Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Author Interview - Ewan Lawrie

What's your name? 

Ewan Lawrie, McGregor was named after me… No, he was, I’m older than him, ergo...

What's the title of your most recent book? 

Gibbous House was published on 12th Jan 2017 by Unbound.

Describe the book in under 100 words. 

Gibbous House is a Victorian Gothic novel, with a will, a bizarre inheritance including a still stranger property and household, all of which is inherited by a most villainous and charming protagonist. Moffat is neither who he seems or indeed what he believes himself to be. He finds himself caught up in experiments and conspiracy at the birth of the scientific age. He encounters a cast of grotesque and venal characters against the background of Mid-19th Century London and Northumberland, before an exciting and thought provoking ending.

Describe the book in under 10 words. 

Murderous imposter receives a dangerous inheritance in 19th Century Northumberland

What is your favourite book and why? 

My favourite book is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It is a combination of the fantastical and what passed for the everyday in the Soviet Union of the 1930’s. The devil is one of the main characters, as is a giant cat called Begemot (Russian for Behemoth). The story deals with samizdat, which was self-publishing but not as we know it, since the reward was often the Gulag, if you got caught, and also with the crucifixion of Christ. What’s not to like? Blasphemous, bitterly funny and boisterous by turns, I confess I’ve read it many more times than once.

Who is your favourite author and why? 

Dickens. Yes, I know, anti-semitism (par for the contemporary course, and you could find much worse offenders) , sentimentality (okay, don’t read The Old Curiosity Shop) and those long sentences. Yes, well, he was good at those long sentences and they are pellucid in their clarity. We should all be so long-winded. Most of all however, it’s the characters: Magwitch, Sydney Carlton, David Copperfield… Even dear old Scrooge.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why? 

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.  Magic, comic books, escaping from the Nazis and making it in America. Maybe I’m sentimental too. The best 8 part HBO series never made.

 Describe a typical writing day for you. 

I’d love to make this up and say that I lock myself in a shed with a notebook and a Remington typewriter, but the truth is I tippety-tap on the PC/Laptop at various times of the day, when the mood comes on me and I’m not teaching. I do listen to music, most of Gibbous House was written to the entire works of Frank Zappa. I do take a notebook when I’m out and about, often scribbling things in local bars and caf├ęs or on the terraces outside them.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer? 

Marketing and the lack of money I have to do it.

How do people find out more about you? 

I have a twitter account @EwanL and I am on Facebook where my alter-ego Please Allow Me also has a page with a humorous take on marketing Gibbous House for me. I do have a blog which is updated about once a week if I’m lucky.

E-mails I save for contact with book reviewers in print media. I’m thinking of wondering round Fuengirola with a sandwich board.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Author Interview - Damon L Wakes

What's your name? 

Damon L. Wakes

What's the title of your most recent/forthcoming book? 

Ten Little Astronauts.

Describe the book in under 100 words. 

Ten astronauts are awoken from suspended animation – chosen from a crew of thousands to repair their steadily freezing ship – only to discover that one of their number has been killed, and that the murderer is now amongst them. They are trapped with no lights, no gravity, and no life support. In order to survive and restore the ship to working condition, they must work out who is responsible, because if the impostor doesn’t kill them, the cold will.

 Describe the book in under 10 words

And Then There Were None set in interstellar space.

What is your favourite book and why? 

Rumo and his Miraculous Adventures by Walter Moers. The book is the size of two or three house bricks and its storyline follows all the conventions of the classical epic. However, it takes place in the most alien fantasy setting I’ve ever come across. There are no orcs or elves: every single character is utterly bizarre and completely original. The protagonist, for example, is an intelligent bipedal horned dog wielding a sword that has multiple personalities. Despite the abundance of unusual creatures with outrageous abilities, though, nothing ever feels like it’s pulled out of thin air when the plot demands it. Any detail that proves significant is always set up well in advance, and the overall story feels totally airtight.

Who is your favourite author and why?

It’s a tough choice, but probably Douglas Adams. I really enjoyed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as well as the snippets of his work collected in The Salmon of Doubt, and he had the rare ability to tackle serious topics in an absolutely hilarious way. I also admire his text adventures: an early example of what great writing can add to games.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why? 

It would be easy to say The Count of Monte Cristo because it’s extremely long and complicated and writing that would immediately make people think I’m super smart. Honestly, though, I don’t especially wish I’d written any book that currently exists. If the deal is that I get to go back in time and stick my name on the front of a great work of literature that otherwise stays word-for-word the same, I’d rather use my time machine to buy a bunch of winning lottery tickets. It seems marginally more honest and marginally less likely to tear apart the space-time continuum. If the deal is that I get to rewrite that book myself, then I can just go ahead and do it without the time machine. Ten Little Astronauts was largely an exercise in producing a more tense, faster-paced version of And Then There Were None. Fewer dinners, more axe murders. The books I really wish I’d written are the ones I haven’t yet.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

A typical writing day almost always starts with me sitting down at my desk and putting off something else I really should be doing. It usually finishes with me carrying on way longer than I intended. Occasionally I’ll open up a document last thing at night because I haven’t written anything for ages and feel as though I should at least get just a paragraph down. Often that leads to hours more work. Sometimes the hours of work are just a paragraph. I also take part in a lot of events—Flash Fiction Month, Flash Fiction Day, NaNoWriMo, Global Game Jams—that give me an excuse to dedicate some time to writing and offer a set deadline for getting it done. I like to listen to music while I work but it could be pretty much anything: at the moment it’s Gregorian chant covers of well known songs. I hesitate to describe coffee as an “aid” because it makes it sound like I’m liable to be disqualified from writing for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, but that’s probably the main one. My secret is drugs.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer? 

Digital Rights Management (DRM). It’s a kind of copy-protection applied to ebooks (among other things) ostensibly to prevent people making pirate copies. There are two problems with this. The first is that anybody with the most basic level of computer literacy can defeat DRM and make copies regardless. This doesn’t involve scrolling torrents of green ones and zeroes: it involves the ability to search for instructions on Google and follow those instructions. The second problem is that although DRM does nothing to hinder pirates, it can cause quite a headache for readers who actually paid for these books and don’t understand why they can’t simply copy them from one device to another for totally legitimate personal use.

How do people find out more about you? 

Website: www.damonwakes.wordpress.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DamonWakes 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authordamonwakes

And if you’d like to read the opening of Ten Little Astronauts, you can do so here: https://unbound.com/books/ten-little-astronauts

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Writer's Day

8.30am - Tea, granola, enter office. Start researching/writing/editing.

10am - Tea. More research/writing/editing.

11am - Elevenses. More tea. A Brief check of emails, social media etc. Then more research/writing/editing.

12pm - Meet a writer chum for a snifter at the Red Lion in Penn Village. Enjoy a well kept pint of ale, chat about author-ish things, admire ducks in pond, fawn over a chap's vintage Bugatti.

1pm - Raid Penn Cottage Bookshop for goodies.

2pm - Take dogs for yomp o'er fields and woodlands behind the house. Enjoy sunshine and watch the chemtrails poisoning the angels (one for the conspiracy nuts there).

3pm - Tea and a return to researching/writing/editing.

4pm - Tiffin. More tea and a hot cross bun obscenely buttered. Make stock from yesterday's chicken carcase. Return to researching/writing/editing.

6.30pm - Finish for the day. Exit office.

7pm - Cook evening meal (chicken, chorizo and asparagus risotto using fresh stock) and be sociable. Tea.

Amount earned: £0.00

Quality of life improved: Immeasurably.

Happiness levels: Medium to high.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Cover Story - Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blogpost describing how one of my book covers came about (see here).

The artwork for that cover was by the brilliant Tom Gauld.

I'm now delighted to reveal that the artist who will be tackling the cover for my next book (and first novel) A Murder To Die For is ... Neil Gower.

Even if you don't know the name, you'll know his work. Here's a sample:

Oh my.

How excited am I?

A lot. :)

Author Interview - Tabatha Stirling

What's your full name? 

Are you sure? Okay … Charlotte Alexandra Tabatha Hallewell Stirling. But you can call me ‘Tabster’ *bats eyelashes*

What's the title of your most recent/forthcoming book?

Blood On The Banana Leaf - which I regret now because I’m fairly sure I should stick ‘A Girl’ in there somewhere.

Describe the book in under 100 words.

Here are the stories of Lucilla, a maid from the Philippines, Ma'am Leslie, from England, Shammi, a young village girl from Myanmar and Madame Eunice, a Singaporean-Chinese employer as they strive to exist in a country that harbours darkness below its pristine exterior. As the narrative weaves its candid and often brutal way through the lives of each woman, it also examines the effects of loss, madness, abuse and hope during a woman's life and in society as a whole.

Describe your book in under 10 words.

Welcome to the black heart of Singapore.

What is your favourite book and why?

This is a beastly question. I refuse to be boxed in so I’m naming two: Of Human Bondage’by Somerset Maugham and Absolutely Anything by Simone de Beauvoir. Of Human Bondage was the first ‘adult’ fiction I read. I remember it so well; my parents had given me an account at the local bookshop and I went mad and ordered over fifty books. I hated boarding school and felt incredibly lonely until I discovered Maugham and his visceral characterisations that made me feel at home. I realised that these toxic behavioural patterns were part of other families and I had found my adolescent tribe. De Beauvoir is one of the greatest writers of the last two centuries. She knocked the spots off Satre when it came down to understanding the berserker dance of the white blood cells and the intimate fire-pin waltz danced by a synaptic transmission. In other words, she understood the relationship between the body and the mind and how, when in cahoots, could build empires, yet when fighting, could bring one so low you could feel the weight of a thousand centuries above you. Her understanding & courage when speaking about her own insecurities, her searing honesty that she was in a shitty relationship with a shitty man who received accolades in his lifetime that she deserved so much more. And frankly, entering into an open relationship because you want to be seen as cool and unbothered by something as bourgeois as infidelity when really you want to go at them both with a chainsaw, pliers and some boiling tar. Oh! And her glorious language.

Name a book you wish you'd written and why?

(From 2016) The Bees by Laline Paul. It is an astonishing work – a fictional account of the workings of a hive beset by misogyny, murder, death, horror & some particularly nasty wasps. She makes the environment completely credible, her language is vital, unafraid & mesmerising and I now have to go and read it again.

Describe a typical writing day.

It goes like this: I have a toddler.
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< tiny bit of writing. It’s like having an angry drunk perpetually causing mayhem.
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< wee bit of designing She is beautiful & likes cuddles.
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< half-hearted attempt at editing It is like having an angry drunk perpetually causing mayhem.
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< frantic poem writing She is beautiful & likes cuddles.
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< sings, ‘Come into the garden, Maud, for the black bat night has ….’
Pass out.
Wake & repeat.

What's you biggest frustration as a writer?

I started taking myself seriously as a writer much too late to write all the books I want to.

You can go here www.unbound.com/books/blood-on-the-banana-leaf and pledge for my book. Not only are there some spankingly good rewards, you are also the recipient of eternal Tabby love.

Www.volequeen.com for my shorts & playsuits.

Tabathadesign.tumblr.com for my design portfolio.

 I’m very Twitter friendly at @volequeen. Come and make out!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Author Interview - Paul Holbrook

What is your name?

Paul Holbrook. I am a writer from North Yorkshire.

What's the title of your most recent/forthcoming book?

Domini Mortum, which is being crowdfunded by those lovely people at Unbound at the moment. 

Describe the book in under 100 words: 

Domini Mortum is a murderous tale set in London and York towards the end of the nineteenth century. It concerns an artist and journalist for the Illustrated Police News, the most sensationalist tabloid of the day, and his investigations into a series of murders of servant girls in the Paddington area. His journey brings him into contact with a haunted village, an asylum, a secret society, a brothel, a vicious crime lord oh and maybe the odd ghost. It's everything you want really from a Hammer Films style Victorian murder mystery, all wrapped up in a beautifully written novel.

Describe the book in under 10 words: 

Bad people do bad things in Victorian times. Cue thrills.

What is your favourite book and why? 

I think it would have to be Legend by David Gemmell. It's a heroic fantasy novel which was first bought for me by my Dad when I was about fourteen. I’ve read it a lot of times, probably too many to be cool, but, because of the time that I have invested in it over the years, it holds a great many personal memories for me as I can remember reading it at lots of different and important times in my life. As a novel. I still love it, the storytelling can be a bit clunky and the character development a little flawed but overall to me it’s a precious thing.

Who is your favourite author and why? 

Tough one that, because I go through phases and obsessions with writers, be it Stephen King, David Gemmell, Clive Barker or JRR Tolkein. My current favourite though is Neil Gaiman. I used to read the Sandman comics when I was a lot younger and when he moved into novel writing, initially I was very worried. I don’t love all his work, there are a few misses amongst the hits for me, but I love The Graveyard Book and I was totally entranced by ‘The ocean at the end of the lane’, which is just a beautiful piece of work.

Name a book you wish you'd written and why: 

Probably Swan Song by Robert R MacCammon. It's a lovely book made up of well written characters, short punchy chapters and overall an epic story. It's a post nuclear apocalypse tale, which I know has been done by a lot of writers before. For me though it’s the best of the breed I couldn’t recommend it highly enough and I just wish I could one day create something so expansive, engrossing and well written.

Describe a typical writing day for you:

When I have a day that I can put aside for writing I like to be up and at it early. I find that often the best stuff I write is first thing in the morning. There have been days when I have got straight out of bed and got on the computer and suddenly find that four hours have gone. I also like to have a good dog walk before I write anything of any substance. I live on the edge of the North York Moors, it’s a stunningly beautiful and inspiring place and often a dog walk in the fresh air, sometimes with stirring music playing in my earphones is enough to get the ideas flowing. In terms of musical styles, for Domini Mortum and its predecessor Memento Mori, I solely listened to Finlandia by Jean Sibelius. The music is based on the Finnish folk tales which feature heavily in the novels. I don’t tend to use any aids apart form my own addled mind. When I’m novel writing my brain is a box full of hummingbirds, ideas, narratives, dialogue and twisty turny bits flying in from all angles. The result is always highly pleasing though.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer? 

Time. If I could freeze time for about two hours a day I would be knocking out novels left, right and centre. I have so many fully formed ideas in my head that I thin I would need about three lifetimes just to get it all out there. I often work seven days a week also as I do two jobs, one in a school supporting children with learning needs and a second providing days out and respite for young people with disabilities and long term medical conditions. Sometimes I will only get one full day off a month, and when I do get a day off its nice to actually spend it with my wife and kids rather than shackling myself to a laptop. And so I snatch and steal time where I can, twenty minutes here an hour there. I get there in the end but its often a slow process.

How do people find out more about you? 

My most important contact point is my Unbound page www.unbound.co.uk/books/domini-mortum There you can find out more about Domini Mortum, read a synopsis, and extract and most importantly pledge your support for my lovely creation.

I am often on Twitter @cpholbrook
 I have a blog at http://doloriantales.blogspot.co.uk/ which I try to add to when time permits.
 I am on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/paul.holbrook1

Friday, 17 February 2017

Cover Story

I thought I might spend a short blogpost talking about how a book cover gets designed. It's particularly of interest to me at the moment as I'm just going through the design and discussion stage for the cover of my next book A Murder To Die For.

Perhaps the best way to look at the process - or at least how I engage with it - is to look at one of my previous books. In 2013 Constable Colgan's Connectoscope was published by Unbound in hardback and paperback editions.The book is a collection of fascinating facts all interconnected and gathered into 'Rounds'. Each Round (or chapter) starts with a fact which links to the next and to the next and to the next and so on until the last fact comes full circle and joins up with the first. It means that each chapter is a single circular journey. The fact that I used to be a police officer was latched upon by the publisher who suggested the book title (it had been called Connect-O-Rama) and that I write a new foreword describing how my mind works - finding facts, checking them, collating them, connecting them - and how that had been useful in both my career as a cop and as a writer for the TV show QI.

When discussions began about cover design, I had the idea of depicting the Connectoscope as some kind of machine. By coincidence, the art director also liked the idea. I brought sketches I'd done. And, just for the crack, I knocked up a painting too.

 None of them were quite right for the book of course - just me doodling ideas. But once we had a concept and the talk turned to artists, one name jumped out at us: Tom Gauld. I'd been a big fan of his work for years. I love his cartoons in The Guardian and I had his books Goliath and The Gigantic Robot. Here's some of his work.

There's a delicious business to his work that we loved (you can see more of his book covers here). Plus, he's really good at robots and steampunkish machines. So, off went the brief from the art director:

And what came back was just glorious. 

And, barring a few small tweaks - the green light was given. The final cover was as good as anything I'd dared hope for.

So there you go! It may well be a very different process for some authors but, for me, as someone who has a strong sense for the visual, it was a case of discussion, concession and ideas sharing. And what I got from it was a beautiful, fantastic cover. And I got to thank Tom personally when we went up at Gosh! Comics in London for the launch of his (then) new book You're All Just Jealous Of My Jetpack.

Now I'm looking forward to the next book and a whole new cover to love.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Author Interview - David Roche

What's your name? 

David Roche

What's the title of your most recent/forthcoming book?

Just Where You Left It – Family Rhymes for Modern Times 

Describe the book in under 100 words. 

A book of humorous poems written about things that are relevant to families now. I wrote the first one in response to my eldest child’s request for something different to perform at a school poetry competition. It took the p*ss while being full of relevant references and from then on we were on a roll: exams, school meals, bullying, sports days, holidays, wi-fi, embarrassing Dads and nagging, know-all Mums were fair game. If you grew up on poems by the likes of Ogden Nash – ones which are more Pam Ayres than Alexander Pope - then this could be for you.

Describe the book in under 10 words.

Family Rhymes for Modern Times – relevant, amusing poems for all

What is your favourite book and why? 

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. Hilarious, true and made me realize that others were making it up as they go along.

Who is your favourite author and why?

Kazuo Ishiguro – makes it look so simple.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why?

One Day by David Nichols or Q&A by Vikas Swarup. I would love to land on the clever premise that provides the perfect structure for the story.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

Hopefully a miserable day, preferably raining. No-one else around and ideally in a cabin in the woods. I listen to classical or soundtrack music – anything without lyrics, at least not in any language that I can understand! I am a huge John Barry fan and his non-score albums Beyondness of Things and Eternal Echoes are perfect.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer?

There is never enough time.

How do we find out more about you and your work?

To date I have been concentrating on successfully raising the required financing for Unbound to publish my book, so while I have been using Facebook and Twitter, email has been the most effective method. Now that this phase is complete (though you can still see sample poems and pledge at https://unbound.com/books/just-where-you-left-it) I hope to extend the net through word of mouth, recommendations, advocacy and events as the final book starts to come together with its illustrations etc.

You can find out more about the book here: https://unbound.com/books/just-where-you-left-it and here: https://www.facebook.com/DavidRochebook/.

You can find out more about me (personal stuff) here: @davidlrroche (Twitter) and https://www.facebook.com/david.roche.90, and (work stuff) here: http://davidroche.co.uk/about and here: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/davidroche

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Author Interview - Lou Allison

What's your name? 

Lou or Lulu Allison

What's the title of your forthcoming book? 

Twice the Speed of Dark. 

Describe the book in under 100 words: 

A mother and daughter circle each other, bonded by love, separated by fatal violence. Dismayed by indifference in the news to people who die in distant war and terror, Anna writes portraits of the victims, to try and understand the real impact of their deaths. Her own life is suppressed, restrained by grief. It is only in this vigil, this act of love for strangers, that she allows herself an emotional connection to the world. Her daughter, killed by a violent boyfriend, tells her own story from the perplexing realms of death, reclaiming herself from the evisceration of coercive violence.

Describe the book in under 10 words: 

The traits that unite us and the violence that separates.

What is your favourite book and why? 

Life and Fate by Vassily Grossman, because it perfectly captures the wondrous beauty and the diabolical failure of the human creature.

Who is your favourite author and why? 

Arghhh….lots of books by lots of authors and lots of reasons to love them make this more or less impossible. The distilled answer, by finding an author who rarely disappoints, doesn’t necessarily include those books that have caused real rapture or life-changing reads. But though his books have not driven me wild with reader-zeal like Life and Fate did, or The Emperor’s Babe, (Bernadine Evaristo) I’d never not read an Ian McEwan book.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why? 

I am an atheist, but I wish I had written the bible because I would’ve made it a lot more sensible. I don’t mean the narratives - some of them really are quite splendidly bonkers (that one about Noah getting drunk, with no trousers on… I kid you not) I’d leave them untouched. But the judgements and demands, the narrowing and exclusions, the misogyny and homophobia. We collectively could’ve done without a whole load of that stuff.

Describe a typical writing day for you - where you do it, when you do it, what aids you use, what music you listen to etc. 

I write in our living room, as I live in a small house with my family. I sigh with gratitude when everyone else trots off to college or work, make a coffee, play a game of patience to absorb the silence, then start. I take breaks to dance to the Melvins when I’m getting stale, or stare at the sky or the corner of the ceiling. Sometimes I am troubled by the feeling that I can’t see the whole thing at once and that can be a barrier. At those times I move to the dining table and write notes and scribbles and arrows and random thoughts on big pieces of paper. If possible I have no music on unless the boys next door are practising their instruments. I tend not to write for long periods of time as work and lack of dedicated space pretty much break up the day. I believe in walking and not thinking too. The parts of my mind that I can’t overhear need a bit of peace and quiet sometimes, without me constantly prodding for an update. I see it this way: the part of my mind where I can talk to myself is only the front office. The back office, or workshop, is where the useful stuff happens, but you can’t hear or see it. Sometimes, the speaking mind can get in the way like an over-zealous office manager. If the work is not appearing, it won’t necessarily appear faster because the office manager keeps checking on progress. The workshop is happy to do overtime, the manager should just read a book or go home and go to bed even. Let them get on with it.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer? 

The boys next door sometimes, though they are perfectly lovely and as entitled to their passions as me… Plus I was a drummer once. Having to work as a cleaner. I deliberately never chose greedy work that would take my time. The demands on me that came from doing art and more recently writing, are big enough to take all my headspace. But it is a bore to have my time fragmented.

How do people find out more about you? 


Saturday, 4 February 2017

Author Interview - Dave Dawson

What's your name? 

Dave Dawson (pen name Dave Philpott)

What's the title of your most recent/forthcoming book? 

Dear Mr. Pop Star

Describe the book in under 100 words. 

For 10 years, working alongside my dad Derek, I have sent popular and iconic music artists internet letters about the lyrics, deliberately misunderstanding them or pointing out genuine ambiguities. What this is really about is how, when a record is recorded, it is ''theirs'' but when it's out they have NO CONTROL as to how it is interpreted.. We are representing overblown and demented versions of the listening public. The artist then writes back ''in character'', so to speak. We get most of our leads either from artists involved or well connected fans and facebook friends....

Describe the book in under 10 words.

Funny letters to pop stars with genuine witty replies.

What is your favourite book and why? 

The Outsider by Albert Camus. It unfolds in the most deceptively simple manner with exquisite imagery, the most glaring faults of the human condition.

Who is your favourite author and why? 

Ernest Hemingway, His attention to detail and seemingly conversational style combine to form near-perfection.

Name a book that you wish you'd written and why? 

That would mean being privy to all the thought processes of the writer so, nah.

Describe a typical writing day for you - where you do it, when you do it, what aids you use, what music you listen to etc.

We only do a letter if a pop star gives us the green light that they are going to reply so some days there is no writing at all and others, if say three give us a yes, it could be up to 8-10 hours. It's done on the sofa in between household and other leisure activities.

What's your biggest frustration as a writer?

Failing to reach an audience and, related to this, sending our work to mainstream outlets whom we think can give us exposure or help, only to find our messages seemingly ignored and then awful imitations of our idea appearing without credit in their publications a week later!

How do people find out more about you? 


Get the book Dear Mr Pop Star here

Friday, 3 February 2017

When Heroes Go Bad

I've been sorting through my ridiculously large book collection recently. And a few days ago I came across several art books by Rolf Harris.

And I found myself in a quandary; do they stay or do they go?

Rolf Harris was one of my heroes. It's thanks to him, probably more than anyone else, that I engaged with art in the first place. From The Rolf Harris Show to Rolf's Cartoon Time and Rolf on Art to Star Portraits he made art accessible and inspired me to pick up almost anything and make art with it. So, of course, I bought his books on art and I bought the DVDs of his TV series and I learned from them.

But then Operation Yewtree revealed him to be a groper and child molester, I was devastated. Admiration quickly turned to loathing; there are few crimes more abhorrent that the ones he committed. Quite naturally, we are unlikely to ever see his TV shows again. Nor will we hear Two Little Boys or Tie Me Kangaroo Down or Jake the Peg on the radio. But do I ditch the books? And if I do, do I also have to excise all other evidence of Rolf Harris from my life? If I do, that's going to mean a clear-out of not only books and DVDs but also other references to him and other appearances. For example, he appears on two of Kate Bush's albums. So do I throw away my copies of The Dreaming and Aerial too? And do I chuck out my well-preserved 1970s Rolf Harris Stylophone and stop listening to Bowie's Space Oddity because the instrument features on it?

Of course, I ended up discussing this subject at the pub with my mates and I asked what they would do in my circumstances. About 25% said to throw the books out. 50% said keep them as they won't earn Harris any more money and at least it shows that there was something good about him. The other 25% were undecided, which led on to a further discussion about 'cut-off points'. As one of them said: 'If they now found out that Bowie was a kiddie fiddler, would people throw away his albums? Of course they wouldn't. They'd just listen in secret because they love him too much and the music outweighs the crimes.' Am I doing the same thing because I find joy in work like this (below), even though the painter is a monster?

A couple of years ago, we saw a worldwide outpouring of grief and celebration to mark what would have been John Lennon's 75th birthday. There is no doubt that Lennon was a great talent, beloved by millions. But, away from the microphones and guitars, the real Lennon was no saint. He was a pathological liar and a monstrous hypocrite who mocked disabled people, emotionally abused his son Julian and who had a long history of violence against women, As he himself admitted in one of his final interviews (with Playboy) in 1980:

'I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved. That was me. I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically - any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women. I am not violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence. I will have to be a lot older before I can face in public how I treated women as a youngster.'

Domestic violence is surely no less vile than groping or sexually assaulting women - all are forms of violence. But The Beatles still get played on the radio and no one is putting their copies of Sergeant Pepper in the bin. And even some journalists who suggest that we shouldn't be idolising Lennon seem to pull their punches. Here's Paul Tamburro writing in Crave:

'The 'point' is that it is important, at least in my mind, to not encourage generation after generation to kneel at the altar of a celebrity who was guilty of some horrible crimes and offences. Yes, I still consider myself a fan of Lennon’s creative output. I do own plenty of Beatles records on vinyl. But there is a lot of evidence, along with quotes from Lennon himself, to suggest to me that to continue to remember this man in such an exclusively positive light smacks of insincerity in the information age, where we can all quite easily look this shit up and, unless we’re choosing to keep our blinkers firmly fixed onto the sides of our heads, conclude that he may have co-written ‘A Day in the Life’ but in other aspects of his life, he was a bit of a dick.' 

I'd suggest that someone who regularly beats women and treats his son like a non-entity is more than just a 'bit of a dick'. But people don't want to give up their Beatles albums. Either the blinkers, as Tamburro says, are firmly fixed. Or they don't see violence against women and children as serious enough to boycott Lennon's work. Or, perhaps, they argue that they bought the records in good faith without knowing about what he did?

And, of course, it's not just Lennon. In recent years we've heard allegations of domestic violence against many other celebrities ... but their films and their music are still being played and bought. And how many people ditched their Judas Priest albums when drummer Dave Holland was convicted of child sex abuse? Do Lostprophets fans still listen to music featuring Ian Watkins, now serving 35 years for paedophile offences including the attempted rape of an 11 month old boy? How about msic by Jerry Lee Lewis who married his 13 year old cousin? And what about the output of producer Phil Spector, now a convicted murderer? Or Roman Polanski?

You can, perhaps, see my dilemma.

I'm not trying to find excuses to keep my Rolf Harris art books. But I am trying to resolve a moral dilemma. When does it become unacceptable to keep such things? Should there be a cut-off point at all? Should we get rid of everything produced by someone convicted of crimes of violence? Do I ditch the books but keep the Kate Bush albums? Is the fact that these things happened and can't be undone justification to keep things ... or is everything now tainted? Do I accept that, even though Harris is a shit of the first water and deserves to see out his days in a cell, some small bit of good has come from his life?

It's tricky isn't it? With utter monsters like Jimmy Savile, there's no argument that we should expunge him from the history books. But when your heroes turn to demons, where do you draw the line between 'He was a bastard but he produced some good stuff that we should keep' and 'He was a bastard and we should destroy everything that he produced'?

I'll admit that I don't know.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Author Interview - Shona Kinsella

Over the next few weeks I'm going to ask a bunch of authors the same set of questions. It'll be interesting to see, as the number builds up, how different writers work. We'll see their inspirations and aspirations. And, quite rightly, they'll get a chance to plug their books too.

We start today with ...

What is your name? 

Shona Kinsella

What’s the title of your most recent/forthcoming book?

Ashael Rising, The Vessel of KalaDene: Book One. 

Describe the book in under 100 words 

Ashael is an apprentice medicine woman in a hunter-gatherer society. Her people are threatened by the return of the Zanthar, invaders from another world who extend their own lives by stealing the life-force from others. When the Zanthar kidnap her friends and demand that Ashael exchanges herself for them, she must discover who and what she really is to save her people and all of KalaDene.

Describe the book in under 10 words 

Woman fights to protect her world from soul-sucking invaders.

What is your favourite book and why? 

I have to cheat with this one – my favourite books are The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. I know you said book, but it’s one story so it counts! I’m not sure if I can articulate why. I love the story, the sweeping scale of it and the human smallness of it in one. I love Roland, the flawed hero. I love the fact that it’s an epic fantasy in a western setting and there are so many things that are hinted at but never quite spoken.

Who is your favourite author and why?

Stephen King. His stories are great but what it really comes down to for me is character. He is superb at rendering real, rounded, believable characters. Someday I hope to be able to write character half as well as he does.

Name a book that you wish you’d written and why

Hmm that’s a tough one. There are so many excellent books out there. I’ll go with Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. The man’s world-building is spectacular and his grasp of story is great. This is a 400,000-word novel and I couldn’t out it down. It takes real skill to be able to carry someone along with you that far, I think.

Describe a typical writing day for you - where you do it, when you do it, what aids you use, what music you listen to etc.

Although I don’t go out to a day job, I have three young children that I am the primary carer for. So there’s really no such thing as a typical day for me! I write on a laptop, usually at the dining table or on my lap on the couch. I write in any little gaps in the day when the kids are otherwise occupied and for an hour or two in the evenings after they go to bed. I think about writing all the time, filing things away for later so that when I sit down at the computer I’m ready to go. I work out plot in my head while I’m feeding the baby in the middle of the night. I don’t often listen to music while I’m writing but when I do it’s often instrumental and my favourite for that just now is 2cellos, a duo of Croatian cellists, playing a mix of classical and rock music. They’re wonderful.

What’s your biggest frustration as a writer?

That there aren’t more hours in the day. I have so many ideas and new ones occur to me all the time. It drives me crazy that I don’t have time to work on them all. I’m really envious of people who get to write all day – but then if I had more time I’d probably waste half of it on Twitter!

How do people find out more about you? 

You can catch up with me in all of the following places:
My blog: http://www.shonakinsella.com
Twitter: @shona_kinsella
Instagram: shona.kinsella
Email: shona.kinsella@outlook.com
Patreon: www.patreon.com/shonakinsella
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100011729167110

I love hearing from new people so please do get in touch!

Thank you Shona!


Ashael Rising is now available to pre-order from Unbound. Just click here and buy!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Fifth Flatmate

Did you love The Young Ones, that brilliant, anarchic 1980s sitcom that helped to launch the careers of Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Nigel Planer, Chris Ryan, Alexei Sayle, Ben Elton and many more?

Can you remember the names of the five housemates?

Yes, five. Rick, Vyvyan, Mike, Neil and ... the hairy guy.

Wait ... you don't remember the hairy guy?

That's him/her there at the front of that publicity shot.  And he/she was in every single episode of the first series. Did you spot them? I sure as hell didn't. But there they are!

How the hell did we miss it?

If you want to know where all the appearances are, check out this video on YouTube. 

Intrigued by the discovery of a fifth flatmate, a The Young Ones fan called Peter Farquhar got in touch with Ben Elton and director Geoff Postner. Elton told him bluntly: 'I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about, I'm afraid. There were four housemates plus the landlord'. However a couple of days after that denial, Posner confirmed Farquhar's suspicions saying that he and producer Paul Jackson simply 'thought it would be fine to have some ghostly figure in the background of some scenes that was never explained or talked about. Hair all over the face so you shouldn't be able to decipher gender either. 'The fact that we forgot to do it consistently through the series shows what a bunch of amateurs we were in them days.' 

Writing in Business Insider Australia, Farquhar concludes: 'As a replicant which appeared in slightly different situations in at least five episodes in the first series, it could arguably be described as one of the first popular culture memes.' 

Creepy eh? Definitely has a touch of 'The Ring' about it.

I still can't believe I missed it.


There's also a secret fart.

Posner also told Farquhar this story: 'Do you notice the tiny fart in Boring at 18:15? Mike delivered this comic gem in rehearsals in the studio, and cracked everybody up so much that they couldn’t face recording the scenes, putting us further behind schedule than we always were (because of the over-ambition of the scenes. But then I say again, we were young then…'