Graphic Novelist Oscar Zarate pays Passionate Tribute to Hampstead Heath

Once upon a time, Britain was covered almost entirely in forest. The population lived in constant contact with nature, where there were wild spaces in which the imagination could run free and mythology emanated from the sheer age of the land.

Nowadays, for Londoners, most of this link has been lost, except for one huge anomaly.

Photo by Tony Hall
Photo by Tony Hall

“In a city like this, to have a space like this, it’s close to a miracle,” says graphic novelist Oscar Zarate, who is just one of a multitude of us who are in love with Hampstead Heath.

“It offers the possibility of being connected. If you lean against one of those trees, you feel something – it’s 500 years of life there. It’s a pure gut response to this place.”

This is the fervour and romanticism which colours his new graphic novel – The Park. It tells the stories of four characters whose lives intersect as a result of their common connection to what might be considered the central protagonist, the Heath.

Interplay between characters and the vibrant natural world

The seeds of the book grew out of a conversation Zarate overheard on the Heath, in which a man was being very disagreeable. “There was an incredible clash between the physical environment and what this human was saying.”

Zarate creates an interplay between his characters and that vibrant natural world, sometimes using a frame to zoom in for a bug’s eye view of the battles raging beneath the grass blades, or to soar above with the birds.


Previously he has worked with graphic novelist superstar Alan Moore on the book A Small Killing, but now in this – Zarate’s first solo project – his expert hand has both written and drawn this jubilant homage to the Heath.

Much of the pleasure of The Park comes from any true Heath-lover recognising the geographical accuracy of the routes that the characters take, including one’s favourite locations – be it Kite Hill, Bird Bridge or more secluded spots that only an expert eye will recognise by the curve of a footpath or the shape of a fallen tree trunk.

Here is a video in which the graphic novelist lets us have a sneak peek at the book and his working methods:

Originally published by The Ham & High.


Preview: Marilynne Robinson, The Southbank Centre

The new novel from literary great Marilynne Robinson, Lila, has collected critical acclaim and will form the theme of an insightful literary lecture.

If you haven’t read Marilynne Robinson already, please do. It only takes a short while to read her entire oeuvre, but her richly beautiful prose is powerfully affective. She first turned heads with her novel Housekeeping in 1981, and was immediately considered a literary great, though she did not publish another novel for 20 years. Since then she has become a Pulitzer and Orange prize winner. Now she comes to talk at the Southbank Centre after the upcoming publication of her fourth novel Lila in October.

Robinson also writes non-fiction and is known for arguing that positivism – the Dawkins style worldview that the means to truth is only through the scientific – is highly reductive of humanity and does not leave any space for all the other kinds of spiritual truths that can’t be proved in a laboratory.

Her writing reflects this: by weaving past and present together through precise and sensory detail, she imbues every moment with metaphorical significance, which takes on a quality of thenuminous. These many layered novels contain volumes more than their small page counts.

Robinson is an intensely deep thinker, and is also a wonderful speaker. Expect to be touched by her graciousness and purity of heart.

Originally published by Culture Whisper.

Book preview: Taken back to a time long past by old pictures

Viewers imbued with a sense of responsibility to safeguard Highgate’s Victorian heritage.

Picture your neighbourhood as it was 150 years ago. Many of the buildings might remain unchanged, but transposed onto your regular hangouts would be scenes of Victorian London. Residents of Highgate can now enjoy seeing their well-loved streets playing out an alternative reality in Michael Hammerson’s book Highgate: From Old Photographs.

One photograph shows a flock of sheep being herded down the otherwise familiar North Road. “It was one of the main droving roads to bring cattle from the north down to the London meat markets,” says Hammerson. There are some rather curious discrepancies.

“That letterbox is still there, but it’s on the other side of the road,” he remarks of a photo of North Hill.

Hamerson, former chairman of the Highgate Society, has lived there for 40 years and, for him, the book helps the case for the preservation of Highgate, which until relatively recently was an isolated village, as is shown in the book by photographs of surrounding countryside at the turn of the last century.

“It really emphasises the enormous pressure it’s under at the moment from what, in many cases, is very bad development and planning laws to protect it being weakened by ill-considered new legislation almost every week.”

Lost gems include what is supposed to be Andrew Marvell’s home, seen in an extremely rare colour photograph dates 1867. Only one other image of it exists, in the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution.

A photograph of the famous Swearing on the Horns ritual is included, “the main privilege being,” says Hammerson, “that once you’re sworn in as a Freeman of Highgate and you see a pig resting in a ditch, you have the right to move it and sit down in its place. Though if you are three, you can only move the middle one and sleep between the other two.”

“Unfortunately,” he quips “there are few  opportunities to exercise these rights in Highgate today.”

Curious rituals aside, Hammerson hopes the book will imbue the viewer with a sense of responsibility: “It gives people a very powerful link with the past and a better understanding of how it all worked, and how the past is serving the present and the present is looking after the past.”

Alexandra Palace Theatre

Alexandra Palace theatre is also noted as worthy of preservation in Hornsey Historical Society’s publication Alexandra Palace Theatre by Marlene McAndrew, which reveals the theatre’s fascinating story up until today.

Included is its remarkable founding philosophy: “to afford the means of intellectual improvement and physical recreation to the masses”, information about the elaborate timber machinery’s trap doors and some amusing details of what it was like to be there: “Heating was provided by radiators through a central coal-fired boiler. Although this was probably not adequate, people were used to being cold in the 19th century.”

Rookfield Estate

A development of the Garden City Movement is covered in The Rookfield Estate by David Frith, which offers the chance to see how this Muswell Hill Garden Suburb came to be through a detailing of its early history, beginning with its enclosure from Muswell Hill Common, its acquisition by W J Collins in 1899, and the history of his family, who were so instructive of the estate’s development.

There is also an exploration of Rookfield’s architectural influences, illustrated with old maps, old views and photographs of the many houses.

Hampstead Garden Suburb

Founded relatively recently, in 1907 by Henrietta Barnett, Hampstead Garden Suburb has nevertheless been home to a huge number of colourful and highly influential residents, now listed in Dr Eva Jacobs’ Notable Residents And Where They Lived. Included are such names as Anthony Gormley, Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Jerry Springer and Will Self

Originally published by The Ham & High.