This week, The Book Diner looks back to when we had a visit from Michael Nobbs, an artist and non-fiction writer from Wales whose book, Drawing Your Life: Learn to See, Record, and Appreciate Life’s Small Joys, was published by Penguin after years of successfully self-publishing The Beany magazine. I came to know Michael through his amazing website, Sustainably Creative, which encourages people to be artistic, but at a gentle pace and, in fact, he used to be my mentor! Michael’s work appealed to me not only due to its colourful illustrations which beautifully capture everyday rituals like having tea and cake (something I associate with Michael!), but also because, as someone who, like Michael, is recovering from M.E./CFS (and Fibromyalgia, in my case), I was fascinated to find someone who understood the limitations people with chronic illness or disabilities face when involved in creative projects. However, most people work and are raising families, so I think Michael’s very simple approach – often just setting a timer for twenty minutes to get your creative work done – is very useful for anyone who struggles to find free time for anything artistic or which matters to them and I still use it a lot and advise my writing coaching clients to do so too. I must add too that Michael is also one of the kindest people I have ever known – when I was very poorly once, he sent me a postcard which said, “Remember the sound of rain,” knowing that I love the rush and patter of a storm on the roof and that lovely gesture was one of the things which kept me going. So, anyway, I hope you enjoy what Michael has to say and find his approach to life and creativity as inspiring as I do.

Welcome to The Book Diner! Can we take your order – coffee, tea or soda? Eggs sunny side up or over easy? Home fries, French toast or biscuit?

A large pot of tea and  French toast please. [Michael is a famous tea lover!]

Can you tell us about your latest project?

I’m currently republishing my little pocket-sized illustrated journals, The Beany.

I published the first one ten years ago and to celebrate the milestone I’m republishing the first four, this time in full colour.

It’s good (though not always easy!) looking back. Colouring in old drawings is ALWAYS fun, however.

What inspired you to write and draw it? Where do you generally get your ideas from?

I was diagnosed with ME/CFS back at the end of the 1990s. I had felt ill for a number of years before, but hadn’t really known what was wrong—all I really knew was that life was becoming more and more of a struggle and I was able to do less and less. When I was finally diagnosed, I just gave up trying to do anything and basically went to bed for three years.

In that time I began to draw. Inspired by online artists like Danny Gregory, Dan Price and Keri Smith, I drew the everyday and ordinary objects around me. As time went on, I began to write about the objects too and my life in general. I set up a blog and then had the idea of publishing the drawings and writing as a little paperback book. The Beany was born.

Is there a particular theme or message you’d like readers to take away from this book?

I hope all my writing encourages people to take small and regular creative steps and in so doing build a creative life (and perhaps even a creative career).

I hope all my writing encourages people to take small and regular creative steps and in so doing build a creative life (and perhaps even a creative career).

What kind of writing process do you have? Are you very disciplined in terms of having a set work routine and doing a lot of planning, or are you more of a pantster?  (You fly by the seat of them – Zinkologism.)

My health still dictates how much I can do. A long time ago I learnt that I needed to focus on what was most important to me if I wanted to get some things done. That can involve lots of hard choices. Each day, I try to pick one small thing to do that moves my current creative project on a little.

Do you write and draw longhand or on a computer or both? Do you believe that writing method makes a difference to style?

When I first started to draw I drew almost exclusively with pen and ink in a sketchbook. When I wanted to add colour I scanned the drawings and added colour in Photoshop.

Over the years (and as technology has changed) I’ve moved to doing most of my drawing and colouring on my iPad. Largely this is because the process is much quicker this way (I get more drawings done with my available energy!).

I’ve found revisiting my old drawings as I’ve been republishing the original Beanys that I’ve been reminded of how much I enjoyed pen and ink drawings and think I’ve like to return to making at least some drawing that way.

As for writing, I tend to do that in short bits of time when I have an idea. I often dictate notes onto my iPhone and then pull them together later and edit on my computer.

I think both my writing style and my drawing style have grown out of my need to work in short chunks of time. My drawings tend to be made in twenty minutes and colouring them usually takes the same amount of time. I tend to write short sentences and short paragraphs and try to encapsulate my ideas in as few sentences as possible.

How do you deal with autobiographical elements in your work? Do you worry about offending people or baring your soul too much?

Most of what I write and draw is autobiographical. There were times in the early days that some people close to me were uncomfortable about some of the things I revealed and I have become more circumspect as time has gone on in regard to how much I reveal about the people in my life. I tend to not worry too much about how much I reveal about myself.

What’s your editing process?

I try to keep editing to a minimum as it can turn into a major pull on my limited energy—by nature I’m a bit of a perfectionist and if I wasn’t careful I would never finish anything! Luckily I think my work has a rather wobbly style that can get away with not being perfect. I hope so anyway!

How do you deal with the Inner Critic who likes to tell us our work is worthless?

I do my best to ignore him. Sometimes it’s easier than others!

What are your feelings about the growth in self-publishing? Would you advise emerging writers to self-publish or pursue a traditional book deal?

I’m a big fan of self-publishing and would definitely recommend it as a route to take for new artists and writers. I think the reason I was approached by a publisher a couple of years ago was because I had been self-publishing my own work for a number if years. Done right it can help build a reputation and provide a reasonable income. It’s particularly useful for people whose work might not fit into what the traditional publishing industry normally is willing to take a punt on.

I hope to keep self-publishing my own work alongside traditionally published books.

If you could fly off to any era on The Book Diner Magic Time Travel Banquette, where would you go and why?

I think I’d go forwards and see what the iPhone 23 looks like.

If you could write anywhere in the world for a while, where would you head?

I have a little dream of taking a slow journey to and around North America via boat and train, drawing and writing as I go. I particularly want to take time eating breakfasts (and drawing them!) in New York and San Francisco.

Do you like cats or dogs or both? (Writers are known for being pet crazy, so let’s pander.)

Cats (though I do have a couple of close doggy friends).

What plans have you got for future projects and events?

I’m working on a new book about working in small twenty minute chunks of time, based around my daily podcast that encourages people (and me!) to do one small creative thing each day to move their creative lives on a little.

Where can people find out more about you and your work?

Is there anything else we can get you?

Thank you, a pot of boiling water to refresh this pot of tea and do you have any chocolate cake ..?

Thanks so much for joining us – please call again!