Tied to the community

Many of our authors could tell a story about the writing of their books, but Nic Compton’s is particularly touching. His new book A Knot a Day is a wonderful collection of 365 knot-based projects (from mastering a bowline to making a garden swing for the kids), and is something all of us here would have liked to have had to see us through our time at home this year.

It was just after the start of the first UK lockdown that the commission for my new book came through. It was called A Knot a Day and was intended to contain 365 knots – a knot for each day of the year – with the accent firmly on the practical and the fun. It was the perfect lockdown project, or so it seemed. And so I buried myself in my garden office and started researching 165 new knots to go with the 200 I already had. And what a wealth of interesting knots I found to go alongside the standard knot fare: there were knots for ladders, swings and zipwires; knots for bracelet, necklaces and keyrings; knots for shoelaces, ties and scarves – and a whole raft of ‘magic’ knots, which proved especially challenging.

Trouble was, although lockdown was an ideal time for researching and writing about stuff, it wasn’t so good for getting hold of materials and, eventually, the models I’d need to take the photos – for I was determined as much as possible to take the knots out of the studio and into ‘real’ life. For a start, I’d need a lot more rope than I happened to have on my various boats, but it was hard to know exactly what sort. In desperation, I posted a message on social media asking if anyone could lend me some rope. Straight away I got a reply from the local forest school teacher, saying she would lend me what turned out to be a rucksack full of climbing rope, including several different coloured lengths of paracord (thanks Lisa!). Next, a crafty friend from up the road offered me a bag full of macramé string of different colours and sizes, mostly unopened (thanks Caroline!).

For the next few weeks I had a great time, heading off to the woods with my kids to photograph various outdoorsy knots, up to Dartmoor for the climbing knots, and to Bantham Beach for kite and three-legged race knots (thanks Betty and Sol!). My son even helped with the simpler magic trick knots, and my daughter obliged by modelling some strange and unusual shoelace knots (her pink trainers were just the trick!). When all else failed, my wife stepped into help, as well as providing invaluable styling advice (thanks Anna!). But, inevitably, after a while their enthusiasm waned and I realised I need some fresh blood. By then, the lockdown restrictions had eased and we were allowed to meet in small numbers and mix with friends at a social distance.

It started off with a couple of my daughter’s friends, who had heard about the book and were keen to have their photos in there too (thanks Daisy and Esme!). And, if they were going to have their photos in the book, then their parents weren’t going to be left out either (thanks Jo and Steve!). By then, I had cleared half my office and turned it into a photographic studio. To get more an age mix, I asked my daughter’s piano teacher and her sister (who also taught my daughter the piano!) to model some of the scarves (thanks Tabitha and Matilda!). To help redress the gender balance, the waiter at the local quayside café had been furloughed and was more than happy to spend four days with me trying out different tie knots and grappling with the harder magic knots (thanks Graham!). And that’s not to mention the important task of modelling the various cat and dog accessories (thanks Mitzy and Winnie!)

Help came in other forms too. I snapped up a rustic coffee table a friend was giving away on a community group, which became the default background for most of my studio shots (thanks Kate!). And, when I tired of that, my builder lent me a stunning black slate (thanks Steve!). The village shop had stopped stocking the lighters I needed to seal the ends of rope, but luckily one of the assistants had just stopped smoking and was delighted to offload some of her leftover lighters (thanks Kirsten!). And those aren’t just any woods featured in the photos; they belong to the grandfather of one of my daughter’s friends (thanks Anthony!).

In the end, more than 20 people in the village contributed to the book in some form – a genuine and generous community effort, for which I am hugely grateful. For most, their only payment was a paracord ninja turtle figure (see page 335 of the book) and a free copy of the book. And yet, strangely, this community involvement was only made possible due to the lockdown. At any other time, most of these people would have been too busy to spend time modelling photos of knots, but as it turned out the project provided a break from the monotony of lockdown.

By the time I finished, Jo was back at work training guide dogs for the blind, Steve was back providing educational facilities at the zoo, Tabitha was back in Bristol studying dentistry, Matilda was in Cardiff studying music, Graham was at Reading doing a PhD in maritime history… Life has returned to almost-normal, and it seems unlikely that the circumstances which created the book will never happen again. For, apart from being a fun and informative book of knots, for me A Knot A Day will always be a snapshot of Lockdown 2020 and of a community that came to help.

A Knot a Day is published on 10th December, RRP £16.99. You can buy it at a special discount direct from our website here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/a-knot-a-day-9781472985163/