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The Incomparable Ian Miller

Posted: 2 June 2024

Ian’s novel, ‘The Broken Diary, Fragments of Something Real’, has had an excellent review by John Wombat of Wombat Wargames. See below.
Copyright © 2024 Wombat Wargames.

With his prolific career dating back to the 1960’s, uniquely unorthodox and joyfully unconventional, renowned artist Ian Miller is one the world’s most well-respected fantasy, science fiction and horror illustrators. Noted for his highly detailed and sublimely surrealistic style, along with countless other collaborations, the artist’s extensive career has seen him produce iconic works for the likes of Games Workshop and Fighting Fantasy books, as well as working with pioneering animator and filmmaker Ralph Bakshi.

Perhaps overshadowed by the success of his illustrious career as an artist, what people may not know about Ian Miller is that he has penned his own novel, too. A juxtaposition of poetic prose and succinct statements, Miller’s debut book, The Broken Diary: Fragments of Something Real, was first published by Oneiros in 2014. In 2023, via Incunabula, the book was reissued. This review offers an insight into what readers can expect to find within the book’s pages.

Blending fact with fantasy, as poignant moments sit next to extraordinary events, Miller’s debut novel brings to mind a plethora of other books and creative types, including Andy Warhol’s Diaries, George and Weedon Grossmith’s The Diary of a Nobody, and Tom

Baker’s autobiography, along with the varied works of Monty Python, M.R. James, Lewis Carroll, and Terry Pratchett, all while holding to a uniqueness which is entirely the author’s own.

In a book devoid of chapters or explanations of any sort, The Broken Diary: Fragments of Something Real opens with a dedication to the writer’s wife and son, before quoting Dutch artist and writer Theo van Doesburg, as well as English writer and art critic G.K. Chesterton.

Among others later quoted in the book are Albert Einstein, William

Blake, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Indeed, with references, directly or otherwise, to his classic Treasure Island, Stevenson serves as one of the book’s key shadow characters.

On a basic level, this book is split between various diary entries (in which chronological order is lay to the wayside) and the fantastical adventures of the novel’s protagonist, Mr. Thomas. However, it should be noted that there are no actual ‘basic levels’ to this book, indeed, the entire work is far more nuanced. The book describes a journey, or rather it tells of a series of journeys, in which emotional openness overlaps with the exciting exploits of Mr. Thomas. Never making his true identity fully known, throughout the book the reader is left to contemplate who Mr. Thomas really is. Are we to assume that Mr. Thomas is, at least on occasion, Ian Miller himself, or is he as fictious as some of the other characters within the book, such as Rabbit Kong, Commander of the Bursting Bunny Brigade?

“Day brightened, depression persists however. Nothing seems to work. Acute sense of isolation… The drop to my left was a real bone breaker and for the briefest of moments I toyed with the idea of jumping, just for the hell of it, you know how it is… I was being watched, so what’s new? People have been watching me all my life… I’m coming apart. Moths are hovering.”

Excerpts from The Broken Diary: Fragments of Something Real by Ian Miller.

At times succinctly detailed, other times poetically penned, throughout this highly original book, Miller touches upon some very personal points, as, for example, he tells of the profound sadness around the loss of a beloved family pet, his mixed feelings around his son leaving for university, as well as financial pressures and the weight of depression. Woven into the fabric of this compelling book are snapshots of Miller’s past. The writer recalls a number of childhood details, such skullcap pills, living with his mother in a top floor flat in Whalley Range, Manchester, and his Aunty Crippen, her sweet shop, and her daily cleaner, who had a penchant for loaves of Nimble bread and copious cups of tea. Further real-life recollections include Miller’s time at primary school in Chiswick, while he later goes onto reference his friends at university, Mal and John.

Interspersed between descriptions of airport lounges and hotels, dog walking and cups of tea and coffee, along with the writer’s wonderful noting of “rat rain,” it is Miller’s many observations of unreality which are, perhaps, the most intriguing, and it is for the reader to deduce his or her own meaning. What do Jesus Christ’s marbles represent? Why is there an omnipresence of crows? Who is the dog with the ink-stained collar? What is the meaning behind talking dolls? And how many other writers have looked to bring in James Puckle, inventor of the famous Puckle gun, as a character of their own stories?

“The eyes of the crow glowed fiery bright. It yawned; head and beak extended, cawed loudly three times, and then cocked its head as though listening for a reply. There was a loud drawn out ripping sound above us, followed by a cascade of blue flakes.”

Excerpt from The Broken Diary: Fragments of Something Real by Ian Miller.

This engrossing, factual-fictional frolic is an addictive read, written in a way that both captivates and delights. There are many high-comic moments, as well as heartstring-pulling pieces, all glued together as part of a wider surrealistic literary collage. If readers are expecting to read detailed explanations of Miller’s approach to his drawings or his painting techniques, they will be disappointed. Though there are occasional references to his artwork, such as his Treasure Island pieces, or listings with Sotheby’s, this book is comprised much more of personal insights into Miller, the man, while also describing the madcap mishaps and anarchic adventures of Mr. Thomas. Exciting and invigorating, accented with points of triumph over adversity, this book is a joy to read and highly recommended.

Published by Incunabula, The Broken Diary: Fragments of Something Real is available via www.lulu.com, priced £13.00 + P & P.

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Medusa original work

Posted: 7 May 2024

Olivia Lomenech Gill produced some beautiful illustrations for Jessie Burton’s retelling of the Medusa story and we now have some of the originals for sale. Commissioned by Bloomsbury Children’s Books who’d previously worked with her on Fantastic Beasts, it became an immediate success and that must be partly due to Olivia’s unusual method of working with etching, painting, charcoal, a complete mix of techniques. Olivia is an accomplished printmaker and painter, and this was the perfect project for her. Jessie was also interested in her processes and visited Olivia in Brittany when the work was exhibited there.

You can hear Olivia talking about her work here.

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The Parable of the Independent Bakers

Posted: 25 April 2024

Neil Packer talks about the inspiration for his new book.

‘There was once an old patisserie that had been on my local high street for as long as I could remember, in fact probably for as long as anyone could remember as it had opened in 1926. Over the years it had changed hands a couple of times and by the mid 1980’s it had expanded to a handful of branches in central London. It was my favourite patisserie which sold fabulously good pastries of both the sweet and savoury varieties including a quiche Lorraine to rival anything found in the finest patisseries of Paris.

‘Over the years it had struggled like so many other small independent businesses in London as rent and business rates increased exponentially. The areas in which the few shops were located became more and more gentrified and in the early years of the 21st century the business was sold to a private equity company who wanted to take the brand, if not the quality and roll it out nationwide over hundreds of locations.

‘This was the inevitable death knell for the business as it would be impossible to maintain the standard of its artisanal produce over so many outlets without the skill, love and devotion of the few people who were responsible for the original shops’ cakes and pastries. The new owners were certainly not in the business of trying to preserve those skills, the reality is that it would take years to train new people in order to service their nicely branded new outlets, they didn’t care about the quality they just wanted the brand.

‘This then was the inspiration for “The Parable of the Independent Bakers” and by 2016 when I wrote the story in a flurry of anger there were many other examples of small businesses I had known, loved and used over the 35 years I had lived in London which had been driven out of business, crushed by either the larger chains or by unaffordable rents and rates. These included multiple pubs, cafes, restaurants, bookshops and even the tiny gallery that sold my work and the work of all my fellow illustrators, the only gallery in London specialising in illustration which fell victim to a doubling of its’ rent that same year.

“The Parable of the Independent Bakers” is a love letter and a tribute to the artisan, not just to bakers but to everyone who makes, bakes, builds or creates on a small scale. People who are immensely skilled and who have often obsessed over and live through their work their entire lives and whose work steadfastly refuses to be scaled up.

I was incredibly fortunate to find a home for this book here in Italy with the wonderful Camelozampa, who are the very definition of an artisanal independent publisher. They are joyous to work with and have brought insanely high levels of production and love to this book. As if to reinforce the ideology, not just within the book’s narrative but also surrounding the story of the book itself (which are inseparable), it was printed at Grafiche Veneziane, the last remaining commercial printers on the island of Venice, and true artisans themselves. The book proudly carries the legend ‘Baked with love by Camelozampa and printed on water by Grafiche Veneziane’ I am prouder of this than I can ever really express.

‘The story first appeared as a hand written text at the foot of an artwork in 2016, the artwork was in the form of a child’s toy model railway. I built it for my own child but being unable to afford to buy model houses and scenery we decided to paint them flat onto the board in the form of a map of London. “The Illustrated Train Garden No. 1” as it became known was built as a response to my concerns over the destruction of many pubs, venues, shops and institutions which had meant a good deal to me over the 38 years that I called London my home.

‘This is a very personal map, and although many of the buildings depicted on it are still very much in place and functioning, many are not, and others are under threat, they all however have a significant meaning to me. It feels like every time I take a walk through a neighbourhood that I have not visited for a while I am struck by the absence of another much-loved building, or these days more often than not, an entire block.

‘I sense that I am losing my own personal history of London, indeed we are all losing our collective history of London as it is rapidly replaced by a profoundly dull version of itself, as quaffed and polished and un-interesting as the inhabitants that are now displacing many of us who can no longer afford to live in our own home.

‘This then is the back story of “The Parable of the independent Bakers”, a story informed by a problem not unique to London but a global issue. It’s a warning to us all of the importance of cherishing and championing small independent retailers everywhere and it is dedicated to all those who fight the relentless advance of homogenisation.’

Neil Packer, March 2024

You can read more about this important book here.

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John Harris’s conversation with Andrew Liptak

Posted: 27 March 2024

John has been interviewed by Andrew of Transfer Orbit. It was initially to discuss John’s book, Into the Blue, but they touched on many other things too.

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Lindisfarne – and ‘Clever Crow’

Posted: 15 March 2024

We have paintings and etchings by Olivia Lomenech Gill for sale, some loosely based on the work she produced for the book ‘Clever Crow’ and some from the project for the English Heritage Priory Museum on Lindisfarne.

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