By Sarah Snaith
Graham Rawle is as meticulously constructed as his books. His three-button dark green blazer is worn closed and reveals a navy coloured skinny tie pulled to just below the collar of a starched white shirt. His eyes are framed with black plastic rims and his hair is worn in a classic taper cut, parted on his left side.
He has come to speak to us as part of our study of research methods and modes of writing. Being invited into the organised chaos of his method and physical practice serves as inspiration for our impending thesis proposals and the research that comes with it. While Graham describes his book-making process as slow, the group sits in awe, exchanging glances of disbelief at the phenomenal amount of work that has gone into his published titles.
Graham’s most popular book, ‘Woman’s World’ precedes him. Its 437 pages are made up of thousands of clippings from early 1960s magazines by the same name. The designer/writer/illustrator employed the full spectrum of his skills in it’s making but as his most recent book ‘The Card’ has gone to print this morning, we start our discussion there.
“Something’s been taken from me and I want it back,” he announces. Teenage memories of his mother throwing a scantily dressed Bond girl card onto the fire has inspired ‘The Card’s plot. The main character Riley, obsessively stockpiles playing cards that cross his path, believing that they are clues to a sinister plot threatening Princess Diana’s life. Graham has also been in the habit of collecting strewn playing cards from the street since the mid-90s. As he continues to take us through his other works, it becomes clear that each of Graham’s characters holds a fragment of his personality. At very least, he can relate to the neurosis of their inner psyche.
Graham is an enthusiastic storyteller. He weaves the tale of ‘Woman’s World’s creation with details of cataloguing clippings into thematic sketchbooks that later correspond to numbers in the manuscript. Admitting to having spent five years, 18 months of which were 17-hour days cutting and pasting the text, Graham shares some of the frustrations. The magazine clippings got caught on his shirtsleeves and annoyingly fell into piles of uncategorised phrases on the floor. At one point Graham makes it sound like the entire future of the book hinged on the rediscovery of the words “little princess,” found by his wife hours later hitching a ride on the tail of his mischievous cat.
Walking us through his method reveals that ‘Woman’s World’ was essentially written and thrown away. The manuscript existed in full before he converted each sentence into found text from the magazine copy. One curious sentence he shares initially read, “his expression gave nothing away.” Later in print it became “his face a tablecloth of plain and simple design” in response to what the 60s magazines provided. Replacement phrases had to be “better than the manuscript.”
“The limitations are what makes you more creative” he told us. His work exists within self-set parameters that he faithfully adheres to with great success. Perhaps we may finish our own future writings and wish to start anew. It comes as no surprise to hear that Graham’s next book is already in the making.