By Cynthia Barlow Marrs SGFA
In August 2009 my neighbour Essie Fox knocked on my door. She was well into writing her first novel. Would I be interested, she asked, in a new experimental literary event here in Windsor?
Part book club, part book signing, it was the brainchild of our publisher neighbour Scott Pack of Harper Collins. His co-host would be the mega-talented Marie Phillips, author of Gods Behaving Badly. All I had to do was show up at the Firestation Arts Centre just down the street and bring a book that I wanted to give away.
Three years later Essie is a celebrated novelist, Marie’s book is being made into a film starring Christopher Walken and Sharon Stone, and the Firestation Book Swap is a Windsor institution. It meets every third Thursday of the month, and even tours across the UK.
I’ve been a regular Book Swap-goer ever since, but it was November 2011 before I brought a sketchbook along.
The guests were poet-turned-crime writer Sophie Hannah and her maman Adèle Geras, author of more than 90 books for children and adults.
Marie was away that night. Scott set the Book Swap bucket on her chair.
For those who don’t know the format, at every “Swap” we have a bucket full of questions from the audience. Each of us writes a query on a bit of paper, and when we’re not pitching books to swap amongst ourselves or with the two guests, Scott or Marie will draw a handful of questions and pose them to the authors.
The questions could be about anything except books or writing. Answers to some of the more off-beat or thought provoking have earned places in the Book Swap Hall of Fame.
There is also tea and cake: if you bring cake to the Swap, you get in free (it’s a fiver for the rest of us), and as books are swapped and questions answered, baked goods are handed round.
That’s a cake tin across Sophie’s face (left), and a teapot lid on Adèle’s chin (right). I drew the sofa and the table behind it laden with tea and cake before the authors came on stage. I didn’t mean to lower Sophie’s forehead. But sometimes even worse things happen when you’re drawing on the spot, at speed, without erasing. The shoes, as I recall, are fairly accurate.
Three months later the Book Swap showed off a new sofa with guest authors Steven Appleby of cartoon and comic strip fame, and DJ Connell, who was celebrating the launch of her latest book. I captured Diane holding a bit of cake, but when it came to Steven’s hands I never quite committed to one position or another. I did make a mental note (alas, too late to save Steven’s jaw) not to draw the back of the sofa until the guest authors sit down.
In August 2012 the Book Swap threw its own 3rd birthday party, and Amy Shindler and Lesley Thomson took their turn on the sofa. When she’s not writing, Amy plays Brenda Tucker on The Archers. Lesley is an award-winning crime writer who had been to the Swap before.
I show Lesley pitching the book she brought to swap, but I had to stop drawing before I fully captured her head. Later, working from memory, I tried but failed to get the chin right.
Now I think the hair is wrong, too, but the glasses are probably OK. Which I suppose means that in this drawing Lesley just isn’t herself. If I find a reference photo I shall make amends.
Cynthia Barlow Marrs SGFA is art columnist for Glow Magazine, an online arts journal published in Windsor and read around the world. Drawn to Swap was first published in Glow in 2012. Discover Glow Magazine and find more articles by Cynthia here
And now for the technical bits: Cynthia’s BookSwap sketches are in A5 Moleskine sketchbooks. Sophie and Adele and Steven and Diane were drawn with water soluble graphite; Natalie and Stephanie and Amy and Lesley were drawn with a 0.5 mechanical pencil.