From guitarist in seminal punk band NOTSENSIBLES, to engineer, to A&E consultant, Stephen John Hartley’s PAINTING SNAILS uses the annual cycle of his hillside allotment as a framework to chart his incredible achievements.
The story begins on his birthday – an Indian summer’s late September Saturday. In a eureka moment, he resolves to write a book from birthday to birthday.
Told with concise vernacularity and searing Northern humour, his tale recounts: his engineering apprenticeship; years spent making a living out of busking; running a DIY back room record label; playing in numerous dead-end 3-piece bands; restoring old vehicles and travelling to America.
Within this easy read, there are threads of family life and a stoic non-conformism, then, almost 100 pages in, we are thrown into the ‘Emergency’ chapter – a gripping account of Hartley and his team saving the life of a man in cardiac arrest. We learn of his unlikely late entry into medical school against almost impossible odds and his arduous progression to becoming an A&E consultant, including a courageous whistle-blowing episode.
It’s all about the DIY ethic, descended from the punk movement that he grew up in – in particular how to incorporate clean food growing into busy urban life.
The book is beautifully designed and illustrated, drawing on the author’s passion for letterpress and woodblock printing.
Always compassionate, never bitter and at times harrowingly sad, this book breaks new boundaries in 21st century literature.