Oliver East is the author of three (very cool) train-related graphic books: Trains Are… Mint, Proper Go Well High and Berlin And That. All see him walking from one station to another following the railway. You can find the books on www.trainsaremint.co.uk as well as amazon.co.uk and most of the original artwork is for sale.
I meet Oliver to discuss his book Trains Are… Mint, amongst other things. He’s based in Manchester so I’ve taken the train up. I’m invited in and offered a drink. There’s a PUSH sign on the kitchen door. We go in. He explains that the two cabinets in the kitchen are old bunsen burner cabinets bought from the university – 100 quid for the pair. We walk out to the living room, where we will sit to talk. There’s evidence of his baby son, Hunter, in the form of books and a blanket and a large Amelie film poster sits on the table. I tell him to relax about my coming up ‘just’ to interview him. I say I love the book. It’s dry and wonderful.
“I like getting the train to London because there’s an M&S there and they sell pre-mixed G&T in cans,” he says. I laugh and thumb through artwork from the book.
“Introduce the books a little,” I say.
“Well they’re sort of a loose trilogy. Proper Go Well High was Manchester Piccadilly to Liverpool Lime Street. I walked Manchester Piccadilly to Warrington then Warrington to Liverpool Lime Street. For Trains Are… Mint I walked to Blackpool from Manchester.”
“How long did it take?” I ask.
“Trains Are… Mint took twenty-six hours over three trips. Six hours for the first leg, eight for the second. I did it years ago – five years – and self-published it in three parts. Berlin And That was Berlin’s Alexanderplatz to Frankfurt (Oder) on the Polish border. It was four to five hours walk a day for a few days. Twenty-seven hours in total to Poland.”
I look out to the garden and see a massive pear on a pear tree. I point it out. Oliver explains that he’s keeping the ones him and his wife picked in the freezer mushed up – until he can work out how to make alcohol out of them.
“Do you draw en-route?”
“No, I write in shorthand in a Moleskine as I walk along.”
“Same as this one?” I say, holding up my plain notebook.
“Yep, exactly the same. If I hear a conversation while I’m walking I try and slow down. I’ve got three full Moleskines – all writing. I don’t keep a sketchbook and whatever goes in the book is a first attempt. In Trains Are… Mint I followed the trainline. If I’m not doing that I’ll be doing something else with lines. Once you’ve decided to walk by following a self-imposed line, the decision of where to go is taken out of your hands. Then you’re free.”