Comprehensive - Growing up in Shropshire
21 Mar 2022

'Comprehensive' is a new project from Shrewsbury illustrator Saffron Russell and poet Lewis Wyn Davies - Together, they have created a pamphlet of thirteen poems about life in the UK from a working-class perspective. You might have seen extracts and illustrations in the windows of Raven Studios, which sponsored the project. Photographer Hazel Holloway documents their work. 

Saffron Russell is a Shrewsbury-based illustrator; she has been involved in various projects around the town. You have probably walked past many of them and smiled. You may have seen the mural in Gullet Passage, the bear sipping tea painted on a BT box on Butchers Row, or maybe you saw the illustrations and logo for Doorstep Carols? These and more are all Saffron's designs.

Lately, she has combined her talents with her partner Lewis Wyn Davies. A debut poetry pamphlet by Lewis that includes eight interior black and white illustrations and the front cover designed by Saffron, who was inspired by the poems and the feelings that came from the words. I spoke with Saffron and Lewis about this collaboration.

Lewis grew up in Telford, living and working in Shropshire. Both his parents suffer from mental health, which has had a significant impact on his life and writing: "I like to write about their circumstances and my own issues with mental health because I feel like there's so much more work to be done on tackling the problem," he said. 

Lewis also gets inspiration from his hobby, football, through nature and his travels. He moved to Shrewsbury from Telford in 2017 and quickly realised there was a difference in culture and lifestyle between the two places: "I never knew private schools even existed when I lived in Telford, as naïve as that sounds."

Lewis started writing poems during the first lockdown of the Coronavirus pandemic. Previously, he'd been trying to put his degree in Sports Journalism to use by creating his own football travel blog, but once the virus arrived and fixtures were called off, he changed his focus to writing more creatively.

He's tried to compile something that has captured his life and the lives of those he grew up with. But, not having much money, opportunities or guidance growing up, he wanted to give the stories a stage and highlight the unfairness rooted in the British class system.

Picture of Saffron Russell and Lewis Wyn Davies

Saffron is a self-taught illustrator, and having grown up in a creative family (an artist mum and garden designer dad), she always felt that she would do something creative herself. Drawing was always her favourite medium. After taking a few short courses in different areas (storyboarding and children's book illustration in London and traditional art practices in Florence), she realised that she fitted perfectly in the world of illustrating.

Saffron grew up in Church Stretton and around the Long Mynd: "I've found I'm normally drawn to depicting the opposite subject matter - bustling city life and colourful town scenes," she says. "This pamphlet was a lovely chance to draw some of the wonderful Shropshire landscapes and has really given me a desire to create more artwork based on the beautiful areas we are privileged to live near."

Lewis explains that many of the poems in this book were developed from him being in a particular place or recalling times spent in that location. Not having a lot of money, he would walk everywhere in Telford - as he says in Comprehensive: "I house a montage of memories for every curb in the town". He attaches stories to a place he knows and writes about that: "Maybe I should start doing more of that in future," he adds.

The couple applied for a bursary from Raven Studios last year to help fund the book and were very grateful to receive the same. It is now for sale on Etsy and they are promoting it further asking local libraries and bookstores to stock copies.

Lewis has always been an admirer of words. It started with lyrics. He remembers reading the lyrics of singer, songwriter Alex Turner a lot during breaks at college. He would write poems/song lyrics for his college coursework and had a couple published in anthologies. Sadly, he didn't see a career opportunity and went on to study Sports Journalism.

Lewis says, "I'm happy poetry has come back to me, though, as I find the whole art form enthralling and love how much it expresses in many aspects, such as layout, or even its title."

Before making the book, Saffron and Lewis created a video series, which helped them understand how images and text can work together. 

Both were very nervous when the final product went to the printers. Lewis checks his work continuously and constantly worries that he has missed a glaring spelling mistake or something! But when the pamphlets arrived back, he was, buzzing with excitement: "The pamphlet looked good; Saffron did an amazing job with the typeset and presentation he said.

"There are still a lot of poems on my laptop outside of these thirteen. I have an idea for another set of poems that we could self-publish again if this pamphlet does well. I'm just looking to build my standing in the poetry world and hopefully forge a career as a poet."

Comprehensive is available for £6 from Etsy - HERE