Lemon cats & grape kangaroos – an interview with Alex Brightsmith & KJ Collard
When did you start writing?
AB: I think perhaps I’ve always told myself stories when I might otherwise have been bored, particularly when I couldn’t sleep (I’ve always been a night owl, and I used to have a pretty rigidly enforced bed time). From my teens onwards I’d try to write a novel now and then, but I was fairly easily distracted until I had an idea for a series of short stories for one of the protagonists I’d toyed with most often. I finally gave her a regular antagonist and started writing outlines for the series, and one of them took off like a rocket and became Black Knight (The Novel That No One Will Ever See – not in anything like its current form, anyway).
Whilst I was wondering what to do with it I went back to the first outline, and it became Viennese Waltz – although only after a long period in the back of the cupboard when I thought that it was just an itch I’d successfully scratched. It still has one line in it that’s only there to support a scene in Black Knight, but I’m not telling you which one.
KJC: Story telling just seems like something I’ve done all my life. I remember a writing project in sixth grade (approx. age 11) that I enjoyed. But I think my real passion for writing started with a creative writing class I took in high school. My teacher said I would be published some day. I’m thankful to have benefited from her encouragement.
Do you write to a schedule, or as and when the mood strikes?
AB: I’m terribly decadent in my writing habits, and that’s how it’s likely to stay. I know just how slim the chances are of making a living at this game, and for me the risk of turning writing into a chore is one I’m not willing to take on those odds.
KJC: It’s definitely a free-for-all. I’ve tried to have a schedule, but if characters just aren’t willing to talk to me, it reflected in my writing.
What 3 things are guaranteed to make you smile?
AB: Smelling my honeysuckle from half way up the street as I walk home on a summer evening. The first day that I walk out of my front door and find the street full of swifts (I always feel a little bit guilty about this, because they nest round the corner from us so that we get the joy and not the hassle). A long and well told shaggy dog story wound up with a particularly excruciating pun.
KJC: The Chicago Cubs, piglets, and new lip gloss.
Who’s your favourite author?
AB: This changes a great deal, depending on my mood and what I’ve been reminded of recently, but today I’ll say Ursula K Le Guin, for writing such wonderfully alien alien cultures, and (to steal a phrase shamelessly from a friend) for being so damn humane.
KJC: I think I’d have to go with Anne Rice. She impresses me on so many levels. She launches herself into research when prepping a new story. She invokes every sense when she’s telling her story. She simultaneously leaves you satisfied and wanting more. I think if Anne were to read and comment on my work, I’d lose my mind.
Where do you do most of your writing?
AB: In notepads. Sorry, I don’t mean to be facetious, but there isn’t really one main place – in bed, on buses, in the kitchen at work (to be absolutely clear, there’s no comma missing there, I don’t write on company time) – anywhere, when the story is keen enough to be told. I don’t think I’ve actually written anything in a supermarket queue yet, but it’s a definite possibility.
KJC: At work over lunch hours or home on weekends.
Do you have any pets?
AB: I usually say we have an indeterminate number of cats. That’s three real residents and a shifting population of feral visitors in varying stages of socialisation. This is all my husband’s fault, and I’m still trying to deny that I’m in any way a cat person, but it’s a hard sell when there’s a cat sleeping on your pillow.
We also have a tortoise. The cats are fascinated, but don’t seem to classify him as a living being, fortunately. I assume it’s because he smells all wrong.
KJC: I just said good-bye to my Main Man Maximus. He was my wonderfully spastic toy fox terrier. His dedicated fur face will be hard to replace. However, my cat, Isis, is still sassy and insolent, as cats are much expected to be.
What’s your favourite book, and what are you reading at the moment?
AB: This is another one that depends on the mood you catch me in, but I’ve been saying Nevil Shute’s Lonely Road for a while now. It’s generally placed as one of his pre-war books, and I read it first as just a good yarn, but that’s not fair. For one thing it has a gloriously odd opening chapter, written from the point of view of someone who was extremely drunk at the time and somewhat concussed immediately afterwards – I’m rather impressed that his publishers were willing to run with it, given that he wasn’t an established name at the time. Secondly, there’s actually a grim post-war theme at the heart of it (it’s listed in the pre-war group because it was written before WWII). In a lot of ways it puts me in mind of Rebecca, but with the advantage that I don’t want to grab the protagonists by the scruffs of their necks and scream ‘just bloody talk to one another’ at them.
At the moment I’m working through all the Saint books (yes, as in the pre-Bond Roger Moore series) that we have in the house, which is rather more than we did – I picked up a dozen or so in a charity shop recently, some new to me, some that I read in my teens and had pretty much forgotten, so I’m reading them in order, which is interesting – for one thing the first few are much more serious than I expected, but on the other hand one of the light hearted collections that I’d always assumed was a later one (without ever thinking to glance at the copyright page) is actually from very close to the beginning.
KJC: There was a book my Grandpa used to read to me all the time called “Who Are You Looking At?” that is my all time favorite. I know, kid’s book… but nostalgia wins here. And although I have plenty on my To Be Read list, I’m not currently reading anything.
eReader or physical books?
AB: For me this totally depends on what’s most convenient at the time. Physical books probably edge it because I haven’t found an e-reader that’s as comfortable to read as a paperback yet (I’m willing to assume that this is purely because I’m such a cheapskate) and because the local library has a rather slender collection of e-books.
KJC: Both. I don’t have to choose!
If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?
Play with the cats. No, obviously not that, because I’m not a cat person. I’d say walk more, but I’m not twenty anymore and my ankles hate me, and I assume that listening to Radio 4 Extra is disqualified by association. I don’t know. I might have to actually talk to my husband.
KJC: Write in secret.
If your Glint story were to be filmed, who would you cast as the main character?
AB: I usually throw up a complete blank for fantasy casting, but for Chrissy I think Stephanie Cole would be perfect. (If you’re struggling to think of a Stephanie Cole character being nice to someone, even for cynical reasons, you haven’t heard of Cabin Pressure, which is a shame.) I’ll bet that the first character you thought of at her name was the black widow of Open All Hours, Delphine Featherstone, and perhaps the thought of her using her feminine wiles on anyone was a startling one, but what she and Chrissy share is a hard, guarded cynicism that’s hard to set aside, but harder still to live within.
KJC: Third Rosemary would be a newcomer. I can’t see anyone playing her.
What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?
AB: Can I have a force field to keep the cats off the keyboard? Or does that count as general writing implements?
Sticking to the realm of things that actually exist, plenty of nibbles, a dull job to alternate with the writing (weeding and polishing things are both good), and a good dollop of guilt (this seems to work equally well whether it’s generated by the thought that there’s something more important that I should be doing or by a deadline).
KJC: Music, cheesy poofs, and a minion to rub my shoulders and bring me tea.
If you could genetically cross and animal with a fruit or vegetable what would you choose and why? (When I was asked this for Tattooed Mummy’ blog I invented a Potato Spider, spinning its intricate webs of French Fries and Waffles.)
AB: If I can stretch the definition to include herbs I’d love to hybridize the cats with something to make them self-deodorising, like mint or parsley. Better still, bay – a bay-cat snoozing in the sunshine would smell divine, and be a delight to all the senses.
If I must have a fruit or vegetable I’ll cross them with lemons, please, because someone told me once that if you leave a lemon on the tree it unripens in the winter and re-ripens next summer & if that’s true then you would always have kittens to cheer you up in February, and mature cats to leave you alone to get on with stuff in summer. I did mention, didn’t I, that I’m not a cat person? Not at all. Honest.
KJC: I want a Grape Kangaroo…. a never ending supply of grapes. Reach into her pouch and BAM!… Grapes.