Monday, 13 June 2016

'Murdered With Straight Lines' by Garth England

I read a gorgeous piece about a book in The Guardian recently that made me rush out and buy a copy of that publication the minute I finished work. Here's a link to that piece in The Guardian

Murdered With Straight Lines is a beautifully presented collection of the (admittedly rather naive) drawings by Bristolian Garth England, showcasing his interpretations of many south Bristol locations thanks to his 79 years spent trawling the streets as a postman, telegram-deliverer and milkman. 

Although Garth passed away in 2014 and never saw this finished publication by Redliffe Press and the Future Perfect project, he gave the project his blessing. His drawings were discovered when local historian Jo Plimmer visited him in a nursing home and he showed her the sketches he had created in his twilight years, and she instantly recognised the sociohistorical value of them. 

Garth's drawings are clearly simplistic. He uses a ruler to create his near edges (hence the title of the book), and roughly colours in with crayons. But the value in his work is less in the quality of his drawings (which, anyone will admit, is rudimentary), but in the community spirit and local history that he brings to life. 

Through Garth's drawings, readers can see the everyday houses that Garth, his family and those he met on his delivery routes lived in. In some cases, we see the interiors as he remembers them, and in others we seem them as he imagines them. There are even detailed illustrations of key items of furniture, as well as roughly drawn floor plans for the buildings. It's absolutely fascinating. How often do we get this inside glimpse into other people's real lives?

Accompanying Garth's drawings are little comic strips detailing his time in the army, or delivering papers as a teen, or starting work for the GPO. The naivety and lack of pretension in the whole project is what brings it alive. 

That and the fact that for me, Garth is drawing and writing about an area that I have called home for the past 4.5 years, and since reading Murdered With Straight Lines I have walked about my neighbourhood seeing it with brand new eyes. Indeed, one of the houses that Garth lives in is just a few doors along from where I currently live. And the bakery that he visited is still a bakery and one where I buy myself the occasional treat. 

Although many things in society have changed since Garth was born in 1935, it's also reassuring to know that the buildings around us largely remain the same. It's just the people inside them that evolve. 

Murdered With Straight Lines is on sale in the Arnolfini bookshop in Bristol, as well as via the Redliffe Press website (free postage)

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