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Interviewing [Re]Start: It’s never too late to try and redefine the self-help genre


Jack Edwards

Thursday, 30 March 2023

Interviewing [Re]Start: It’s never too late to try and redefine the self-help genre


At the beginning of this month, I was lucky enough to interview the team who created [Re]Start: It’s Never Too Late, a story which was created by people from Falmouth University and University of the Arts London, that fuses the graphic novel, the self-help genre, and even a journal, in a narrative of self-discovery around seven young people and their respective lostness in the world. We began with some introductions about who was responsible for what, and I’ve included a full list of people from the team that I spoke with about the creation of [Re]Start and the goals of the project:

James Pattinson, Founder

Eddy Nicholls, Illustrator, Writer, and Creative Team Leader

Latreya Nelson, Co-Writer and Digital Creative

Julia Cockerham, Co-Writer and Co-Illustrator

Eddy mentioned that we were missing two members of the team, being Alex Copeman a Falmouth graduate, and Yabaewah Scott from London, who are both co-illustrators for the project, and while they were unfortunately unable to make it, it’s important that they are credited equally.

We discussed the initial process of how the team was formed, and what each person’s role was. James (who came up with the idea for [Re]Start) mentioned that ‘Wellness and mental health was paramount, so part of that is the illustrators used to have a daily call when they were in their full illustration mode’, with everyone bouncing ideas off of each other even though 95% of the project had been done online, due to the team’s geographical scattering, but that—as Eddy stated—it was ‘the brainchild of many different people’.

Having made these initial points, we moved onto the questions I had prepared, surrounding the themes of the book.

The Questions:

Interviewer: On this issue of lostness in young people today—I know you mention the destabilising effects of the COVID pandemic more recently as an inspiration, but, do you think that [Re]Start is a piece that is more responsive to these issues of lostness in the world today that have become more prevalent, or is it filling the void of something that needed to be there much sooner, for a sense of lostness that has been prevalent for a while now?

James: I think people feeling unsure about the future is a universal human condition. It’s a bit more pronounced for young people, especially in that 15-21 year-old zone because there’s so many important decisions to take. There isn’t anything—to our knowledge—on the market that’s similar to [Re]Start, there are lots of self-help books, there are lots of guided journals, there are guided novels, but there is only one that combines all of those, and that’s [ReStart]. Once the pandemic started to unfold, the elements of mental health, and resilience, and self-care, became that much more important.

Latreya: I think everyone feels lost. It was a book to re-assure people that it’s ok to feel lost at times. I experienced lostness so much during this process, of self-doubt, uncertainty, but the team—as well as the book—helped to reassure me that I was part of the team, and I was having my say, reassuring me that I was an equal. The book’s based pretty much where I live, and so many young adults don’t know what to do once secondary school is over, there’s the uncertainty of whether you can get a career after university, and so I just feel like this book came at the right time.

Eddy: Adding to that, having the stories be based in quite gritty, well, real situations, is stuff which most self-help books and journals can kind of gloss over.

James: We did quite a lot of [on-the-ground] research, talking to people out and about in London and Bristol, and some of it was in more structured groups where people were reviewing scripts or design, and there were four attitudes we found. There are those who are anxious and do need help, but there are also people who know exactly what they want to do, they just need to realise the ‘skills’ or ‘tricks’ on how to get there. The third attitude was people who follow the tracks they know, so if you’re mum is a doctor you would be more likely to follow this path. The book is to try and help people think creatively and explore their options outside of this. The final attitude is ‘head in the sand’, not wanting to engage, and we would hope that the story based aspect of [Re]Start would appeal to them. You don’t have to read the session bits, you don’t have to journal in it, you can read the story. The idea is designed so you can access it on many levels.

Interviewer: In combining the graphic novel, with the sort of self-help genre, and adding a journal into that, it creates something accessible but interactive. Do you think you could have achieved the same thing through a unitary form, AKA a traditional written story with maybe some pictures sprinkled in—Diary of a Wimpy Kid style—or is the multi-form necessary?

Latreya: I think we could have but it wouldn’t have the same effect. Because everyone would just see it as another self-help guide that proclaims it can actually help. I’m the kind of person that sees a self-help book and I roll my eyes. What do they know about my circumstance, or my situation, there’s no relatedness to it. Whereas with the book, you can actually see it and say ‘these characters are like me, I can relate, I’ve been in that scenario or situation, and this is how they’ve solved the problem maybe I can do the same thing’.

Eddy: Comics or graphic books have this way of telling the story, and we encase everything in that, the recap pages of the sessions are set within the world of the narrative and each character has their own recap sheet. The graphic novel format means it’s easy to read for people… it’s a very accessible way of telling a story, giving the advice through the narrative and the characters keeps it interesting, providing practical tests within their worlds. Having them merge together is the whole kind of key of the book, which is hopefully what makes it so impactful and accessible.

Interviewer: How did you get inspirations for your characters? Were they based on people you met in real life, or more problems, issues, and conceptions about young people today?

Julia: James made character profiles for all of us to look through, and then we took the base elements of them and changed things we didn’t think quite worked. It was a constant development as more people were involved with the project, because we’d all add things from our personal lives and situations that we’d been in and dealt with to make it more realistic.

Latreya: We wanted to make the characters as relatable as possible.

Eddy: So that meant making them real… Taking things from friends and family and ourselves… they needed to come from personal experience, and that’s why there’s like 70+ people on the credits… we didn’t want any of it to be assumption or caricature or stereotypes, we wanted it to try and make it all authentic.

Interviewer: What I appreciate about the book is that it teaches lessons through practical, everyday situations, and doesn’t just deal with in the sort of abstracted moral messaging that is so prevalent nowadays in self-help books. Some of the biggest themes [the book] tackles are loneliness, family expectations, and harmful environments, and one of the elements in [ReStart] that covers all these themes is the presence of social media, which appears in Tash’s story. Of course, she ends up deleting it, but I was wondering if you think this is the answer to the perceived social media problem, and what you and your team’s take is on social media as it stands today?

Julia: I personally don’t like social media too much. I think it can be a very toxic environment, especially when it comes to body image which I think is one of the key things in Tash’s storyline. I think having her try a period of time where she doesn’t have any interaction with that environment is ultimately going to be a good break for her.

Eddy: It’s like everything, social media is kind of like a tool and it is a way to express yourself, and there’s positives to it. But as with each person’s interactions with say alcohol, or food, everything varies. In the story, it’s the right move for her to make at that time, but everyone’s relationship with social media is different. I think on the whole there is a lot of negatives that people aren’t aware of, or aren’t acknowledged as much because it is new… There is a lot of benefits which are seen, but it is very damaging on the whole, while it also does these good things. It’s a very nuanced issue, but on the whole, a lot of the negatives don’t get the attention they deserve, which is why in the story I think that’s where we’re more focused… Bringing attention to some of the negatives through Tash’s narrative I think was the more important angle to play, and deleting it was certainly the answer for her.

Interviewer: Everybody has their own answers to these things, and that is sort of a theme to the story as well is that like, there’s not one way through. Everybody has their own journeys to make based on their own environments.

Eddy: Exactly, every issue is individual to each person. It links to James’s concept of holistic growth, the book isn’t to say ‘this is the answer’, it’s to get people to look into themselves; it’s a little bit like therapy, trying to get people to discover the answer for themselves.

Interviewer: What was the most difficult part of the process in creating this novel? Whether this was writing, illustration, the managing of multiple genres, or the balancing of the seven character’s stories, what was the most challenging in creating [ReStart]?

Eddy: From the get-go of the project.. the vision was understood from everyone coming on. There wasn’t really every much disagreement because we all shared a vision of what the book was going to do, so creative decisions were always made with that in mind. One of the challenges we were aware of early on, was that we have four different illustrators, multiple different writers, how do we make the most of each person’s unique creative voice while keeping the project coherent?

James: The challenge was, for me, it’s really hard sometimes to get the pacing right. Everyone’s working in their own zone, in different parts of the country, different things are going for everyone in their own lives, and so there’s this kind of project flow, and then there’s everyone’s individual life flows, and it’s trying to synchronise everything and make sure that as a team we are not under too much pressure.

Interviewer: It might be too early to say, but following a project like this, which strikes me as a very big comprehensive ordeal, what other ventures would you and your team be considering for future projects, whether this is another book, or branching out into other forms of media or endeavours?

Latreya: A feature film.

Laughter from everyone

Julia: I think another book as well would be absolutely ideal. I want to finish where these characters are going, because the book finishes—not on a cliff-hanger—but you don’t finish their story, there’s so much more to pick up.

Latreya: So many people ask me, ‘oh so what’s next for Tash or Sophie’ and I’m like, ‘You’ll just have to wait and see’.

Eddy: I think part of James’s vision is that this is the start. They’re all starting their journeys. The book isn’t going to solve everyone’s problems, it doesn’t address every single issue in the world, how could it? There’s so many different people out there and it’s only a 300 page book. There’s so many different things for us to explore in terms of the character’s narratives, but also what advice can be shared, and how to overcome different issues… but then, obviously, a massive feature-film franchise.

Interviewer: If I may add, the fact that it doesn’t just end, it’s also about the reader’s journey along with the book. When they finish the book, their life doesn’t just end, it’s about continuing on beyond that.

Eddy: Exactly.

Interviewer: But yes, the feature film, best of luck with that.


On this light-hearted note, we closed out the interview after a very interesting discussion about this new and strikingly distinctive entry into the self-help genre, that elevates itself through its combined medium of the graphic novel and journal. Rather than merely re-treading the already very well-stomped ground of the young adult novel, or throwing another addition onto the trite pile of self-help books that have become so prevalent nowadays, [ReStart] holds a mirror to the reader who may be lost in their own lives, as through its form, it visualises these issues, and provides practical solutions in an easily accessible narrative.

Should you wish to know more information about the book or the team behind it, or support their projects, here is a link to their Indiegogo where the work gathered support, and also to James’s site ‘The Strategy Shop‘ which provides more information about the book, and includes a link where you can purchase it.

It was a pleasure to interview the team, in what was one of my first ever interviews, and I wish them the best with their future projects, and the success of [ReStart], a book which aims to guide young people towards fulfilling lives, and has indeed, ‘came at the right time’.

Interview and Review conducted by Jack Edwards

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