Issue 1: Don't Fret and Carry On.

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink | As the world doesn’t allow people to read every waking second of the day (boo, hiss), we can thank God that podcasts exist. For any topic, you’ll find someone chatting about it for your listening pleasure. Driven by the submissions 404 received, we wanted to introduce you to one of our favourites.

Don’t Fret Club is a not-for-profit podcast aiming to raise mental health awareness in young people through harnessing the music community, hosted by music journalist Jessica Bridgeman. Music and mental health have often been unusual bedfellows, with one being a support system to many for battling the other, and the chats on this podcast break through the surface of typical band interviews to explore the meaning and people behind the music on a more intimate level, with the taboo of sharing mental health experiences thrown out the window.

So, why use music to have these conversations? “Music has always been directly linked to my mental state, and everyone I’ve spoken to via Don’t Fret Club has similar stories of using their favourite bands as a sort of safe self-medication,” explains Jessica. “Anyone who has suffered mental illness can paint a pretty dark picture of their lowest moments. Even on the days when you can’t physically lift yourself from your bed, you will find the strength to play music – at least that’s a story that’s familiar to me. On those days when you feel helpless and alone, music is the thing you let in. It took me a few years to find the courage to launch Don’t Fret Club from having the idea, but now it feels as though it was part of my own recovery process.”

Music’s importance goes a long way, especially when the internet goes so far in the other direction of hiding the topic – it drowns people in endless information. “The awareness I gained throughout my school years actually focused on depression as an extreme and failed to highlight just how many of us it effects. When I was looking for advice or doing research online, I’d usually end up feeling lost in medical references and symptom checklists, leading me back to music as an escape and calming mechanism. For me, the soundtrack I’d created became as vital as the doctor’s help itself.”

And so the podcast does the same as music: it murmurs in the background, but can be there when support is needed. “Sometimes it’s tough to concentrate on anything when you’re feeling low, and hearing a friendly voice can make the world of difference,” says Jessica. “I want Don’t Fret Club to be that familiar friend to people. As a music journalist by trade, I totally advocate the importance of writing – be it something to publish publicly or keep private – and reading interviews with bands has always been huge in helping me relate to them as a fan. But there’s nothing quite like hearing the bands talk about the songs you’ve invested so much of yourself in. It can be tough at times as talking about such personal topics takes us out of our comfort zone and is a strain on emotions. For me though, that’s the whole point of Don’t Fret Club. We want to break the stigma and encourage people to talk, so a podcast felt like the natural way to actually get the conversation started.”
 

Escapism has always been an obvious reason as to why music matters so much to so many, but the podcast has been discovering many more. “There’s an entire lethargic nature to producing music that I’d not considered before,” she notes. “You’ll hear in our episodes with Black Foxxes and Kamikaze Girls, for example, that the process of creating music that feeds off their feelings and frustrations over mental illness has helped them to deal with their demons. Music helps those making it not to dwell on the problems, but instead confront them in a space where they feel most comfortable. “In our very first episode with Tonight Alive’s Jenna McDougall, she shares great insight on how instrumental music helps her to deal with the strain of tour life, something that was also reflected in our more recent episode with Heather Perkins of Slowcoaches. Don’t Fret Club has definitely allowed me to understand how music helps bands as much as it helps fans, which is an amazing thing.”

The response from listeners and bands alike has been great, and the Don’t Fret Club has recently branched out to have an accompanying blog where anyone can tell their story, and they’re doing so with a stark honesty.

“The podcast is the conversation starter, if you like, whereas the blog is the beating heart of discussion and advice. It’s amazing to see the feedback from those who have contributed so far – it’s a real process to pour yourself into a blog post, no matter how small, and to see others react to it in a supportive way can really help on both sides.”
 

Don’t Fret Club is a conversation started by music, and it’s one that’s just getting going. What has Jessica learned since the podcast’s launch? “That it’s okay to face your fears head on. Part of my anxiety triggers have always been linked to dealing with the perception of others, so putting myself on a platform is always a challenge. To do it and have the support of people I look up to is even better. It’s also taught me that it’s okay to have good days and bad, but you aren’t alone when things get rubbish and there are people out there who understand on some level. I’m still learning though, and Don’t Fret Club has become a brilliant base to meet like-minded people.”

Go listen to and check out Don’t Fret Club at dontfret.club, and @DontFretClub. Then put on your favourite albums, play them really loud, and have a great time.

A DON’T FRET CLUB PLAYLIST
A lot of bands have played key roles in the creation of Don’t Fret Club and these are just a handful of the latest tracks that will undoubtedly help to shape its future.

Boston Manor – Laika
Happy Accidents – Leaving Parties Early
Kamikaze Girls – Ladyfuzz
With Confidence – We’ll Be Okay
Creeper – Suzanne
The Hard Aches – I Freak Out
The Menzingers – Bad Catholics
Camp Cope – Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Beams
Every Time I Die – Glitches
Black Foxxes – I’m Not Well

Issue 1: Join the Club: Sad Ghosts and Happy Minds

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink | In the fog of ill mental health, those little things that make you feel that little bit lighter become vital, even if it’s just a little cartoon ghost with a few encouraging words.

The Sad Ghost Club is the creative project from Lize Meddings and Laura Cox, raising mental health awareness through comics, apparel and more. Through comics about simple thoughts and feelings, and workshops relating to creativity and the positive effect it can have on mental health, the Sad Ghost Club is a collective of increasing importance and popularity.

Five zines in, the Sad Ghost Club is simple but says a lot. “We like making comics because the mixture of artwork and text really help solidify the messages we’re trying to send,” says Lize. “Sometimes the words are vague, or simple, but with the artwork it’s clear what we’re trying to explain. It also helps spread the message – it’s easier to share a comic that’s perhaps a bit bleak but has a cute ghost in, than just the message itself. Especially for those using our comics to explain to friends and loved one how they’re feeling.”

“I’m an illustrator and have always enjoyed putting how I feel into what I’m making,” she continues. “The narrative and story-telling has always been a big part of my work. I liked that I could tell a more in-depth story with a comic, and go into more detail with what I was trying to explain, and still have it be only one image/page. It also worked really well with social media, which I think helped me realise I should definitely make more!”

Their sad ghosts have spoken volumes for people, expressing seemingly inexpressible feelings, or offering some well-needed encouragement. “I think people like knowing that others
feel the same as them,” says Lize. “We get a lot of really positive messages on our social media and it’s just really heart warming. It can be a bit surreal sometimes, and some of the messages have been so nice and kind they’ve made us well up. People love the little ghost, which is just amazing.”

Beyond their own creations, they work with organisations and charities to expand their support. “We’re currently running a weekly workshop with Bristol-based charity Off The Record who provide free support to young people aged 11-25,” she explains. “The workshop is called Sketchbook Club and it’s a weekly meet up where we just sketchbook, and the response has been great! We’ve done a lot of other stuff with OTR and they’ve really helped us make sure our message comes across the way we intend it. We even got to paint a ghost in one of their counselling rooms (personal high point!).

“Sketchbook Club is what it sounds like: sketchbooking. We give a weekly theme and a whole heap of different materials and there’s no pressure. It’s a really supportive environment which is so nice. Everyone has differing skill levels in terms of art but the work everyone makes is always so creative and wonderful!

“We also just finished a monthly workshop series Mind Over Matter which was tailored
around creativity exploring mental health. Every month we’d make something new; positive postcards, felt flags to hang up on walls, or painted plant pots. We’ve got some new ones planned for 2017 but we’re not totally set on what they’ll be yet!”
 


The future of the Sad Ghost Club? Their little spectre will continue striving for mental health awareness and support. “Our main hope is to remove the stigma surrounding mental health, and make people feel like they can talk about it,” says Lize. “Our comics get shared around a
lot online and we like to think that’s helping start conversations that maybe wouldn’t have taken place before. As our following grows we see a lot more people speaking up about their own journey, which is just magical, and what we always wanted to happen. Sometimes it’s in the comments on images we’ve posted, people providing support and comfort to those going through similar things as them, as well as insight and advice.

“We hope people feel like they’ve got someone in their corner, like if they’re wearing a ‘still sad’ shirt it maybe makes it a bit easier to talk about their own mental health. They know that there’s this community that does understand, and do appreciate how hard it can be to talk about.”

Next, it’s about expanding the workshops, and perhaps finding ways to start branching out into new cities beyond Bristol, or even offering them online. Join the club, and remember, “The Sad Ghost Club will always be here for you.”

From The Sad Ghost Club:
We always want to be as inclusive as possible, so if there’s anything you’re going through that
you feel we haven’t tackled, please email us (thesadghostclub@gmail.com) so we can get talking about it. Chances are someone else is waiting for us to discuss it too!
thesadghostclub.com @thesadghostclub

Issue 1: Wilko Johnson: The Man With No Plan

Taken from Issue 1 of 404 Ink |Wilko Johnson has never been a man with a plan. His whole approach to life has been to just see where things took him, and roll with it. We’ve all probably tried it once in a while, but few of us have ended up travelling the world in bands, or starred in things like that little known TV show, Game of Thrones, just by rolling with the times.

From the humble beginnings in his home of Canvey Island, Wilko and the inimitable Lee Brilleaux and John B. Sparks formed Dr. Feelgood and became a staple of the pub rock scene in London through the 1970s. With belters ‘She Does It Right’ and ‘Roxette’ in their repertoire, it was all going well until tensions arose, and Wilko left, or was booted out, depending on who you ask. He neverwent back to the drawing board, instead going full steam ahead: he played with a few more bands, including The Blockheads with Ian Dury, but it was The Wilko Johnson Band that stuck, and kept him travelling the world with his guitar in tow for the last several decades.

Each twist has been an unexpected adventure for Wilko, and that’s why, come January 2013, when he was told that he had terminal pancreatic cancer and just ten months to live, he embraced the news in a way that fit with his past seven decades. Today is, quite obviously, more than ten months later than when the news was broken, and now Wilko has written a book – Don’t You Leave Me Here – that takes you through his childhood, life spent with wife Irene, the iconic rise and fall of Dr Feelgood, and that last year of his life… but a few years on.

“I hadn’t written a book before. I didn’t have any method, so I just launched into it haphazardly. Started thinking ‘Ayyy, man, I’m a writer!’, you know?” laughs Wilko. “I’d open the ol’ laptop, tap away pretty good. I found after I got into it, I started getting into some sad stuff, like when my wife died, and aw, man…

“Normally when we remember things, look back on them, we remember them in bits and pieces, we just remember one scene or one day or event or something like that. When you need to write a book, of course you’ve got to remember whole periods in a sequence, and you get to the sad bits and, aw, man, it all comes back on me as if it was yesterday. Oh dear, I was so upset and I couldn’t write. I just opened the laptop and I’m just sitting there crying there and upset like a complete wimp.

“Anyway, I kind of pull myself together and carried on. What the result was – whether it’s good or bad – I do not know.”

“I’VE LIVED MY WHOLE LIFE DRIFTING INTO THINGS ACCIDENTALLY.”

The book is indeed a good result and one that takes you down the streets of Canvey Island, around the pubs of London, the stages and studios of the world. With a life so full of stories to tell, it’s unsurprising that as he revisited his life, many stories that were long lost in the back of his memory started coming to life.

When Dr. Feelgood split up, Wilko didn’t look back and instead focused on what music would come next. In fact, when he came to write the book, the band were a mere blip on the radar originally. “When that happened all those years ago I remember, at the time, it was a blow to me,” he admits, “but I resolved to walk away from it and never look badly on it. I just wanted to remember Dr. Feelgood as a great thing and I’ve never in my mind or otherwise indulged in recriminations or anything. So, I just kind of skimmed over it. I just said, ‘Well, we had an argument and broke up.’

“Lemmy [Kilmister, Motörhead] told me that his theory was speed freaks and drunks could never get on well together and that’s what I said. The publishers said, ‘You can’t just say that! You’ve got to explain a bit more.’

“I tried to remember what happened at that moment in time and as I remembered more and more, I thought, those bastards! They did me wrong! They lied about me and they blamed me for that break up and it wasn’t me, man, it was them. And I got quite angry – I thought blimey, man, I was right and they were wrong. They did me wrong and I wasn’t to blame for Dr. Feelgood breaking up, it was them. Right? And, well, that’s it. I really, really never looked on it or relived it or anything up until that moment actually trying to write about it.”

Many stories like that appear in his autobiography that he admits he didn’t really think too much about at the time, instead too busy just rocking and rolling wherever the music took him.

“I’ve lived my whole life drifting into things accidentally,” he reflects. “I’ve never had ambitions or aims, I just let things happen, and Dr. Feelgood was no different. I loved that rhythm and blues music and I just wanted to play, and that’s what we did, without any kind of ambition. I just got swept along with it. When we started that band, as I say, it was just the sheer pleasure of playing music – I didn’t realise that was going to be my life.

“I always thought that Dr. Feelgood was going to be my band, you know? I was never going to go on and do anything else,” he notes, considering whether there was even an alternative to music once he’d had that first taste. “It’s a pretty good life! It’s a very good life. I just wanted to continue and so I did, as ever, keep drifting along and drifting along and that’s how my career has been – consisting of ups and downs. Now I’m an old man and I look back and think, ‘Yeah, that was a pretty good thing to do.’ And I’ll probably be doing it until I drop.”
 

“WELL, THIS IS ANOTHER ADVENTURE.”

Wilko means it. When he was living what doctors had deemed his last year on Earth, he didn’t seek out a cure or waste a second trying to buy more time. He lived exactly as he wanted to.

“That year was one of the most extraordinary years of my life, actually,” he beams, adding “when I was dying of cancer. I think everybody must imagine to themselves sometimes, well, what would I feel if one day the doctor said to me I’m gonna die? We imagine all sorts of things.

“When that happened to me, I was sitting there looking across the desk at the doctor and he’s saying those words to me: ‘You’ve got cancer.’ And I was absolutely calm, not a tremor. I said ‘Okay.’

“They told me that they thought I had just a few months to live, and I thought, ‘Well this is another adventure,’” he laughs. “What can you do? Start screaming and crying and fall on the floor? No. You think – wow. This is another one. Walking out of the hospital – it was a beautiful winter’s day, looking up at the trees against the sky – aw, man, it looked so beautiful and suddenly I felt this rush. I felt ecstatic. Man, I’m alive. I’m alive! It was just so intense, and I just hadn’t felt like that for years. You’re looking around and thinking how beautiful everything looks – oh wow! – and so the year went on.

“As I say, it was the most extraordinary year. Lots of strange things happened. At the end of that year, when the time had come that they reckoned I was going to die at ten months and I was already into my eleventh – Roger Daltrey [of The Who] popped up and said let’s make an album together,” chuckles Wilko. “I’m thinking maaan, ain’t life weird? Here I am, my life is ending, and I can’t complain, I’ve just had a fantastic life and here I am ending up making an album with Roger Daltrey.

“When we were making that album I didn’t think I was going to live to see it released. In fact, I did live to see it released, and it was the most successful album I’ve ever done. It got a Gold Disc. I remember thinking, this is crazy man – I’ve got a bestselling album, a Gold Disc, and now I’m gonna die.

“But NO! There was another surprise in store.”

“I SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN MY GRAVE TWO YEARS AGO.”

The surprise was a fated meeting with Charlie Chan, a surgeon who also did music photography – he recommended Wilko get a second opinion and so he came to meet Emmanuel Huguet, the surgeon who would save his life. “These doctors found me and told me they thought they could cure me,” he says simply. “And they did. And that was weird upon weird. It was always strange."

While facing death, he was euphoric, full of life by his own account. He’s a couple of years into a future he didn’t think he’d have, and still finds it odd to reconcile this latest twist in his adventure. “Today, I’m looking out my window. It’s a beautiful day here and, again, looking at the trees against the sky.” He bursts out laughing – again. It’s hard not to be swept along in his positivity. “When I got the cancer diagnosis, what did I do? I thought, well: I’ve got ten months left to live, I just want to enjoy it, make the most of these ten months. I didn’t go looking for second opinions or miracle cures, I thought I’m going to go ahead, carry on playing.

“This tumour was growing the whole time. It got so big it looked liked I was pregnant. This tumour was the size of a melon in my stomach. I used to stand on the stage and my guitar used to rock on this tumour. You could never get away from it.

“This whole thing started, me sitting across a table from a doctor and the doctor telling me, ‘You’re going to die.’ A year later I’m sitting again across the table from a doctor and the doctor is telling me he thinks he can cure me. I’ve spent more than a year convinced I’m dying and there’s nothing that can be done and then there was this man, this supernatural guy, telling me that he thought they could do it. And so they did.

“Man, it knocks it out of you. They opened me up and took half of my gut away and as well as this tumour that weighed three and a quarter kilos. They took that out of me, they took away my pancreas and my spleen, they took away half of my stomach, and stitched me up, and then I’m lying on my back weak as a kitten for months recovering in the hospital and at home.

“And here I am.

“It’s weird to say – here I am! If I try and talk about it now, I think here I am, looking out the window at them trees, talking to somebody about it and then thinking ‘Man, I should’ve been in my grave two years ago,’ and that’s very, very hard to comprehend. Here I am.”

Wilko may never have been a man with a plan, but here he is on the latest stop of one hell of an adventure.

Don’t You Leave Me Here by Wilko Johnson is out now. Published by Little, Brown, £18.99.

Issue 1: Forget the Man of Steel, Here are the Girls of Steel

Taken from Issue 1 | When working on the theme of error, it’s easy to focus on the negative: the mishaps, mistakes and glitches of everything from the personal space of the mind to the vastness of the universe. But we thought we’d take some of the topics offered through error, and showcase something a little more positive.

Take, for example, robots. The mechanical fiction of this issue deals with them operating not-so-well, shall we say, but in America, robotics clubs are being used as a key way of getting young girls interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Girls of Steel, an all-girls high school robotics team, is one such example.

“This programme is designed to empower and inspire girls,” explains mentor Terry Richards. “The girls are the leaders, the designers, the builders, the programmers, the media specialists, the electronics experts – girls are in every role.”

Girls of Steel, based in Pittsburgh and sponsored by the Field Robotics Centre at Carnegie Mellon University, brings together dozens of students from many schools, and is part of a larger organisation, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology). Each year, FIRST presents a new challenge, and teams have six weeks to work together and build a robot. “After the six weeks there are competitions, which are basically like giant sporting events, just with 120-pound robots,” explains one student, Lauren Scheller-Wolf.

“There are many skills and opportunities that the team get to tackle,” continues Terry. “The girls learn a wide range of technical and business skills such as computer aided design (CAD), how to give presentations at conferences and outreach events, how to run social media, team leadership, electronics, programming, machining, mentoring at summer camps, and more. In addition they have unique opportunities such as meeting astronaut Cady Coleman via teleconference while she was on the International Space Station and again when she visited Pittsburgh, meeting former US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, meeting former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meeting producers from Disney and inspiring the female characters in Big Hero 6, and more.”

The opportunities and skills gained are incredible for young girls, but they’re also teaching on a more personal level through the teamwork. “The obvious skills are technical, of course, but just as importantly, we are helping the girls find the confidence in themselves to lead, to choose their own path, and even to fail, get back up and try again,” explains Thomas Pope, another mentor. “Being able to operate a milling machine, weld aluminium, or program a robot are all skills that may or may not be useful as they go off to college, but knowing that they can do those things, that they can do anything they set their minds to doing … that I believe is the true value of the programme.”

Girls of Steel

It’s a sentiment shared by the students. On top of finding a confidence in several skillsets and team activities, it’s helped broaden their potential career interests.

“When I began on the team I actually had no interest in STEM,” says Langley Turcsanyi, a 10th grade student. “Being on the team not only gave me teamwork and leadership skills but also gave me more appreciation for the STEM field. Now looking at the news I see countless articles describing the newest and best inventions (including autonomous vehicles, etc) and I find it pretty amazing that a person came up with the incredible idea and then had the motivation to actually create it. There really is not any other field quite like STEM.

“Getting girls into the STEM world at a young age serves as a catalyst for their future. They realise that it is something that they can achieve and it gives them the motivation to do so.” This inspiration is teamed with a shift in cultural dialogue. Though there are still disparities in the number of females entering certain fields, the leaps in the last few years are clear, and teams like this are making a strong impact at possibly the most key age.

“For many years there was a stigma that girls couldn’t do STEM,” notes Lauren. “That they had to do the humanities and leave the hard sciences to the boys. This sprang from centuries of sexism; from ideas that girls were too delicate to do many things, that it would affect their ability to have children, that their minds just couldn’t handle the strain. In a lot of ways this stigma is still around.

“Studies have shown that when girls and boys are little they like STEM in equal numbers, but once girls reach middle school the number of girls who say they’re interested in STEM starts to decline sharply. I think a lot of the reason for this is that society tells girls in a million different ways (often unintentionally) that STEM isn’t for them and that they’re some sort of freak if they want to be a scientist or an engineer."

The need for role models comes up repeatedly from mentors and students alike. “I think there have been struggles with females focusing on their interests in STEM because of a lack of role models,” notes Terry, pointing to the documentary Miss Representation, and Marian Wright Edelman’s quote: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

But thanks to teams like theirs, young girls can see many examples of women across these fields, and get hands on experience in the process. On top of showcasing women in STEM to look up to, the team also makes the teens themselves role models to even younger girls, bridging the gap between being able to just showcase those far into their career, to also showing schoolgirls their peers doing wonderful things in tech.

Student Anne Kailin Northam explains,“Girls of Steel was formed with the goal of convincing every girl in the world that she can be part of a STEM field. Because of the stigma around girls in STEM and the fact that it is a male dominated field, girls are often discouraged even if they are interested. Our goal as a team is to exemplify female success to young girls and show them they can do anything.”

Robotics is being used as a gateway to many things – career prospects, skills, teamwork, new friends – but most importantly, in the case of Girls of Steel, it’s teaching a generation of young girls that limits do not exist and they can do anything, and what’s more incredible than that?

 You can find out more about Girls of Steel at girlsofsteelrobotics.com, or on Twitter: @TheGirlsOfSteel

Issue 1: Books of 2016.

2016 was one hell of a year. One silver lining to the rather chaotic past twelve months is that there's been plenty of excellent reading to be had. Here are our picks of the year, originally published in Issue 1: Error.

FICTION

THE COMET SEEKERS by Helen Sedgwick (Harvill Secker)
A lifetime feels a long time, but it’s barely a blink of an eye to a comet. Sedgwick encompasses a thousand years in a few hundred pages in a story where the sky is home, adventure, family and a new start.

FEN by Daisy Johnson (Jonathan Cape)
Fen is on one hand quite normal – couples, sex, pubs and marriage frame this short story collection. But within that Johnson weaves tales of magic and darkness and draws you in hook, line and sinker.

HIS BLOODY PROJECT by Graeme Macrae Burnet (Contraband)
It may have snuck out in 2015, but this book made a splash in 2016 by being the surprise guest on the Man Booker shortlist. A brutal triple murder in a remote crofting community in 1869 leads to the arrest of a young man. We know he’s guilty – we just need to know why.

THE GIRLS by Emma Cline (Chatto & Windus)
Based on the cult of young women that surrounded Charles Manson, The Girls takes a well known story and pushes the horror to the background. All the gruesome details are just an added detail to a book with the girls at the heart.

THE BRILLIANT & FOREVER by Kevin MacNeil (Polygon)
A book where you follow three best friends, where one is an alpaca, is always one to recommend. The annual Brilliant & Forever festival leaves participants facing either glory or infamy. Thirteen performers have a story to tell – who will be chosen?

books banner2.png

NON-FICTION

THE GOOD IMMIGRANT edited by Nikesh Shukla (Unbound)
The Good Immigrant is the most important book of 2016. It’s as simple as that. Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, it explores what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you.

WHERE AM I NOW? by Mara Wilson (Penguin Books)
You may recognise Mara as Matilda, or the cute little girl in Mrs Doubtfire. But she disappeared from the public eye for many years, and in this collection of essays she travels through her personal life, not being “cute” enough to keep making it in Hollywood, and her shift from childhood fame to more comfortable obscurity. Witty and candid (which is no surprise if you follow her on Twitter), it’s a great collection.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN by Born To Run (Simon and Schuster)
The Boss brings the honesty, humour and originality of his songs to the pages that detail his life. From growing up in New Jersey to performing at 2009’s Super Bowl halftime show, it’s a life you want to read about, from the man himself.

THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS by Neil Gaiman (Headline)
From speeches to pieces on his friends and peers, career advice to his work in comics and memory of his first Batman, Neil Gaiman leaves no stone unturned in his fascinating non-fiction collection including decades of writing about... well, pretty much everything.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

THE MIGHTY WOMEN OF SCIENCE by Clare Forrest, Fiona Gordon (BHP Comics)
From A for Astronaut (Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space) to Z for Zoologist (the award winning Biruté Gladikas), The Mighty Women of Science A-Z is a vibrant crash course in vital women in science that history seems to have forgotten over time, bursting with colour and time-travelling adventures. Jump in a time machine and be fascinated.

ALPHA by Bessora, Barroux (Barrington Stoke)
Translated from French, this follows Alpha as he sets off from his home in Côte d’Ivoire for Paris, hoping to find his family, and a new place to call home. This graphic novel is emblematic of the refugee crisis the world currently faces – he’s one of millions on the move, frustrated, endangered and exploited on a journey that spans years. An important and timely read that illuminates the plight of thousands, millions, who are just seeking a better life.

THE TROUBLE WITH WOMEN by Jacky Fleming (Square Peg)
The Trouble With Women does for girls what 1066 and All That did for boys: it reminds us of what we were taught about women in history lessons at school, which is to say, not a lot.” On top of learning about great women who were missed off the school curriculum, it’s loaded with spoonfuls upon spoonfuls of wit and sarcasm. You’ll learn a lot and you’ll laugh a lot.

Those are just a handful of our picks. Let us know what goodies you've read this year below, or over on Twitter.