With its neon pink cover, complete with hand-drawn art, Laura Dockrill’s new book Mistakes In The Background is a lunchbox feast of a read, bursting with poetry, stories, illustrations and scribbles, and even a wrapping paper and sticker set.
I first saw the author as a support act under her performance moniker, Dockers MC. With the MC suffix, I was expecting a rap/grime act full of urban slanguage and rude girl glamour. I vaguely recalled some industry buzz about her (The Times picked her as one of 2008′s literary ‘ones to watch’), but really had no idea what to expect. Within minutes it became apparent I was witnessing something wonderful. An understated, respectable-looking young lady took to the stage where she delivered a veritable set of verbal art, both spitfire rapid and animated with slow motion precision, a flurry of sassy South London linguistics and old-fashioned storytelling. It felt like reading time with teacher back in primary school – everyone hushed, sitting in a circle and paying rapt, wide-eyed attention – except there was beer, and the stories were about her undying love for Rolf Harris and tales of try-hard middle class mums. No band, no loop machine, no props or light displays: just one girl with a microphone and a head full of tales to tell.
I was excited to see how her colourful performances would translate into ink and paper, and wasn’t disappointed when Wears The Trousers got a copy of the fuchsia-bound treasure. Mistakes In The Background is an absolute treat. The poetry shines with playful juvenilia, discussing everything from childhood memories and sibling feuds to croissants, robots and opinionated inanimate objects. It often runs like stream-of-consciousness prose, and is both articulate and wildly creative. The passion that has created this work is evident in every sentence and illustration. While the content is clearly Dockrill’s own, the careful doodlings (the style of which you may recognise from her assorted Kate Nash single covers) call to mind both honoured veteran Quentin Blake and modern cult favourite Lizz Lunney. The artwork, like the poetry, has a rudimentary charm with plain black ink lines creating freehand caricatures layered with cut and paste art.
The book as whole is clearly the product of a mind raised on a healthy diet of Rolf Harris and Roald Dahl, creative figures who innovated literature and art for children, and have sadly, in this MTV era, become nostalgic, half-forgotten figures for most of us. Throughout the book, Dockrill is welcoming a return to actual brain power rather then the realms of pre-packaged, readymade video games and twenty-four hour advertising that do our thinking for us. Mistakes In The Background is soundbite free and contains no clever advertising morals; it’s about pure, old-school imagination and art. Notebooks, biros and crayons or scissors and glue, it’s about celebrating the individual and creativity, enjoying worlds both microcosmic and fantastic, the everyday and the fantastic. The only message that comes with this book is the one urging you to break out your own long forgotten art box and poetry journal and get creating.
[Harper Collins; October 13, 2008]