On Topsy Turvy Tales: When I heard that Humpty Dumpty Publishing, the exciting new quirky kid on the literary block is releasing its first title Topsy Turvy Tales by Charlotte Boulay-Goldsmith, and Laura Hyde.  I wanted to find out more so I popped by their London studio to pick up a copy, the girls are lovely and such a refreshing and energetic addition to the sometimes stuffy book world. The girls have already picked up quite a following for their new book, with fans including philosopher Alain De Botton, Model Laura Bailey, MTV presenter Laura Whitmore, and actress Olivia Grant.  I was very excited to head home with a copy. It’s very well produced, a beautiful clothbound hardback, with a black and white painted cover, it grabs your attention, it feels like it should be signed at the bottom right, and hanging on your wall.

I take a peek inside. It’s full of careful detail, lots of drawing threading in and out of the pages, connecting four different tales each with a specific aesthetic, font, layout and imagery. The menu, credits and title pages hand painted in a loose brush, focused my interest. I liked the sound of the stories; they felt fresh, original and a work of sincerity. I settle in a comfortable old armchair, a cup of tea resting on the side table, I expect to see a spider lower itself into sight, and begin the first tale. An old-fashioned Victorian feel, with a brilliant dark edge from the start, I feel Tim Burton may have already checked the film rights. The wiry writing pulling you in and leading you down cobbled streets passed creaking signs. Cobwebs on the side of the pages. Carefully drawn ink characters pop out of the text. A surreal story emerges of a woman who is trying to make up with her rebellious and missing head. Head, fed up of its body, decides to finds itself a new one. But as it hasn’t got any legs it has to sneeze its way away. And off we go! The reader spiraling into Head’s wacky adventure, meeting talking toads and the creepily mysterious Brothers Node.

The Brothers Node…the name stuck into my head… I felt I’d seen it before. And sure enough, a couple days later, as I was cycling back to the library passing St.Charles Square, I realized why.  I noticed the dated sign above the dusty looking Victorian funeral parlor that I had so often been intrigued by.  It spelled out “The Brothers Node Funeral Parlor”. There was something amazingly eerie about the place, a sort of halfway house between the world of the tales my usual commute.  I couldn’t resist, I parked the bike by the tree, and pressed the bell, a rather sweet older lady with a strong perm and very soft looking hands peered round the lace curtain, and slowly opened the seemingly well used door. I for some reason forgot myself and totally out of character asked them if they had recently come across a lost head looking for its missing body. I caught myself, felt a little awkward and was about to apologize for my out of turn humor, when she smiled and simply said…”perhaps”…you never know what London hides. The second tale, The Girl With Liquid Eyes, is a moving tale of love and loss.  A woman’s sorrow drowning the world in unquenchable tears until even the houses and the trees become aquatic. It’s a striking and devastating tale of heartbreak and renewal. I remember my past loves and gulp warm tea for comfort. And with a deep breath I turn the page, only to come face to face with an odd looking oyster named Chester!  The writing now flowing on the page like waves, small bubbles popping around the text, we are now deep in the blue sea with a talking Oyster.

Now Chester, I discover, is a deluded Oyster; he is certain that inside his unopened shell, there is a pearl.  This belief “forbids him to open for any split may display the pearl inside him still ill-shapen”. So he lets his life pass by, afraid of loosing the treasure that may be in his shell….until….until his destiny takes an unexpected turn. The tale is an inspiration to face the world, to follow our own dreams and make our own pearls rather than holding on to a grand idea of ourselves and never facing the world.

I put the book down for a moment and let my thoughts settle in my mind, the tales although easy to follow, create a distinctly strong philosophical undertone, and, saving some thoughts for later contemplation I continue on. I have now reached the tale of the Man With The Stolen Heart. The illustrations feel more modern, but equally surreal with again a dark edge, a sort of gloomy take on modern living, the loneliness of modern life, the soul destruction of commuting and living in a concrete box like city. Set in this striking familiar setting, an epic story unravels of man looking for his runaway heart.

A man wakes up one grey day, half asleep, he gets up, checks himself in the mirror, and to his horror, discovers there is a gaping hole in his chest. His heart has disappeared. Left him behind, abandoned him. Life losing all meaning without it, he is forced on a quest to find it. An epic adventure follows, and when he finally tracks it down, he realizes his heart has eloped with another. Leaving two heartless bodies to learn how to be with one another in order to be whole again. This unusual and imaginative take on the classic love story, gives it a new sense of wonder and perspective. Interestingly, it seems that it is the very surrealism of the tale that allows it to capture the essence of falling in love as something beyond us, which sort of takes us by surprise in a way that is often hard to totally explain.

And on that note, the book comes to the ending pages, ink and watercolor fill the page, a nice reference to the more antique details of book making. I settle into the armchair and enjoy the sense of distance my mind has travelled. What a treasure, the book feels like it should be discovered in a dusty library by an adventurous spirit, who can blow off the cobwebs. To read the book feels like walking through the trap door to an imaginary world closer to our world than you might think.  Perhaps the Brother’s Node Funeral Parlor is in fact the gateway to the Land of Topsy Turvy Tales. Topsy Turvy Tales. Humpty Dumpty Publishing. By Charlotte Boulay-Goldsmith, illustrated by Laura Hyde. £12.99. Available in any good bookshop.

by Gabrielle Berlin

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