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Hugs, Warm Toast and Silly Dogs with Sarah Firth

Interview of Sarah Firth by Freya Bennett

Photo by Jason South

Hi Sarah, firstly, congratulations on the release of your debut graphic novel, Eventually Everything Connects, how are you feeling?

As almost every other author I have talked to says, having your book come out is one of the most exciting and weirdly underwhelming things. Because it’s so huge but also life goes on. What it takes to create a book cannot really be shared with anyone else. You’ve lived in it for years, you had such high hopes and have done your best – but what you’ve actually created isn’t as fabulous as what you’d dreamed because it’s a real thing. It’s very humbling. Oh well. It’s your sweet idiosyncratic brain baby. You made it.

But now, off it goes into the world. And other people will have whatever experience good or bad with it, and all kinds of unexpected chemical reactions will occur and the whole thing is out of your hands now. Particularly with intimate work like my book, it feels wildly vulnerable and weird! I sometimes thing, URGH what have I done? But then I come back to what I value, that I made it for me, to be the book I needed and I hope that it resonates, maybe helps someone feel more empowered and less alone in their struggles, as reading other people’s honest work has done for me

Still. I feel proud of myself for persisting these eight years, and getting it made. It almost didn’t get made, did you know? I feel totally humbled – but also hungry for more – by the whole grueling process of actually making a graphic novel which in my experience is some kind of masochistic extreme sport! It has all been worth it though. I feel incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity. I’ve had so much support over the years and it wouldn’t have been possible without it!

As I read your book, there were so many points where I felt my heart skip a beat or begin racing as I so viscerally related to your content. Before the internet, a lot of our weird and wonderful inner feelings felt isolated to ourselves, do you think the internet has helped us connect in a way that we haven’t been able to before?

I think people have always connected in helpful informal ways, through chats and stories. I used to share a lot of my weird inner feelings with penpals. In the art I made and art I saw. The books I read. I remember all these things helped me feel less alone in my very human strangeness. But as you say my pool of access was so much smaller, there was so much I just didn’t know.

I try not to get too nostalgic when I think about the early internet and social media. Because as it seems with all technology it’s a double edged sword of great things and troubling things. But it does feel like the internet I grew up with from the 2000s – 2010s was this glorious period. Like a public park where people could unselfconsciously share their thinking and connect with all kinds of other people around interests, communities, issues and desires.

Today it feels more and more like that public park has morphed into a casino with a bloody gladiatorial pit. Obviously the internet and social media still fosters important conversations and connections, and is the main way any of us access information about other people and the outside world. What would we have done during the pandemic without them? Still, the ramped up levels of commodification, surveillance, social engineering and the profiteering dynamics of the attention economy is really deleterious. I wonder almost daily, how much more grotesque does it need to be for us – me –  to leave? And then what next?

How did you choose what topics to cover in your book?

The whole book was emergent, with the underpinning theme of uncertainty. I almost feel like the topics came to me. Basically, I followed the questions that I had been living into. The things I couldn’t stop thinking about and chewing on.

What is your process of creating? Do you start with art first or words?

I wish it was that straightforward! I’m very non-linear. I’m neurodivergent. So ideas come at me from all angles and ways. As sensations, the feeling, a sequence, memories, sounds, a song, a pattern, strings of words a gestural dance. I have to try and capture them however I can sometimes in words sometimes in drawings. I’ve found that walking and typing in my notes app is really helpful for getting ideas down.

As someone with aphantasia, I can’t visualise things in my mind the same way as other people do, so I have to “think on the page” as I call it. I draw and write out things in my journal to try and see what I’m thinking. I also collect and put things all over my walls. An external brain or thinking space I can observe.

Do you know that meme of the character Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia? Doing a conspiratorial rant in front of a wall of papers? Like they build in cop shows when they are trying to put the evidence together from a mass of disparate pieces of information? That’s basically my process. It’s a mess.

The content of the book tackles so many of our inner worries, what do you do to help hush the anxious voices in your head?

A big part of how I process the world is through my comics, drawing and writing. I often think on the page in conversation with my anxious thoughts. Sometimes there is something useful there. Even just getting it out of me onto paper can help. I also talk with my partner and friends a lot. Hug cuddle and touch people and animals to regulate my nervous system. I move, rock, dance, give and receive massages, throw a ball and do olympic weightlifting. Getting physical really clears my head.

Where do you find joy?

In the small wholesome things. Hugs. Warm toast with butter and jam. Dogs being silly at the park. My cat snuggling with me in bed. Massages. Drawing. Baths. Sex. Candles. Long walks and chats with friends. Cooking. Gardening. Helping someone out. Picking up rubbish. Tiny birds. Turning up to a protest. A good meal. Exchanging garden produce with neighbors. Hitting a new PB in olympic weightlifting. Starting a new journal. Starting a new year. Being alive and waking up in the morning and having that first sip of coffee. That kind of stuff.

If you could be any animal in your next life, what would you be?

Right at this moment I am vibing fish. So I will say a fish. In a remote and safe enough place I cannot be caught and can live out my fishy life in peace with my other fish pals.

Finally, what is next for Sarah Firth?

With the book coming out now I get to enjoy all the social and public activity with talks, interviews and events which is nice. I really do like chatting with people about the philosophical topics I’ve covered in the book, and about book making and writing as a process in general – how different people do it and why. So that’s all very fun. The book is also lined up to come out in Spring 2024 in the USA so that will be a busy and exciting time again.

Now, for anyone in Melbourne please come along to the official book launch I’m having at Science Gallery 5-8pm on 18th October. It is free but RSVP is essential for organising the catering and seating. From 5pm there will be food and drinks, and you’ll have exclusive exhibition entry to the Dark Matters exhibition. At 6pm we’ll be doing very special comedy-dance-routine-surprise with my pals Elixabeth Davie and Gorkie. Followed by QnA with the brilliant Vidya Rajan. Then at 7pm there will be cake and book sales and signings.

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