Literary holidays: Butterflies and The Killing Jar

“I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.” John Keats

My life is dictated by books. Even on holiday there needs to be some kind of literary connection. I visited Ljubljana when it was the World Book Capital, did the James Joyce trail in Trieste, read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin on a beach in Kefalonia and recently dragged my son to Latvia to see their new library.

In August the Dawn of the Unread offices moved to Sicily for a couple of weeks as I tried to locate the fictional town of Vigata, home of Inspector Montalbano. But while there I discovered a more relevant location to our graphic novel, Favignana, which I visited on 8 August to coincide with the release of Nicola Monaghan and Judit Ferencz’s comic Psychos.

Nicola Monaghan and Alan Sillitoe.

Nicola Monaghan and Alan Sillitoe.

I couldn’t resist visiting Favignana when I discovered it is known as the butterfly island on account of it resembling the shape of this insect. Butterflies are of course an integral image in Nicola’s debut novel The Killing Jar, a superb book which won a Betty Trask Award as well as a Waverton Good Read Award when it was published in 2006. It instantly led to comparison’s to Alan Sillitoe due to the way in which Nicola captured the rawness of working class life on a tough estate in Broxtowe.

The Killing Jar is a reference to the device used by entomologist Mrs. Ivanovich, to preserve butterflies in toxic liquid. It is also a metaphor for the estate she lives on and the characters that are entrapped there predominantly through drugs and poverty.

killing jar and fav

Favignana… the butterfly island, although it does look more like a moth

The main protagonist of Nicola’s novel is Kerrie-Ann Hill, the daughter of a smack-addicted prostitute who is sent to peddle drugs outside her school by one of her mother’s numerous ‘uncles’. I asked Nicola if she would consider bringing Kerrie-Ann back to life for the comic and was chuffed when she agreed. This is without a doubt the biggest highlight for me so far as Kerrie-Ann is one of my all-time favourite literary characters. The character and novel also have particular resonance for me as I spent my late teens a few streets away from where the book is set.

While in Sicily I spent a fair few hours locked away in a sweaty apartment sorting out the production of the above video and sourcing creative commons images of butterflies for it through Vimeo. This was then edited together by Daniel Finnerty to fit a specially commissioned soundtrack by Mansfield-based DJ Pete Unique (my brother).

Pete Unique (left), image from Killing Jar remix to right and illustration of 'Psychos' by Judit Ferencz at bottom.

Pete Unique (left), image from Killing Jar remix to right and illustration of ‘Psychos’ by Judit Ferencz at bottom.

In Psychos a disused library is turned into an illegal rave and so we decided to make the track, with Nicola reading extracts from her book, as an embed within the comic so readers could be temporarily transported to the illegal raves that feature in The Killing Jar.

I’m guessing that not many people would really appreciate the significance of visiting a butterfly shaped island while editing together a comic that features a character from a novel that uses butterflies as symbolism, but for me it created the perfect holiday.

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