Category Archives: Interview

Lemon cats & grape kangaroos – an interview with Alex Brightsmith & KJ Collard

That talented pair Alex Brightsmith and KJ Collard both make a guest appearance in my latest book (that one on the right there). I asked them about all sorts of shizz.

When did you start writing?

Viennese Waltz by Alex BrightsmithAB: 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.

The Darker PlaygroundKJC: 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?

AB: 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.

Lacrimae rerum

It has not been a month full of joy, this November. Here’s why –

DSCF2536It began with the death, actually on the last day of October – on Hallowe’en – although I’m still feeling the loss a month later, of our beloved Labrador, Ben. I miss him immensely. I still expect to hear the thump thump of his wagging tail when I enter the front room, and always check the front window every time I return home. It’s taking a long time to heal, this loss of my four-legged friend. Over on the right is the last photo I took of Ben.

M.’s workload has not improved, nor has her treatment by uncaring managers, despite her needing weeks off recently due to stress – and she had to be pushed into that by the doctor; she was all for carrying on so as not to let people down. This intelligent, conscientious, capable and reliable woman deserves far better.

Thirdly, a pipe in the bathroom sprang a leak. Again. Those who know me well will remember that we live in a very old house, which was built in the 1830s. Old houses have their own problems, but this one is more down to the old sink. The seating for the cold tap has worn away so that there is no longer any good grip for the tap base. Turn it too hard, and the tap itself twists around. This action tears the washers in the joint beneath, and the leak starts up all over again. I keep repairing it, but I need to figure out a good way to keep the tap in place without resorting to superglue given that we may well want to change the taps one day.

Number four, if you’re keeping count: I recently applied for a job helping to collect the Census next year. This involved an online interview – or rather test – wherein I was presented with hypothetical situations, and asked to select the best four options out of eight responses. Those responsible for the test decided that it should have a more modern-sounding name than simply “Census Job Test”, so I went ahead with their “Siftability Test”. I should have known not to bother from the nonsense name. Long story short, I didn’t get the job “although I did very well”. It’s hard to see how I could have done better without choosing the options either to sack people for bad handwriting, or to take them all down the pub regularly.

And finally, the topper on a bad month, Mrs. Wombat was driving into work the other morning and was hit by a speeding taxi as she turned right. The collision spun her car right round and did a shitload of damage, immediately giving the lie to the other drivers claim of “only doing 25mph”. Luckily, M. was unhurt though very shaken. The poor Corsa is now in the garage for extensive repair (thank goodness for fully comp insurance) and M. is driving round a brand new silver courtesy Ford.

Anyway, thanks for reading my rant about all the hassles we could have done without over the last few weeks. I hope I’ve got it out of my system now I’ve written it all down, so roll on December – onward and upward and Forth Eolingas and so on.

A Bristolian Wander

Dscf0614Well now, here we are with a couple of hours to spend in Bristol while Cat goes to her UWE interview. Bristol is bathed in Spring sunshine. Where shall we go first? Being female, Mary wants to find some shops, so let’s go looking, eh? First, we find this, which is large, old and churchy. I conclude that it is a large old church.

Shortly, we arrive at St. Nicholas’ Market, a fascinating collection of stalls, including foods from around the world, second-hand bookshops, unusual clothes shops and more. I suspect that the University students use it a lot. Also, it is quite beautiful – check out the shadows thrown by the roof:Dscf0618 Interesting clobber at this place, too –DSCF0616 After a meander around the market, which would have made a #wander all of its own, we headed back down to the Harbourside.Dscf0625 From here we strolled down towards this footbridge, which has what appear to be two giant cream horns sprouting from it,Dscf0627 

Dscf0628…passing some interesting sights on the way, although I preferred

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to photograph a rusty chain and a mooring bollard. I’m either sensitive to texture and spatiotemporal context, or I’m an eejit. Make up your own mind.

 

I also photographed these pretty flowers, though.

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Four cranes loom menacingly over the south end of the harbour, from where can be seen a row of pretty houses near yet another church.

 

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We still haven’t found any shops, have we? Around the next corner we stumble across the Aquarium, outside which is this proud beastie. Anybody got a giant cup and a huge sheet of paper?

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Dscf0643And here’s the Planetarium –

 

 

Yes, that’s a Wombat reflected in the glass there. Dscf0644

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up past the Cathedral gardens, looking peaceful and tempting of a sit down while gazing at the rather lovely windows, Dscf0648Dscf0649 

Dscf0651 … but no! For we are on a quest to find some shops.

I liked this clock that will always tell the right time.

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Now we catch sight of a few shops, but they sit on a very steep hill. I am reliably informed that @AhcomeonnowTed once cycled up this hill. How mighty-thewed must his thighs be, eh?

 

 

 

At the top (and along a little bit), we get this expansive view over Bristol.

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Just a little way on, Little Mavis takes this fantastic photograph, which I shall call ‘Trees’. Can you see why? Yep, thought you would.Dscf0657

Dscf0660 This is Zed Alley – I wonder if the lamp is tilted due to hundreds of kids swinging from the crossbar over the decades.Dscf0659

 

 

 

 

 

And Dscf0661finally, after passing this clock which must be real fun when it is working (which it was not), we found the Shopping Centre and bought some Pick and Mix.

 

On the way back to the Park and Ride we passed this extremely attractive graffiti in a passageway –Dscf0663 Finally, out of the bus window, I snapped this shot of the coloured houses on the hillside. A Bristolian Balamory, if you will.

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Cat’s interview, though, did not seem to go well, since those taking it appeared to go against what they had told us at the Open Day regarding Foundation years. Time will tell.

Cheesecake Shop!

Dscf0277 The drive down to Loughborough for Cat’s latest University  interview was much more pleasant than the Derby trip, although they are pretty close to each other, presumably because we weren’t trying to force our way through rush hour traffic.

And here I’ll make a quick ‘by the way’ for my American readers (Hi, Viv!) – Loughborough is pronounced “Luff-burrer”, not “Lowg Bo Ro”.

On registration, Cat was given an interview time two hours later, which gave her enough time to come and check out the town with me. Yay for me, since she’s marvellous company. Plus – hey, sunny day! Win all round.

Dscf0243 One of the first things we spotted was that there seems to be a large (or at least ‘noticeable’) Chinese community in Loughborough, as evidenced by, well, the large number of Chinese people we passed, as well as various establishments like the Yi Ming chinese supermarket here. Dscf0244 The town centre is but a ten minute walk from the campus, maybe even five if you’re not stopping all the time to go “Oo, look at the interestingly shaped and coloured buildings yonder, behind Sainsbury’s!”

As we approached the town centre, we found a healthy number of fascinating independent small shops, such as this second-hand bookshop – Dscf0247

Dscf0249 – in amongst the usual chain stores, like this big Costa on the corner just opposite the town hall. The interesting mix of shops continued throughout our exploration, and was a big factor in our enjoyment of the place.

 The Sock

Dscf0251This odd statue, over on the right there, graced the Market Place nearby, and appears to be a bloke sitting on a bollard, wearing nothing but a strategic leaf (a sycamore, I believe, for you tree fans out there) and a sock, which he seems to be extremely impressed by. Later Googling found that this is indeed “The Sock”, created by the sculptress Shona Kinloch, having been commissioned by Charnwood Borough Council “to provide an attractive feature and focus of public interest”.

His sock is symbolic of Loughborough’s hosiery industry, and the rest of the sculpture contains images from the town’s history. Apparently, The Sock was far from universally admired when unveiled but “hearts have warmed to it and it is now a well loved feature of the Loughborough scene”. We loved it. And now here’s a big old shot of the Market Place, looking lovely in the Spring sunshine…Dscf0250

Dscf0252… and a closer look at the Town Hall.

Further up a little way past the flags and the naked chappie with one sock, we came across The Reel Cinema (see what they did there?), which impressed Cat because (a) it looked like a cinema from fifty years ago, and (b) the names of the films currently showing had obviously been put up there by the highly technical method of someone climbing a ladder with some adhesive lettering. In light of (a), lets try looking at the cinema in sepia, shall we?

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Dscf0254Yes, that works! JUST like the Fifties!

Just above this time warp, we found Cat’s favourite shop of all. I don’t think I need to tell you anything other than the name of this shop for you to be able to judge its attractiveness and wow factor – yes, its…

 The Cheesecake Shop!

 

Dscf0262Meanwhile, down at the other end of town, this corner seemed to encompass the place – the white building being a combination of a Chinese Medicine Centre and, of all things, a stationers. Next door sits “The Cheese Cottage”, and emporium of a wide variety of said comestible. Past the cheesy vendors and we’re into Church Gate, which leads unsurprisingly to the parish church. But more of that anon, for what is this delightful establishment?Dscf0271 Oh yes indeed! Handmade chocolates, and a chocolate café, where you can  sit and enjoy all sorts of hot drinks accompanied by chocolates made to order. Mmmmm. But on to the church, which sat very prettily amongst budding trees.Dscf0263 In a month or so, when the trees are in leaf, and the cherry and apples amongst them are full of blossom, I’ll bet it will be a lovely sight. As it was, we found a large number of these harbingers of Spring:Dscf0268I’m sure if I tried I could come up with a snappy title all about birth and death, but to be honest with you I just can’t be arsed tonight. Dscf0248Now, although we took many more photographs (oh so many), I think I’ll limit myself to just this one before Cat and I walk back up to the University for her actual interview –  yes, its Cat’s favourite source of lunch again. This time however, they had sold out of her favourite sandwich! Oh noes! But wait, the young whippersnapper behind the counter (whom Cat described as “a puppy!”) offered to make her one from scratch, so hurrays all round.

The interview itself, Cat reports, was her hardest yet, given that they asked her many questions for which she had to think on her feet. She reckons it went quite well, though. The town itself was a big hit with Cat, who said it was the sort of place she’d be really happy living in. Here’s a summing up:

Derby!

DSCF0164 Over on the right is Cat, outside the Markeaton Street site of Derby University. She is carrying her Portfolio of glorious artworks in the big black case. It isn’t half heavy, I can tell you. Over her left shoulder is her bag of sketchbooks and working drawings, while over her right shoulder is her UWE bag containing girly essentials.

Getting Cat up at 6am wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined, although she was noticeably monosyllabic, and we set off into the damp drizzly dark. (Half past nine in the morning – what sort of time’s that for an interview at Derby, I ask you?). Cat settled herself down for a right good doze.

The traffic was twatmongering awful, the windscreen kept drizzing up, and the road works were almost constant. Also, why the hell did I keep getting bloody white vans in front of me so that I couldn’t see any further ahead than its filthy back windows? Bloody Sod’s Law, that’s why! For two and a half hours I ranted, and used every swear word I could think of. Cat, however, snoozed on calmly like her namesake.

At 9:28, two minutes to interview time, we were still three miles from the University, and sitting in a barely moving traffic queue. Behind a transporter carrying, you’ve guessed it, white vans. Cat phoned the University to warn them she might be a bit late, then suddenly, delightfully, the road cleared. With a mighty “Wahey!” we foot-downed and were DSCF0138there in no time at all. After dropping Cat at the college, I parked up and walked into Derby to check the town out.  Oh, hang on – it has a cathedral, so it’s a city. On the left there is the Markeaton Street building from the east side, from which (were there any actual, you know, windows) you would have a lovely view of some allotments.DSCF0139DSCF0163There is student accommodation no more than two minutes walk from Markeaton Street, at St. Christopher’s Court (see right). It looked very secure, with fences, locked gates and entries, and a red car failing miserably to get in.

Big-arsed Gate Thingie

The road down into Derby looked as boring as a ledger book, so I struck off down a side streets and soon became completely lost. However, I did discover several hidden treasures of Derby’s cultural heritage. First, this big-arsed gate building thingie:DSCF0140No. I’ve no idea what it is. Google it if you’re that bothered. Down past there, and up some worn old steps, were several old abandoned mills. They were beautiful, in a ramshackle, knackered way, and redolent of the textile industry which used to thrive in Derby. Through the shattered windows could be glimpsed hints of how the interior used to look.DSCF0142 The graffiti was nothing to write home about, however. A little further on, someone had dumped this:DSCF0143 It looked like a work of bloody art to me, but I didn’t have a carrier bag big enough, so I left it there to be gathered in by the spring grass which will soon appear.

Wokmania

DSCF0162 I was beginning to get my bearings now, and turned right by a lovely old church which had fallen on hard times and been forced into prostitution as a Chinese Buffet. The final insult must have been having to submit to the name Wokmania.

Finally, though, I’d found the town (or rather, city) centre – in the picture below, you can see  Derby DSCF0160Cathedral at the far end of the street, thrusting itself at the grey, dismal sky. Derby, on this day seemed a normal everyday town (sorry, city).

All the usual shops you would expect were present and correct – Clinton’s, Smiths, Waterstone’s, Boots etc. etc. I saw no sign of any independent little shops that might have added a much-needed touch of piquancy, but later research shows I just missed some of the good stuff.

Rampant Rabbit Thruster Deluxe

DSCF0151 My hopes for some interesting retail outlets at last were briefly raised by this place (left), but sadly the very next shop along was just a Poundland. (and what exactly IS ‘Liquid Satin’, which you get free with every Rampant Rabbit Thruster Deluxe? Is it a vital ingredient? And doesn’t the rabbit get scared? I will never know, for I am far too cowardly to ask).

DSCF0148 A little further on was a market hall, which was most pleasing to the eye with its stripey roofs (rooves?), and globular lighting; there was a fair selection of reasonably priced stalls therein.

I did see a very pretty Chinese lady with blue hair, also, but I doubt she’s a permanent fixture.

The Halifax Building Society building DSCF0156surprisingly perked me up, featuring as it did several statues that looked about ready to topple over onto the oblivious shoppers below.  That’s Florence Nightingale over on the left there, and I’ll bet that if she HAD toppled with murderous intent, the death certificate of her victim would have made interesting reading.

 

Invisible in Derby

DSCF0159I had discovered by now that I was invisible in this town CITY. People kept walking into me as if I wasn’t there. Actually, it now occurs to me that they may have simply all been overcome with a desire for physical contact with yours truly given my high sexual charisma. Yes, that was probably it.

I also quite liked this clock, for its simple, angular Fifties feel. It told the correct time, too.

Finally, I stumbled across this place, which always puts a smile on Cat’s face –DSCF0149 

I bought us a couple of baguettes and Fantas, and returned to fetch Cat. She told me that the interview had gone well. She’d spoken eloquently about her art, and was now pretty impressed with the place – much more than she had been previously. She and another girl had drawn each other while awaiting their turns, which she had enjoyed.

In summary