Stagdale graphic novel

Lara C Cory talks to designer/illustrator Frances Castle about Stagdale, part one in her debut graphic short story series which comes with a three-track EP on flexi disc/download. Set in the summer of 1975 in the ancient village of Stagdale, the story follows newcomer Kathy as she befriends local boy Joe and they embark on a series of adventures. 

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When did you first get the idea for Stagdale, and did you always know it would take the shape of a graphic short story? About seven years ago, my agent showed some short comic strips I'd done to a children's publisher and they became interested in doing a graphic novel with me. The publisher came up with the initial idea of a boy finding a diary in his grandmother’s attic, which I took as a starting point and then pretty much changed the whole plot into roughly what Stagdale is today.

To help sell the book in the US, the publisher wanted the main character to be an American boy. I did some trial pages for them, but it never got off the ground, so I decided to carry on with it, but in a way that was interesting to me.  It went through a lot of different versions at this time, I have still got a couple of chapters which are straight text based and the main character is still a boy.

Eventually I settled with the graphic novel concept, changed the main character into a British girl and set it in the 1970s. It’s inspired in atmosphere and theme by a lot of British 1970s kid’s TV programmes like Children of the Stones, Penda’s Fen, and The Changes. These programs have a sort of eeriness to them that I wanted to try and recreate in the book.

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What gave you the idea to provide a soundtrack to your story and what’s a flexi-disk? The soundtrack idea came at the end of last year, it was something I wanted to try. I'd like to take it further if possible, the story inspired the music and it turned out to be a really intriguing way for me to work. A flexi-disc is a thin vinyl record, that is sort of flexible. Years ago, they would come pinned to magazines, I even got a free one when I got my school blouse in the first year of secondary school. There is only one place in Europe where they are still made.

You make music as The Hardy Tree, how long have you been doing that for? The first Hardy Tree album came out in 2011, and I have made two LPs and one long-form experimental cassette. I've been making music since the late 90s. I used to release very lo-fi electronic music with vocals under the name Transistor 6, then I took maybe a ten-year break until I started working on the first Hardy Tree music. It’s always very much studio based, I don't play live, I'm not really a musician so everything is pieced together in a way that can't be unravelled!

What inspires your music and design? Music wise, I listen to a lot of traditional folk and electronic music, soundtrack and library music, it changes all the time. I used to love a good lyric but as I've got older I prefer instrumental music. When I first started the label, I was looking at a lot of art from the early part of the 20th century, people like Ravilious, John Piper and John Minton, artists who bridged the fine and graphic arts world at that time. It seems to sit well with the music that I was listening to and wanted to put out.

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How long does it take to create something like this and when is the next edition of Stagdale due out? It’s hard to say, as it’s been through a lot of different stages. But once I started working on it, and I felt the story was right and I was happy with the style, a page could be as much as a week’s work. I probably got quicker as I went along. The next part is set in pre-war Germany, it’s already written but not yet drawn. Time wise, a lot depends on how I can juggle doing it with commissioned illustration and running my label.

London designer/illustrator Frances Castle founded Clay Pipe Music in 2011, releasing an eclectic range of folk and instrumental music from artists including Alasdair Roberts, Sharron Kraus, Jon Brooks and Frances’ own music under The Hardy Tree moniker. Frances designs the cover art of each limited-run release, with most first edition runs selling out within days.

Frances loves illustrating children’s books and has worked with various publishers including BBC History, Oxford University Press, Random House and Quarto Children’s books.

You can buy Part One of Stagdale at