Friday, February 05, 2010

The Isobel & Katie Interview - PART ONE

A long, long time ago two pretty amazing people sent me the best set of interview questions I have ever received. Thank you, Isobel & Katie. I feel terrible that’s it taken me a very long time to put this interview up, but here it is.

I'm also going to put it up on a special page on my website called 'Fluffy Yellow Duck'.

It’s my favourite interview ever, and I’ve split it into two parts. Here’s part one, part two will follow very soon...


1. It’s quarter past nine and we’re part girls, part teacups and totally sleepy. What’re you?

I’m in bed, part sleeping, part dreaming, part scheming, part boy, part multicoloured stripey dressing-gown, part warm, part sunshine, part moonlight, part boogie, part breakfast, part pillows, part strawberries, part music, part fiction, totally devoted to stew.

2. We’ve been stalking you over the internet and have discovered a picture of your desk. Well, we say discovered. We really snuck in last night and took the picture. Nice house. Also, tell us about the things on your desk. We’re particularly interested in the fluffy yellow duck. He seems a cool character.

The Fluffy Yellow Duck scenario is a little complex. His name is Claudius, but most of his friends call him Angry Chinese Chicken. He actually owns the desk and rents it out to me by the hour.

Actually, I have to come clean – you’ve been foxed by my devious plan! You broke into the wrong house! I’ve moved! The desk you saw is no longer in the same place that you saw it. I now have bigger, better, bolder desk objects. Like a whole nutmeg. And many, many more books. Also two diaries that tell me different things about what I’m meant to be doing on any one day. It’s a tricky situation. One is my official diary, one is a fictional diary in which a past version of me invents my future. Sometimes the two diaries get confused. This is how I came to accidentally invade Belarus last Summer.

Also on my desk at the moment are all my notes for my new book – (nobody knows anything about this book yet. It’s not a Jimmy Coates book, and is only known publicly as Project H). The notes are contained in three different notebooks, as well as a pudgy mound of paper scraps ripped from the review sections of unread Sunday newspapers. Once I make my notes and pile them up on my desk, it is too risky to read any of the notes again. The mound is a delicate construction. Any thought too loud might upset it and cause accident. Angry Chinese Chicken does not put up with accidents.

3. Also, while we were in your house, we noticed a fair few books about the place. We couldn’t read the titles because it was quite dark, and we didn’t want to disturb you by turning on all the lights. Nevertheless, we are intrigued! Tell us what your top five books are.

The Iliad, The Aeneid, The Odyssey, by Virgil/Homer

Two different authors, but I’m going to count them as a single book. If film critics can count the Godfather films as one then I think I can get away with this as well. I’m going to have to if I’m going to include all my favourites, like:

The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr Seuss

An idol of mine, a genius, a role model – and that’s just Yertle the Turtle. Dr Seuss is pretty good too.

Bend Sinister by Nabokov

I could include any of his books. Pale Fire is another particular favourite, but Bend Sinister blows me away every time I pick it up.

Mr Vertigo by Paul Auster

Paul Auster books turned me on to the potential of a novel. It’s tough to pick a favourite of his, but I’ve gone for the one that I still think about more than ten years after I first read it.

The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum

The master thriller writer. I learn something about writing on every page of one of his books. I also blame Ludlum for keeping me up well past my bed time.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

Incredible scope in this novel. It seemed to be about everything in the world.

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

This is the book that got me reading – and sort of got me writing as well. I’m not usually a fantasy fan, but this is a bit different.

The Prize by Daniel Yergin

A couple of non-fiction choices to finish. This one is as gripping as any thriller – it’s the history of the oil industry. The section covering the first half of the 20th Century complete changed my view of the world.

Philosophy 1&2 edited by A C Grayling

If life had textbooks, they would be a little bit like these. I relied on these to survive at University, but still enjoy them now. So clearly and concisely written. Lots of fun too.

Was that five books? If it’s too many then staple some of them together until you get five.

4. Is having your house broken into the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you because of your writing?

I get some pretty strange messages sometimes, but until now nobody has gone as far as breaking into my house. I’m a little flattered. Also scared. Other strange things that have happened because of my writing include: chasing a Pelican through St James' park (it had stolen my bag); being approached by a very famous author outside our hotel at a literary festival and asked to do something very illegal (such a shame I can't give you any more details, but use your imagination. OK, now whatever you're imagining, the real thing was much worse and the person involved was much more famous.); moonwalking while pretending to be an evil squirrel.

5. Novel is a pet that lives in a basket under your desk and very occasionally bites your fingers when you reach down to open the drawers. Nevertheless, you love it. Tell us why.

It’s the slobber. I can’t get enough of it. Sometimes I just hold a jar under its chin so I can take the slobber with me on long journeys. I’ve also tried taking it to the park, but it doesn’t seem to get on with the other novels. Maybe I breast fed it too long.

6. Still, sometimes, you must admit, it does misbehave. What’s the worst thing it’s ever done, and is it currently housetrained?

It’s housetrained at the moment. Also trained to juggle, drive, cook and dance the mambo. The worst thing it’s ever done is take over my life and keep me awake night after night, away from my lovely bed. For periods of months on end it stops me socialising, because it demands so much attention in the evenings. Then it will completely ignore me for weeks until I come up with some new idea to feed it.

7. We’ve seen on your facebook profile that your employer is yourself. Do you never have problems with creative differences?

All the time. Usually concerning lunch. Pasta? Omelette? Sandwich? Roast? Couscous? I’ve come to blows with myself over it in the past. Couscous everywhere.

8. It’s 3am and your editor will be banging down your door at 9am to collect your latest novel, except that so far you’ve only written a page. In size 20 font. You’re cutting it a bit fine, but we reckon you can make it. You, however, seem crippled by writer’s block, and keep rocking backwards and forwards and muttering the words ‘kittens with feathers like phoenixes’ over and over. How do you get past this?

If someone has writer’s block, it’s only because they’re worried about writing something good. Anybody can write – but it won’t necessarily be any good. So the cure for writer’s block is simply to write something bad or to write deliberately badly. Just write anything. To write something good you have to start by writing. It might come out well, but it probably won’t. So start with something bad, then worry about making it better later.

9. You’re in the same situation as above, except this time you’ve got the ideas but you’ve also got a hell of a cold and are being held in a headlock by a savage duckling (don’t worry, he comes into this later). What’s your cure for generally feeling eurgh, and how do you break a headlock?

I believe in the healing power of lunch. Especially chicken soup, a mug of oolong tea, Indian take-away or sushi. Or all of the above. If I really feel eurgh despite constant eating, I subscribe to the ‘sofa-blanket-movie’ school of thought.

You break a headlock by trying to force it open with the wrong headkey. If that fails, I recommend a really biting anecdote.

10. We saw your page of inspirational quotes and found ourselves inspired to inspire you, but sadly the most inspirational thing we could come up with was: DRINK MORE TEA. Also, TOO MANY CROCS SPOIL THE BROTH. Unless this is applied to tea, which nothing can spoil. With this in mind, we’d like to ask you some questions about your drinking habits:

a) What is your beverage of choice while writing?

Oolong. I don’t drink normal tea or coffee.

b) Would you feel comfortable ordering a peppermint tea in a Wetherspoons bar at 11.53 on a cold Sunday night in Coventry?

I can’t imagine any circumstance in which I would be in a Wetherspoons, let alone at 11.53 on a cold Sunday night in Coventry. But if I were in that situation, I would feel absolutely fine ordering a peppermint tea. I would relish it. I would milk the situation for every drop of absurdity.

c) Have you ever drunk vegetable stock? If yes, what did you think of it?

I have. I have also drunk beef stock and chicken stock. I like all of them. Very much. One of my favourite winter snacks is a mug of Bovril with some couscous floating about in the middle.

d) Are you a milkshake or smoothie person? We imagine that you are rather smooth, but do like to shake it at times. Is this true?

SMOOTHIES! Every time. I’m a huge smoothie fan. Not a milkshake type, really. Too much milk, too much shaking. I like controlled shaking when the moment demands it, but never in my milk. In fact, I don’t drink milk at all, so shaking it would seem a waste. Seems much more efficient to gently rumble a cow.

e) Is your glass half full or half empty, or does it not matter as long as the glass is containing some form of alcoholic substance?

My glass is an ingenious design that allows it to be half full and half empty at the same time while also being completely full, filling, draining, spinning and leaking all at once. I designed it myself then made it in my own glass-blowing workshop. But that’s just my glass. Metaphorically speaking, I’m very much a glass-half-full type. But if it’s half full of milk I don’t want it. Don’t shake it at me. Stop that. Put it down and back away with your hands above your head.