This post is part of the blog tour for the book. Thanks to Random Things Tours and Kyle Books for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
During the first national lockdown Hawker’s art was forced indoors. No longer could he travel around his city drawing from life. Instead, he had to draw from imagination. When he posted a drawing on his Instagram account inspired by the weekly clap for carers, he found a collaborator in Marianne Laidlaw, who provides the words in this book. They worked together via Zoom and the resulting book was published on the anniversary of the UK entering its first national lockdown of the pandemic. During this time news stories were full of depressing statistics and a sense of despair that we were in the same position (albeit with the promise of an end thanks to the vaccine). Together offers a gentler look back on the extraordinary circumstances we’ve found ourselves in, and feels more of a salve for those whose nerves are fraught after a year of constant anxiety and isolation.
The book does not directly reference the pandemic, the cause of disruption being a storm, but the specific circumstances depicted are unmistakably the life the pandemic has produced. The overarching message of the book is that we’re stronger and more able to weather the storm together, and that sense of community can exist powerfully even when we’re forced to be physically apart. There’s also an acknowledgment and acceptance that although we’re all experiencing the same seismic shift, everyone will deal with it differently, and that whatever you find consolation in is valid. There’s mention of the bizarre switch of normal things feeling strange and strange things feeling normal which will resonate with anyone struggling with the gradual return to ‘normal’. Hawker and Laidlaw do not shy away from the challenges that the situation has created but focus more attention on the positives - the increased awareness of nature and the changing of the seasons, the creative ways people have managed to keep in touch, and the little kindnesses that make all the difference. One of the drawings that touched me most was of a flower growing in the main character’s home. For me, it was a reminder that the natural world has flourished, that new life and renewal is inevitable, the mental benefits of caring for a plant and seeing it grow, and the move towards making homes happier, more comforting places to be.
The overall feel of the book is positive, but they do also poke fun at those whose panic buying caused shortages - a drawing depicts a shopper with a towering pile of shopping reaching for the only item on otherwise bare shelves. The pictures are variously individual snapshots or busy scenes depicting the many activities of the population, and, emotionally, reunion. The book itself can be read in about ten minutes but it is worth taking the time to really look at the pictures and appreciate all the little details and thought that went into them.