Category Archives: Interview

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.

A borrowed interview

And while I’ve not got much time to blog, I have a borrowed interview to offer you.

Cambridge University’s Varsity had the good taste to interview ‘old’ girl Marnie Riches about her novel The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die.

I’m only a little annoyed. I wish I’d thought of it. And I wish I’d done it so well.

That’s all.

Read it here.

James Oswald, but no cake

If I caused  a couple of chapters of James Oswald’s next novel not to be written yesterday afternoon, I apologise. I’m not sorry, but this is what has to happen sometimes.

James Oswald

I’d been meaning to ask James for an interview for quite a while, and now that I’m so close to losing my photographer, I simply had to make it happen. The interview, I mean.

To allow James enough time with his cattle, or whatever it is he does in the mornings, I suggested meeting in Perth, which is the town closest to him, and in the afternoon, because I had researched a café with gorgeous looking cakes online, but in the end hayfever prompted us to step no further from the railway station than the Station Hotel. So no cake.

It’s a clean hotel, though. Especially after it was hoovered to within an inch of its life during the interview. I may have to make up most of what James said, which went along the lines of writing, cattle, dogs, killing builders, that kind of thing. We also agreed that Allan Guthrie writes the most noir of crime.

Towards the end I felt pleased as I assumed the woman coming towards us was a fan, happy to see him. And in a way she was, since she is James’s partner. The one who provided his detective with the name of McLean.

I’m – almost – glad that Eoin Colfer fell ill, that time James replaced him at Bloody Scotland two years ago. Silver lining, and all that. But James will never again let Colin Bateman read first.

Hobnobbing with the Pope

Not me. Anthony McGowan, if he’s to be trusted. But why* shouldn’t this cricket-mad slightly crazy children’s author socialise with the Pope?

He’s also much nicer and kinder than he tries to make himself out to be. Tony, that is, not the Pope.

Anthony McGowan

It was the cricket I really wanted to hear about. Any author can talk books and writing, but not all live for their cricket quite like Tony does. His whole being lit up when I pushed him onto his favourite topic.

So here is he – finally – talking about the Pope, teachers as role models and getting wrecked in Vienna with the new children’s laureate. Not bad at all for a working class northern kid.

*It seems he didn’t. I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. Read that email, I mean. Anyway, he was close, and so was I.

Going to Mars

Am I the only one to think of Douglas Adams when reading about the people who made it on to the list of travellers to Mars? I didn’t even know you could apply (not that I would have done so), let alone did I imagine people would sign up for it, seeing as it’s not exactly NASA.

Is it insanity? Or are they so grounded in reality that they realise it will never happen, so they might as well cause a stir? Does it sound good in interviews and on CVs? I ask, because Daughter was flabbergasted to find that someone she met in an interview round was one of the ‘lucky’ ones. And reading about them, the ratio of astrophysicists does seem remarkably high.

If I interviewed someone like that, would I think it showed admirable ambition, or would I feel that I mustn’t waste a position on someone that crazy who would get themselves killed in ten years’ time? Or, at least, not come back.

Then I discovered that Sheldon Cooper had applied. Not that that is a recommendation or a sign of mature thinking, but still.

Back to Douglas Adams, though, and the crashlanded batch of hairdressers and telephone sanitisers who had ‘gone ahead.’ Is this not the same thing? Almost.

Liz Kessler on Read Me Like a Book

The fact that I had looked forward so much to reading Liz Kessler’s Read Me Like a Book, doesn’t mean that I believe it will be all straight sailing. That’s why I nailed the lovely Liz to the spot and asked all kinds of questions on how she sees the future for this new book of hers:

Liz Kessler

So, from mermaids via fairies and a bit of time travelling and some plain invisibility, to a book on discovering you are gay… That’s quite a journey. (I know you actually began with the gay book, before moving on to more conventional mermaids.)

You’re right, I did write this book first – and it has been sitting in a drawer for over a decade! I personally don’t think of this as ‘the gay book’ though. I really hope it’s much more than that! But yes – definitely quite a journey!

Do you reckon your first fans are old enough to be ready for this complete change of genre? In fact, perhaps this older book is what you need, to hang on to readers as they outgrow the mermaids?

My first book came out in 2003, so I guess many of my early fans will now be in their late teens or even early twenties. Hopefully that means they are well within the age group for a YA book! I do hope that some of my readers will progress through my books, and that they will see the similarities and the links in terms of themes between all of my books. I don’t see this book as a complete change of genre at all. I just think it’s a book aimed at a different age group. Like almost all my books, this one deals with subjects like learning to accept others, becoming comfortable with yourself, standing up for what you believe in and being bold and honest. As to whether my readers are ‘ready’ or not – well, you’ll have to ask them that! All I know is that I very much hope they are!

Have you any fears regarding parental gatekeepers, or is Read Me Like a Book purely for readers who decide for themselves?

Up to this point, I have only received positive comments, and the book seems (up to now) to be coming out in a climate of celebration and support. Perhaps some of the gatekeepers – be they parents, librarians or teachers – might have issues with some of the content of the book. If they do, there is nothing I can do about that. To be honest though, I think that they would have to be fairly extreme in their views to be worried by this book. It isn’t setting out to be controversial in any way. It is about many issues which all teenagers can hopefully relate to, whatever their gender or sexuality. As to whether this is a book purely for readers to decide for themselves or not – it’s no different from any other YA book in that respect. I can only write the books. I can’t decide who will pick them up or what their motivation or decision-making process will be.

Are you expecting a ‘Melvin Burgess, Doing It’ type of outcry in schools?

No. Not at all. I don’t think anyone who has read both books would see any link between them. This is not a book about sex. It’s a book about first love, about the struggles of teenage years, about coming to terms with who we are.  

You seem like the kind of woman who’d encourage your fans to ask questions about all sorts of things. Has anyone ever sought advice on gay issues?

Not yet. I do encourage people to feel able to ask me questions, and if as a result of this book I am asked questions on LGBT matters, I’ll do my best to give my own honest answers and hope that they will help.

It’s been a while since you wrote Read Me Like a Book. Are there significant changes to society that affect gay teenagers, be they good or bad?

Society has changed a lot since then – and I would say that most of the changes are for the better. More famous people are ‘out’ today than fifteen years ago, so young LGBT people have more role models. The nasty, homophobic ‘Section 28’ no longer exists. We have anti-discrimination laws to give more protection to LGBT people. Attitudes are more positive. But we’re not there yet. If we were, I don’t think I would be asked whether I’m expecting an outcry for publishing this book! 😉

Why not write a completely new book? Was it hard to go into your first book and start editing it to fit 2015?

I do write completely new books all the time! (I think you’ve read most of them!) This book is important to me, and I wanted to get it out there. I’m glad that my publisher has agreed with me that the time is right to do that. There was a lot of editing to get it up to date, and up to scratch. Many things had changed in fifteen years, so I did a lot of work. In fact, I would say it probably feels like a new book now!

Is there anything you’ve worried about to do with this new book? Other than it is a new book, and you can’t know before it’s out there how it will do.

Yes of course – I worry that not everyone is as accepting and ready for the book as most people seem to be. I worry that some parents might not realise it’s a 14+ YA book and buy it for a younger child (although we’ve done everything we can to hopefully prevent this). Perhaps I worry that I will be asked to do too many interviews that make me feel like I’m having to defend a book that I don’t feel should have to be defended in this way! But my mind is mostly focused on the excitement I feel about it, not on worries.

What are you most looking forward to with Read Me Like a Book?

Getting an email from a teenager telling me that my book has helped them to feel confident about who they are and not feel alone. If I get one email like that, my job is done.

Might you write more books like this, or is it straight back to fantasy now?

I don’t think I write fantasy – I think that I write books about the real world, but quite often they have a magical element in them. I will continue to write those for the Middle Grade age group, and I am planning to continue to pursue a YA strand as well.

It seems that I am far more worried about the world than Liz is. And she’s quite right; finding out – and learning to accept – that you are gay is actually much the same thing as discovering you are half mermaid. We’re all a bit different, but also the same. I wish her book and its readers all the best.