bit sort of 'brothelly' inside. It’s dark red and gold.

Your 1987 children’s book, Fred, has just been reissued. Are you happy to see him back?
Oh yes, it’s interesting meeting grown-ups who read him as a child – it’s that long ago. When I wrote it, I didn’t actually set out to write a book about death. But over the years I’ve had lots of letters from children who said, ‘My stick insect died, our dog died, my granny died, and we knew what to do’.

Have you submitted yourself to the hellish signing sessions portrayed in Literary Life?
Yes, I’ve done signing sessions and been asked where the lavs are, and I’ve also been told, ‘Goodness there were heaps of people at lunchtime’.

Do you listen to music while you work?
When I’m drawing I listen to the radio, listen to music, have a sing. I love phone-ins because you hear all kinds of people’s experiences.

And is it correct that you use a mirror?
Yes, I do. If I want to know what somebody looks like scratching their head or whatever, I just have to look in the mirror.

How is the next graphic novel progressing?
It will need a bit of tidying up, so I think it’s going to take 18 months. I’ve got a title, but I’ve still got to try it out on people.

Is it true that you were researching pole-dancing classes?
Yes, I’ve done that. I wanted to [feature] those clubs near Clerkenwell Road. I don’t know anybody who’s ever been – they sound awfully seedy. I keep passing one [Chatterbox] on the 63 bus.

You went in there?
No! But I’d quite like to – I may get around to it. The book is not about lap-dancing at all, it just happens to feature fleetingly in it.

Do you think graphic novels have become more popular in recent years?
Yes, for a long time, we were always very much behind France and Belgium and the United States, but it’s grown hugely. And lots of women are doing it, too.

“Fred” (Andersen Press) and “The Great Book of Mobile Talk” (Square Peg) are available now. Posy Simmonds’s graphic novels are published by Jonathan Cape.

 

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