The #13 profile – Kirkland Ciccone

Brownie points to anyone who noticed this is profile #13, following – not so – closely in the footsteps of profile #14, but a bit before #15. Not everyone is comfortable with thirteen. Quite possibly Kirkland Ciccone is not comfortable with it either, but here he is anyway. It’d be a waste of numbers not to, or so I reasoned:

Kirkland Ciccone

‘How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

I wrote two novels and sent them out to publishers, hoping they would find me all the way in Cumbernauld. They didn’t at first and that’s just as well because I wasn’t fully formed yet. I had to develop and find my style. I got so annoyed with the YA market during the rise of Twilight that I wrote Conjuring The Infinite in revenge. It taught me to never ever follow trends, and I’m far more comfortable skipping down my own garden path!

Best place for inspiration?

The library is my second house. I spend so much time in libraries, and I feel so happy and safe in them. My mother couldn’t afford a babysitter when I was a kid so she sent me to the library…and I’ve never really left it. I feel like I’m having adventures close to home in the library, and I get so much work done and a few books to read. I love coffee shops too and I can be found in many places with a kettle.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I sometimes fantasize about changing my name to something really plain and normal. But I don’t think that would work for me. I couldn’t be John Smith, amazing writer of cult YA novels. I recently told Daniela Sacerdoti that I was delighted to see her leave the country….because this country isn’t big enough for two YA authors with unpronounceable surnames!

What would you never write about?

Council Tax!

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

My mother took us all to Spain when we were kids. It was a horrible experience, being a damp holiday holocaust with a cramped caravan and my brothers and sisters. I vowed never to return to Spain. Shortly after Conjuring The Infinite was published, I ended up in Largs (North Ayrshire) for the Tidelines Book Festival. I was so excited, because it was my first big festival. But I had a really troubling sense of déjà vu all night. It rained non-stop which didn’t help but it was so troubling that I ended up phoning my mother and asking her if I had ever been to Largs before and…well…she admitted Largs was Spain! I should have known; it doesn’t take four hours to reach Spain in a van.

Doing what I do has also allowed me to meet my heroes. I started reading YA as a teenager, so I’m a fan as well as an author. I remember being at a lunch and seeing someone familiar a few chairs away. It was Julia Donaldson. I had just caught her a few days earlier on BBC Breakfast! Theresa Breslin was there too and I absolutely worshipped Whispers In The Graveyard and A Time To Reap…I still do. I asked Theresa about A Time To Reap, which has been out of publication for years. But I wanted it so badly I asked if she would ever consider getting it published again. A few days later a copy of it popped through my letter box. I did a little dance of excitement then stopped when I realised a neighbour was watching me.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

Porter Minter, the protagonist of my new book North of Porter. He’s slightly downtrodden, at first, but he learns to fight back against the world. By the end of the book he’s completely self-sufficient. Besides, he has an array of handbags and one-liners which he deploys with precision against bullies and bores.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

I think Conjuring The Infinite would be good for television while Endless Empress would make a good independent movie. Empress is anarchic and over the top, my big punk rock YA novel, but it’s so grisly and vicious that it would probably be cut to shreds in order to make the big screen. I’m not sure where North of Porter falls but it would probably be better for the big screen. I would love to see my books performed at the theatre, though I don’t think that would work either, because of the plot twists in each novel.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

“Is your hair real?” YES IT IS REAL!

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I’m good at improvisation. I’ve had to learn how to do that as a performer. You never know when equipment might break down.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

It has to be Narnia. It has everything in it…a group of kids trapped in another world with a genuinely terrifying villain and a magical lion. I tried to get into Narnia when I was seven, but I ended up knocking the wardrobe over!

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Greta Garbo, The Cardigans (they’re a wonderful and sadly underrated band), and Robyn.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I try to do it alphabetically but I have a separate stack which is my TO READ pile.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

The Three Investigators and The Secret of Terror Castle. I lived for The Three Investigators, and I can still read them today and find more to love. It was a juvenile mystery series about three boys named Jupiter, Pete, and Bob. They solved very weird cases and Alfred Hitchcock made cameo appearances. I wish they were still in print today. They were so easy to read and well written. A killer combo for any unwilling reader!

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

What a horrible question! I would be terrified of not being able to read, because without reading and books…I wouldn’t be who I am, and I wouldn’t be writing now. I would choose reading, but then I couldn’t give up writing. There’s nothing I want to do other than write the books I write. I love the YA genre. It can be anything. It can be everything. If I couldn’t write those stories I’d probably be deeply depressed. So I’m going to be contrary and choose both!’

Half a dozen Swedes, and I’m still not one of them? ‘Fully formed?’ You think so, John? That’ll be the eyebrows, I suppose.

Is it all because of Ladybird books?

Would I even be here if it weren’t for Ladybird books?

Years ago I blogged (rather peculiarly, it strikes me now) about Ladybird books, and how they were not part of my past, and how I almost resented this. But now it seems to me as though that one book I bought at the age of ten and could barely read, might have set me up for life. Where would I be if I hadn’t?

I have always ‘blamed’ my fascination for the UK on Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie, and while it is still true that they inspired me, I now feel I must add my sensible Ladybird book. People here think back to those days, when both they and Britain were different. I actively went in search of this charming country where children walked around in those T-bar shoes and boys wore shorts and had haircuts like they did in old films.

And there was cake.

I so wanted to go and see the Ladybird exhibition in Bexhill; not just for the books, but for the De La Warr Pavilion as well. But it was all too much at the other end of the country to be realistic. The exhibition is in London now. Can I make it to London? I don’t know.

The article in the Guardian a few weeks ago made me feel many things. It was fascinating to read that someone’s real birthday party actually ended up in the book. I mean, surely that’s the complete opposite of today’s fantasy books; finding your own reality in a book. I knew I wanted to be part of it, except you can’t wish your own past away.

Perhaps I can take up collecting Ladybird books? Not terribly original as ideas go, but maybe I can fake a new past? I never did wear shoes like that. The one time I got close to it, the woman in the shoeshop pointed out I was an adult and couldn’t have them.

Enough research? The right research?

Complaining is such a satisfying thing to do. Sometimes, anyway. I caught the tail end of something Lucy Coats said on Facebook, and which I feel entitled to mention here as she tweeted it at TES, making it public. Lucy was dissatisfied with their list of recommended books for children.

Keeping in mind my own moan a few months ago, on a similar topic, I read all the comments, feeling quite enraged. Then I read what school librarian and children’s author Dawn Finch said about it on her blog, including her own list of suitable books. Many great books, and I couldn’t agree more.

Finally (yes I know, I should have started there) I had a look at the offending list the TES had put together. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared, especially considering the list had been compiled by asking teachers. I suppose the TES could hardly go around asking accountants for their recommendations, so the question I have is why ask teachers?

Why not the school librarians, while they are still not totally extinct? Is it that teachers are supposed to know more? Or was it to see how little they are aware of books?

The thing is, as I’ve said on other occasions, by asking fewer experts and more people in general, you end up with the same general lists, because that’s the kind of knowledge we have on things we don’t specialise in.

As I said, the list was nowhere near as bad as it might have been. But if the purpose of the listmaking was to guide adults guide children, then they should have asked the librarians.

One of the first things I was involved with at Offspring’s secondary school library, was the voting for favourite books. Admittedly it was probably mostly the keen readers who responded. But it was illuminating for me, who thought I knew it all. Among boys, the two books that stood out were the Guinness Book of Records, and Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called ‘It’ and both surprised me. Had it not been for the school library, I’d have assumed the winner would be one of the well known novels for children. If not Harry Potter, then one of the others that we adults ‘have all heard of.’

The Smile

Don’t you just hate babies? I mean, younger siblings. They get all the attention and they are allowed to make noise and keep you awake all night.

Michelle Magorian’s The Smile (a Little Gem) with lovely pictures by Sam Usher is about a young boy called Josh. He has a new baby brother called Charlie, and as if it’s not enough to have your mum stolen away by this noisy newcomer, he’s also had to move house, and his new room has pink and yellow wallpaper which is so bright you need sunglasses to cope.

And here is poor Josh, all alone in his floral jail, while Charlie has the attention of both parents and gets to sleep in their room. His mum even seemed to like the idea that Charlie was going to be with them for years and years.

But being a mum she knows what to do. She cunningly makes sure Josh is in a position where he has to get to know this little pest better.

Or maybe she really did need a shower.

This is a sweet new-baby-rivalry story for the slightly older than the traditional picture book reader.

Q&A with Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky allowed herself to be pinned down by a mix of my usual profile questions and some more bespoke Sara-questions. When it comes to certain things in life, if in doubt, I tend to ask myself what Sara would think about it.

Sara Paretsky

The first time we spoke was seven years ago, and you were – I think – cautiously optimistic about Obama as your next President. ‘Things will be better, but it will not be fabulous.’ How do you feel now, looking ahead to 2016?

I think I was right about Obama – things are better, but not fabulous. Looking ahead to 2016, though, I‘m terrified.

You also talked about women crime writers, getting fewer hardback books published, leading to fewer reviews, and I assume, smaller sales and less income. Is it still as bad?

I think almost everyone is having a rough ride in today’s publishing world and we’re all trying to sort out how we find readers and what medium we want to publish in. As President of Mystery Writers of America, I’m learning that the writers most seriously affected by contracts in the industry are writers of colour. I’ve written about this in detail in an essay for the US trade publication Book List and the essay is on my website.

Do you ever think about retiring from writing about V I? (Please tell me you’re not. Except I can understand if you do.) Does it ever feel as if you’ve got a tiger by the tail and can’t let go?

I can’t imagine retiring from V I although I know there will be other books in other voices I will want to write. It’s not having the tiger by the tail – V I is an intimate part of my creative mind.

Is there anything you would never write about?

I shall never give graphic descriptions of serial killers’ work, or rape or dismemberment.

What’s the most unexpected thing that has happened to you through your writing?

I haven’t expected anything that is happening to me! It is often a slow, but amazing journey.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I make the best cappuccinos on the south side of Chicago – and I am a very still sleeper as I don’t toss and turn at night!

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Dag Hammarskjöld.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I stack books around my bed – like a wall – as I read them. Everyone now and then I’ll shelve them. I read three or four at a time and if I wake up in the night, I just reach out for one.

Please tell us about your new dog.

Chiara has two speeds – zero and 120 mph. In the home she mostly sleeps and outside she is in motion all the time … and she is a love bug.

Do you still love the Chicago Cubs?

It’s no longer the passionate relationship – it’s more the quiet contentment of long-standing love.

OK, moving on to the important stuff; what do you reckon really happened at the end of this season of NCIS? What would you prefer to have happened?

I was horrified when Gibbs was shot and that should never have happened. However, too many of the dead major players have been either female, black or gay… so from a PC standpoint it was good to have a straight, white, male take a few knocks!

And could you write an episode of NCIS?

Curiously, although I love the show, I never imagine myself into it, so I think the answer must be no …

I had to go and watch that ending again. I think we can resurrect Gibbs, even with a different scriptwriter than Sara Paretsky. And from one still sleeper to another, I wasn’t in the least surprised by Sara’s choice of Swede. Respect.

The memorial service

They didn’t go in for children’s books so much in the 1930s and 40s. That will be why the Grandmother, when she learned to read all those years ago, read Dickens and Scott for fun by the age of eight. And that’s why Daughter did a reading of the end of The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott at her Grandmother’s memorial service on Wednesday.

It was quite a nice service, if I do say so myself. We persuaded Son to be our MC, and he introduced the Resident IT Consultant’s eulogy, which was fairly amusing in places. The Grandmother had once been too young to sign the Official Secrets Act (while having cause to do so). And she used a cardboard box for the Resident IT Consultant to sleep in.

Odd sleeping habits must have run in the family, as her sister reminisced about the three or four years the two of them slept in the understairs cupboard, like some early Harry Potters.

At the crematorium before the memorial Son had the pleasure of hearing ‘Paul Temple’ reading William Penn, and this piece was repeated by Daughter in the next session.

We’re not exactly in the habit of organising this kind of thing, but we knew what we wanted. It was the knowing where to get hold of the right people that was hard. (Many thanks to the Scottish children’s author who didn’t object to questions about suitable musicians.)

In the end we were lucky, as Paul Temple introduced us to a 16-year-old local girl who played Schubert and Stradella on the cello, before charming everyone by singing Mononoke Hime – in Japanese – a cappella. Even an old witch can shed a tear over such perfection.

Initially we’d asked a local church if we could use it as our venue, but we were found too God-less, which meant that we actually ended up somewhere quite perfect in its place. Cowane’s Hospital was just right; the right size, nice and old, beautiful acoustics, situated next to the castle, and generally feeling like our kind of place.

Stirling Highland Hotel

Afterwards we wandered downhill a little – literally – for afternoon tea at the Stirling Highland Hotel, where I normally go to hear about gruesome murders during Bloody Scotland. It couldn’t have been nicer. And no funeral tea is complete without a quick trip upstairs to the Old High School Telescope. The Resident IT Consultant helped paint it, decades ago.

I’ve got it covered #2

Kodnamn Verity. You can tell what book it is, can’t you? My second favourite book ever, Code Name Verity. In Swedish. It’s – not surprisingly – very good in translation (by Carina Jansson) as well. I could easily have slipped and spent all night reading it again.

Just like my friend Pippi did recently. When she visited earlier this year, she asked what she should read. Because she was in Stirling, and in Scotland, and because I used to live in Stockport, where she had also visited, I suggested Code Name Verity. Not necessarily believing she’d obey or remember. But it seems she did.

Pippi emailed me to say she’d been kept awake reading until half past two. That’s the sort of thing I like to hear.

Elizabeth Wein, Kodnamn Verity

I thought Elizabeth Wein might like to hear it too, so I made sure she did. Because I leave no one in peace. What’s more, Elizabeth sent me a copy of Kodnamn Verity, so that I can enjoy this marvellous book in more than one language.

The cover is great. I’d seen it online before, but it’s actually much nicer in the flesh. The whole book has a nice feel to it. When I’ve finished stroking it, I might put it away. Or I could always have an accident and…