Doctor Who comedian explains how flower power eased his grief
But it takes a book of a different kind – an old gardening book filled with handwritten notes and, more importantly, packets of seeds – to lift him out of his personal slump.
His mother’s old gardening book, found among her belongings after her death, is inspired to begin an unlikely therapeutic gardening journey from Daleks to dahlias, bringing color back into his life.
And now it’s the backdrop for his new comic book, a deeply personal project that delves into the depths of grief and the healing power of plants.
The book is a departure from the science fiction and escapism of his most famous works and acerbic political cartoons. Instead, it explores how Neil faced loss and the surprising comfort that came from watching the seeds he found in his mother’s book grow and flourish.
As well as being a reflection of his personal journey, it serves as a reassuring reminder of the cycle of life and how the simplicity of nature can provide solace and become a beacon even in the darkest of times.
Neil’s mother, Janice, died in October last year at the age of 66 after a three-year battle with myeloma, or blood cancer.
While her loss was expected, the waves of grief that came with it took Neil on a dark journey, sometimes tangling him at unexpected times and places.
Like when his father, Gordon, handed him his mother’s favorite book, a slightly tattered copy of Dr. DJ Hesayon’s “Flower Expert,” with her handwritten notes, drawings, lists, and seeds tucked inside.
“The garden was a big part of my childhood, and I was always playing in the garden and climbing trees,” says Neil, who grew up in Mospark overlooking Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park.
“My mother was in the garden a lot too, but I don’t think I paid much attention to the plants and flowers or what she was growing except for sunflowers.
“When I leafed through the book, there were drawings in the back to show what the garden looked like and notes on the plants I planted, what worked well and what didn’t.
“There were seed and seed catalogs and instructions on how to care for them. I used the book as a binder.
The book stirred up waves of emotion, and as he handled packets of seeds his mother had stashed away with plans to grow them herself one day, Neil felt compelled to try to grow them.
Using his mother’s notes and the book as a guide, he nurtured their seeds into tiny flowers.
“I killed a few of them on the way, but I was able to get two of the sunflowers to bloom,” he says.
“At first, I thought what I was doing was my way of getting closer to someone I had lost, but over time, I found that gardening was evolving into a more serious hobby.
“The more I got into it, the more I found it therapeutic to get out of the house for a bit, not think about anything and spend some time in the garden.
“Over the past year, gardening has helped me tremendously with dealing with grief and my mental health.”
Neil decided to tell the story of his journey through grief and how discovering gardening through his mother’s beloved book helped him get through it, in the hope it will support others as they deal with their own feelings of loss.
“I did my best not to hold back my sadness and be the ‘big man’ and not talk about it,” he says. “I listened to podcasts and other people’s stories and felt it was so important to talk about grief and your journey with it.
“But I know that men in particular can find it difficult to open up and talk about grief.
“But since I started this, there have been people who have reached out to me via email to talk about it and how they lost someone.
“I feel like this got the guys talking about their grief and thinking about gardening.”
Neil, 36, whose previous works include collaborations with writer Colin Bell on the award-winning Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor series and the Dungeon Fun series, pitched the idea for the book on fundraising site Kickstarter, where donations far exceeded what he had expected. It has just been published.
“It’s a little different from what I usually do,” he adds, “and when I started I thought it might be a little book about my garden. I didn’t really mean for it to be something personal and cathartic.”
“But as I was moving forward, I was definitely thinking about my mom.”
The book, Plant Daddy, is now available on his Etsy shop, artbyneilslorance, and follows Neil, from Clarkston, East Renfrewshire, through his grief to find the book and plant his mother’s seeds, plus sweet advice on how to get started in gardening.
While the first sunflowers he planted from seeds he found have flowered and died, he has saved their seeds, which he has shared with others and intends to grow them himself – keeping his mother’s passion for flowers alive.
“There have been ups and downs – I’ve killed a lot of plants since I started – and a lot of learning,” he adds. “Gardening is like life, there is a seasonal cycle.
“It helped me cope with grief. While farming is an act of hope, you never quite know what you’ll end up doing.”