Category Archives: Interview

2 x Michael Grant

The place I had to be on Saturday afternoon was a nearby author hotel, where I was going to interview Michael Grant. Again. (He interviews so well! How can a witch not go for him over and over again?)

Michael had just arrived in Edinburgh, but had skipped immediate jetlag by doing research in England first. Some nautical research, and a wide-eyed new discovery in the shape of the London Oxford Street branch of the shop that is never knowingly undersold. Michael loved it, and had had no idea such a place could exist.

He looked better than ever, tanned and thin, and pretty unstoppable. This time I made sure he had coffee that didn’t politely go cold, although it might have been dreadful coffee for all I know. I had the tea.

I’d been reading his new book, out later this week, the second and last in his Messenger of Fear series. I wanted to ask why he’d gone in such a new direction, and what will happen next, and then what comes after that. Lots of books, is the answer. We got to admire his daughter’s new hair, which cost a fortune, and my photographer learned some financial tips from Michael’s son (who wasn’t there, and nor was his sister).

We got longer than planned, as Michael was hungry and wanted a sandwich as well. He can eat and talk at the same time.

Afterwards we walked over to Charlotte Square for his event, and I can tell you that was one long queue he had, waiting patiently. It’s always good when there are lots of teenagers at teenage events.

It was fortunate that Michael had already shown us the disgusting images on his laptop, so they didn’t come as a complete surprise when he started off with them. (His wife doesn’t like them, either.) And he set us a problem to solve, making the tent into a sealed brick building, with monsters coming out of the floor, wanting to eat three humans. He wanted to know what our monsters looked like. (Blue, in my case. A bit blobby.)

This time Michael had decided to preempt the perennial question about where he gets his ideas from, not wanting to get annoyed, or claim that they come from Tesco, next to the yoghurt. That’s partly the reason he’d found himself this software that produces such creepy and disturbing pictures.

At one point I thought Michael claimed not to have been on a riding course (and I could just visualise him on this horse), when I worked out he’d not been on a writing course.

One of his book ideas he described to his editor as The Seventh Seal, but with fewer Swedes and more teenagers. (You can never have too many Swedes.) As for sex, that is more fun to do, than to write about. Although we learned that he has a past writing Sweet Valley Twins books, which is actually a bit disturbing.

Michael has completely ruined his editor, who has gone from someone who recoiled from his suggestions, to actively embracing them. With Messenger of Fear he put in everything he could from his own fears, which have mostly to do with his children, and if he got rid of them, his wife. (He has tried.) Then it’s fire, and small closed in places.

Michael Grant

He’d never put himself in the books, but when asked who in Gone is most like him, it’s Quinn, ‘the unreliable friend, the backstabbing little shit.’

And on that note we stampeded to the bookshop next door, where he signed books until he eventually got rid of his fans.

As for me, I can’t now unthink some of the ideas Michael has put into my head; from bricked up book festival tents, to being the one fed to the monsters.

The #16 profile – Theresa Breslin

It’s taken me a while to tie Theresa Breslin down for a profile, but now that it’s finally happened you can see what a natural she is for this sort of thing. Theresa has a new book out – An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Mythical Creatures – which is another of those gorgeous story books, illustrated by Kate Leiper (who does not seem to have a profile here… Oops). Well, let’s start with the Lego style Theresa:

Theresa Breslin Lego Girl

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

None. It was a One Strike Shot. Had a whole lot of support from a writers group and, in particular, a friendly female poet who pointed me in the right direction.

Best place for inspiration?

Walking in woods. Anytime of the year. The peace and beauty calms my spirit and makes me reflect – and always something to different to see.

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

Ahemmm! I did. Once. I was invited to contribute to a series and my name had to be Maria Palmer. The series was called ‘Horrorscopes’ (Get it? Horoscope > Palmer ) I became addicted to reading my daily horoscope. It all came in very useful later when I was writing The Nostradamus Prophecy

What would you never write about?

Couldn’t really rule out anything. I’ve already written about things I never imagined I would e.g. the scenes in Prisoner of the Inquisition.

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

My writing has taken me to some amazing and unusual places e.g. Walking on the cobblestones of ancient cities along the Great Silk Road and travelling through the desert places which appear in the film Lawrence of Arabia. I’m fascinated by ancient writing and the language and literature of the world. I love meeting young people of many cultures – special occasions were talking to teenagers in Siberia and a group of extremely lively twelve year old boys in Hong Kong.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

That’s a tough one, but possibly Matteo in The Medici Seal because he is with Leonardo da Vinci as he does dissections, paints The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, and when trying out his flying machine.

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

I’ve had work adapted for stage and screen and was given very good advice from a fellow writer who said to me (in the words of the famous song!) ‘Let. It. Go.

But that’s very hard to do, especially when scenes are deleted and characters conflated or removed. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve always been consulted and listened to, and have had it explained to me why it’s not possible to cram everything in. It’s a totally different medium and (gulp!) yes, sometimes changing the text / dialogue works better than keeping the original lines. The new musical theatre script of Divided City for Primary Schools is very much abridged, but it has to be so that Primary School children can perform it. The Primary School Divided City is set up so that there can be a large cast and every pupil is on stage. I think that makes it worth accepting that some scenes have to be cut.

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

Recently an eleven year old boy asked if, as well as doing all the writing about what was actually happening in a book, was it hard for me to work out the emotional problems of my characters! We chatted. He probably doesn’t realise it but he could become a great writer. In fact I think he’ll be terrific in whatever career he chooses.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I cannot swim, cook, bake, shop for groceries, garden, keep house plants alive or do make-up, hair, or nail polish, and I don’t like driving. But, when my children were small and there was no shop-bought stuff available, I could make the best Hallowe’en costumes, ever. I also tell really good stories, especially Folk Tales….

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Growing up I was a Famous Five obsessive. I actually was George but had to keep this a secret from family and teachers at school.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Way too many to choose, Sweden is a country that punches way above its weight in famous folks. Obviously there’s a certain Bookwitch persona but for me it’s Pippi Longstocking, created by the wonderful writer Astrid Lindgren.

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

I’ve had bookcases specially made to fit around doors and have commercial ones and saggy shelf ones and that old favourite, pile-them-on-the-floor kind. My own work is arranged alphabetically. The surname part is relatively easy, but getting the titles in strict library order is a whole lot more challenging…

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

I’d like to talk to that boy first. I’d like to know what TV he watches and what film he’d watch twice. What music puts him to sleep, and what might make him want to dance in his pants. I’d like to know if he’s a Minecraft Man or a Candy Crusher. I’d like to know what ‘set’ texts he’s been subjected to and what reading scheme his school is using. I’d like to know if he’d pick up a book with an illustration by Albert Uderzo or prefer one done by Chris Riddell. I’d like know if he loves limericks or longer ‘story’ poems. I’d like to know if anyone at home would ‘share’ the book with him. I’d ask him to do my Five-Finger-Word-Spread test. I’d like to discuss book production with him and explain paper weight and shading, and font form and ink colour, and what the terms ‘leading’ and ‘margin’ and ‘gutter’ mean, and how these can affect the enjoyment of a book, and how he ain’t to blame if some books would repel a book-eating boa constrictor.

Possibly at this point I might have to explain to him that I am totally crazily passionate about children (and adults) reading.

Then, and only then, would I show him my selection of books and we’d flick through them together…

Note: The Librarian in me won’t lie down!!!!!

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

Oh, a real Stinko question at the end! And here was me thinking that you were a Bonnie Wee Witch! If all else fails then probably Reading. There’s nothing quite like it in the whole universe. Experience the resonance when you read a few lines, and, suddenly, your soul quivers like a struck tuning fork.”

Well, I say long live librarians! Especially colourful ones. But I’d obviously have to bring food should I ever approach Breslin Towers.

(As for the photo, it’s Theresa’s favourite. Just squint and you’ll see her.)

Meeting my local crime writer

On the eve of – well, more like five weeks before – Bloody Scotland, I bring you my interview with James Oswald.

James Oswald

I’m glad I met up with him at long last, just as he was beginning to resemble my local museum. You know, just because you know it is there and it is nearby, you don’t seem to muster up the energy to actually go and have a look. I kept thinking it’d be so easy to meet up with James, that I never did anything about it.

In the end it was the knowledge that my trusty photographer was about to desert me that made me put my skates on, and here you have the result. James is so nice to talk to I could go and do it all over again. Except the man has books to write, and sheep to deal with.

The #15 profile – Chris Mould

Pirates! Don’t you just love them? Well, I mean, you don’t have to. But you could. Chris Mould seems to like them. Here is Chris telling you about his hair and other things:

Chris Mould

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

Writing was something that burst out of me when I was halfway through collating a book on Victorian ghost stories that I’d only intended to illustrate. (Dust ‘n’ Bones). When I couldn’t find the stories I wanted I began to write them for myself and Hodder very kindly went along with it. My writing life went from there.

Best place for inspiration?

Ha, funny you should ask. I just recently came across this quote by Chuck Close (painter/ photographer)… ‘Inspiration is for amateurs –the rest of us just show up and get to work.’

I wouldn’t rest on that thought entirely but I think there’s some truth in it. I often feel like I achieve my work by digging it out of the page. I always imagine a blank page in a sketchbook has already got the drawings in there and it’s just a matter of excavating it with the pen.

But I do think that if you’re creative you tend to soak things up wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Architecture, long walks, good books/ films, things people say, good quality graphic design, impressive interiors, museums, blah blah blah.

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

I find people don’t forget the name, Mould. It’s fairly unusual as a surname but it kind of helps. So I think I’ll stick with it. I knew it would be useful eventually.

What would you never write about?

I don’t like violence. So I tend to avoid any direct references or involvement as much as I can. Even though I deal with pirates and scoundrels, you’ll find I mostly manage to avoid the gruesome bits.

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

Oh crumbs I don’t like name dropping. I daredn’t so I’m going to refuse to mention my star studded lifestyle !

I’ve been really lucky to travel with work. Mostly to places beginning with B. From Budapest to Bologna to Boston (with Bristol, Bath, Bradford and Birmingham in between). And in February I’m heading to Brazil ! I’m hoping to do the rest of the alphabet very shortly.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

I’d love to be Button in the new Pocket Pirates books. I’ve always wanted to be a tiny person. Ever since I was… tiny !

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

GOOD. Yes please. Where’s the contract ?

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

‘Can I touch your hair ?’ is a recent one.

Also…’Where do you buy your furniture?’ is memorable.

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I reckon I’m a reasonably good cook. I’ve worked in a kitchen and I find it’s a good way to unwind and achieve some chillaxification.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Narnia every time. Mr Tumnus and I were best friends at school.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Got to be Stieg Larsson.

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

I prefer to file them in accordance with how late the author was at meeting the deadline. That way it means all mine are at the front.

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

Pocket Pirates – The Great Cheese Robbery. Lots of artwork. Great for reluctant readers. Cheese and pirates…it’s foolproof.

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

The trouble with me reading other people’s work is that I always LOVE to get lost in a good book but I start getting ideas from other author’s thoughts. So as I’m reading, I start writing something else in my head. It’s the creative curse at its most active. Very annoying. SO, I’m better off writing I think.

Well, that seems almost normal. I hope we can welcome you in Birling soon, Chris, and I can promise I won’t go near the hair. Maybe.

They’re coming

Coming soon to a blog near you:

Bloody Scotland Blog Tour

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.

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.