Category Archives: Interview

Transcribing

So, mid-interview when the person who has agreed to answer your questions says ‘hang on while I Google this, as I am no expert on what you just asked’… Should they politely offer something off the cuff that can later attract foul language on Twitter? So they can be accused of all kinds of shortcomings?

One thing I’ve learned after being the one who asks the questions, is to see more clearly when reading someone else’s interview how what was said might have happened. Often the person who has been interviewed is made to look as though they launched into a monologue on whatever it is, when in actual fact they were asked – or pressed – for their opinion, when it could be something they either don’t want to talk about or don’t know enough about.

Jacqueline Wilson

I have no idea what Jacqueline Wilson knows about transgender issues, but I’d guess it’s average, or above. She’s an intelligent woman, interested in life, and she is extremely polite, and kind and caring. That’s presumably why she talked about transgender children in her interview with the Telegraph (according to The Bookseller). An interview most likely arranged because she has a new book (Dancing the Charleston) out, and not about this topic. Or she’d have read up beforehand.

I’m the first to admit I only know an average amount about transgender issues, and I stay away from unpleasant spats on Twitter if I can. It’s only from hearsay that I know how badly John Boyne was treated recently.

Short of clamping your lips shut – and that would sort of defeat the purpose of an interview – there is no easy way to avoid being misinterpreted when the ‘chat’ is in print. (I’m obviously naïve for emailing my transcribed interview to discover if I’ve got anything dreadfully wrong.)

Having no wish to name Jacqueline’s attackers, I can only say that none of us have to be experts outside our own area, nor should anyone righteously tweet that they have worked for years on this subject, so they know best. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. But others don’t therefore have an obligation to have done the same.

It would be better if these people continued working hard on whatever important thing they feel so strongly about, and then stand back to consider whether others must be accused of ignorance. And if you need to bring it up, perhaps don’t swear?

In the children’s books world there are countless lovely and kind people. Jacqueline Wilson is one of the kindest and politest. (I also suspect she has the ‘right’ opinions about the things that matter in life. But I’ve not felt I could ask her. Her reaction to Ann Widdecombe’s comments on siblings with different fathers, was to write Diamond Girls, about siblings with different fathers.)

(Photo by Helen Giles)

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Scottish and Friendly with Lauren Child

‘Hello,’ they say. Not ‘do you want to sign in,’ as they do in English schools. That’s what so friendly about Scotland, like this week’s Scottish Friendly tour, where Scottish Book Trust are driving Children’s Laureate Lauren Child (see how those words and her name sort of go together?) all over Central-ish Scotland. Same procedure as every tour; five days, one school in the morning and one in the afternoon. Apparently it can be hard to remember whether you just said what you just said, or if that was in the last place.

Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour

Not since they brought me the last Laureate – Chris Riddell – have I been so pleased that I didn’t have to travel anywhere to meet Lauren Child, but they brought her to me. This time there was no need to break into any schools, even if they did have our local primary school on the itinerary, as I managed to insinuate myself to join them for ‘the daily pizza.’

Except it wasn’t pizza this time. And the Burgh Coffee House was full, even with Scottish Book Trust’s Tom & Co looking pointedly at the table-hoggers there, so they repaired to the new place across the street, where I joined them, having a latte as they worked their way through avocado toast with whipped cream. Ah, no, it was actually poached eggs. Looked like cream. And Lauren Child took to having a random witch join her like the professional she is.

We started by agreeing how strange it was that after all these years, we’d never been in the same place at the same time before. A witch should always aspire to someone new. Her Charlie and Lola books, and subsequent television series, were too late for Offspring [and me]. I had perused Lauren’s website before the meeting and discovered that I am not the only one to believe she’s American.

She’s not. I deduced from her description of a very long radio interview she’d done with someone once, that she might be from Wiltshire. Apparently it matters where you come from, as it does which part of London you live in now.

I’d been hoping to ask a really good question, but Lauren beat me to it and asked one of me instead… ‘Who do you still hope to meet?’ My answer should have been, ‘after you, no one.’ But I wasn’t that alert at that moment.

Lauren Child

Lauren has done what she wanted to do as Children’s Laureate, which is great. She’s at ‘the end’ now, and reckons she managed her goal by not setting such a crazy pace as her predecessor did. In fact, Lauren said it’d be better if the Laureate could stay on for longer than the two years, making it easier to have bigger goals, and for them to be successful.

She can also think of who might be good to take over after her, but is far too discreet to mention names. Although, she did say she feels it would be better not to choose the really big names, as someone slightly less famous could have more time to do the work.

I asked if it helps being known from television when she goes into schools, and it does. Sometimes children can take time to decide that an author is worth listening to, so if they already know about them, that helps.

Lauren’s entourage this week consists of three helpers, making her look terribly important. Scottish Book Trust’s Tom had managed to get two assistants to carry the books for him, which is good going for someone who drank Choconana two and a half years ago. Yesterday he had what looked suspiciously like some kind of coffee. And the café gave them two free slices of chocolate and beetroot cake. Because it was Wednesday.

As always, I stayed for far longer than I should have. (I blame the nice company.) And I turned down their kind offer to smuggle me into that afternoon’s primary school. It was good to have met Lauren, after so much time. And she looked lovely, dressed for spring, and far too sensible in a London and Wiltshire kind of way to even contemplate milkshakes. I’d say some sort of green tea?

The #24 profile – Moira McPartlin

Later this week Moira McPartlin’s Star of Hope, the third book in her Sun Song trilogy is published. I think it’s an exceptionally good title for a book, and I wish it and Moira all the best out in the big wide world.

As you can see, today I have cornered Moira for some questions and answers, but let me tell you right now that I have already emptied her bank account, so don’t even think about it!

Over to Moira:

Moira McPartlin

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

One.  It is called Torque and is about the strange love/hate/trust/jealousy relationship climbers have with their climbing partners. I sent submissions out to agents and publishers and received many, many rejections. Most saying they didn’t know where to place it in the market. I also received a free report from a Literary Agency which was pretty scathing so I buried Torque deep in my hard drive. One day I may dig it out again but it will need a full rewrite.

Best place for inspiration?

I can write just about anywhere but I know that my best work is written away from home. I spent many holidays in Applecross, a remote peninsula in the West Highlands and wrote some fine short stories there. I also wrote Ways of the Doomed, the first book in the Sun Song Trilogy, while living in Paris for a year.

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

I don’t write under a pseudonym because an agent once told me, before I was published, that Moira McPartlin is a great writer’s name. But I have toyed with the idea of using the name Agyness Foley if I ever wrote anything totally different. Agnes is my middle name (but the spelling is old fashioned) and Foley is my mother’s maiden name, although I probably shouldn’t have told you that because that’s a security question isn’t it?

What would you never write about?

I’m not sure I can say there is anything I would never write about although I would think twice about appropriating another person’s culture and race. My debut novel The Incomers is about a black West African woman, Ellie. I didn’t set out to write Ellie, she took over my story. I struggled hard before publication about whether I had the right to tell her story and it was only after a couple of black African men read The Incomers and approved that I felt relief. Having said that, one of the characters in my work in progress is an Arab male but that might change.

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

 Just before I put the finishing touches to The Incomers I went to Africa for the first time. I felt it was my duty to get the feel of Africa. I went to the Gambia and took a local tour to a village where I met women and school children and learned a tiny bit about their lives. When I came home, my hairdresser put me in touch with a Gambian woman who lived in the next village to me. Ellie, my character’s story is set in 1966 Fife. Fatoumata lived in 2011 rural Stirlingshire. I was amazed to discover their stories were not that different.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

I think I’d to be Ishbel, the 21-year-old heroine of The Sun Song Trilogy. One reviewer described her as a post-apocalyptic Lara Croft. I like that description. When I created her I imagined her as a fresh-faced Nicole Kidman before the glam; tall, slim, red hair, amber eyes, in control. Yes, definitely Ishbel.

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

I think it would be a great thing! I am a very visual person, so when I write I can picture every scene in my head. I think that is why readers tell me my books would make good films. The hardest thing for writers is getting their books discovered by readers, a film is a great way to make that happen.

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

I was once asked what was the difference between storytelling and lying? I was running a workshop on creating future worlds and I handed out made-up newspaper headlines about their town and asked them to write the story. One girl took real offence to this and more or less called me a liar. It was a good question though and made me rethink my definition of storytelling

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I am very good at untangling: fishing line, which I’ve snagged up in the first place; my granddaughter’s silver chains; my granddaughter’s Rapunzel-like hair; my sewing threads.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

The Famous Five. I read quite a few when I was young. I didn’t discover Narnia until my boys were small. I read a couple to them but I only enjoyed the first book.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Henrik Johansson.  In 1998 I was part of a work transfer team to move finance jobs from Stockholm to Glasgow. Henrik was a young consultant and my boss. He’d always turn up for work late, with his shirt unironed and hanging out. He has a funny, crazy laugh. He married a friend of mine and now lives in Malmö but his in-laws live in Fintry, a small village near me, so we were able to catch up a couple of years ago when they were home for Christmas.

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

I have many bookcases and need more. I read both fiction and nonfiction so I have bookcases for specific genres. I have a small bookcase for books still to be read and a fiction only bookcase. These are both organized alphabetically. In my study I have a writing bookcase which includes writing craft, poetry, plays and literature criticism books. These are organised by subject, then alphabetically. In my husband’s study I have matching book cases for nonfiction, guidebooks and maps. These are a bit mixed up at the moment because we’ve recently moved but these too will be organised by subject then alphabetically.

I could go on forever about my book collection.

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

My grandson is a reluctant reader. For his Christmas I gave him the Peter Bunzl trilogy and we are reading Cogheart, the first of that trilogy, just now. It is a steampunk book with airships and a mechanical fox. What more could a small boy want?

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

Reading. I can’t imagine ever not wanting to write but I know I could never give up reading.

How, erm, refreshing to have found a writer who has a normal person as their favourite Swede. It’s not even as if Henrik is Norwegian, or anything. And that agent was right, Moira McPartlin is a really good author name. 

What luck that Moira could just continue putting her ‘surplus’ books in her husband’s study! Although a woman who writes in [corpse-strewn] Applecross and in Paris clearly needs no study at all…

Hear Candy here

There is a nice interview with Candy Gourlay on YouTube. If you haven’t heard her at an event for Bone Talk, you’ll find this fascinating. There is so much a reader never realises about the journey the author made to be able to write that wonderful book you’ve just enjoyed.

While it all makes sense when you hear it, I don’t think I’d ever have been able to work it out for myself. Unless I was brave enough to start writing a book, thus discovering how you need to change how you look at everything.

And I had no idea that rice paddies are noisy.

Reaching their destinations

Rachel Ward’s back where I first met her, in Edinburgh, nearly ten years on. She has left behind her ‘hideously dark’ YA novels, and is enjoying cosy, humorous crime for adults. Rachel was doing an event at Blackwell’s last night, but first she met up for coffee with your witch, after a walk in Princes’ Street Gardens in the morning darkness, visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia, and going to Waterstones for [leftover] wine with Ceris from Sandstone Press, ferrying two boxes of the stuff on the bus to the other bookshop in town. That’s dedication.

The event –  Examining the Crime Scene: Three Crime Writers in Conversation – was with fellow Sandstone Press authors Lesley Kelly and William McIntyre, and I can’t tell you how good it is to ‘meet’ two authors I didn’t know at all and discovering they are fun and interesting and that I might not be totally opposed to reading their books.

Lesley Kelly, William McIntyre, Ceris Jones and Rachel Ward

I will have to get used to events no longer run by Ann Landmann, who has left, but I dare say that will be possible. I was introduced to her replacement. I immediately forgot his name. Completely my fault. It’s my age. But I do have to say he had arranged things very nicely. Differently, but almost, well, better… Except for ‘my’ sofa, which I surreptitiously shoved a little.

Helen Grant arrived in the nick of time, having struggled with the travelling-to-Blackwell’s-for-an-event-and-trains-running-late problem. Chair Ceris allowed her authors to cheat, by showing them her questions in advance… And I didn’t get the memo, but it seems that white spots on navy or black is the way to dress. The size of the audience worried our host, because why were we all out on a Monday night, being so interested in crime?

William McIntyre

William, who seems to kill people in Linlithgow – which I find an admirable thing – believes that you should commit the crime before speaking to a lawyer. He borrows freely from his day job in the legal business and puts it all in his books, which are either nine, or four, depending on whether you count his self-published novels. It saves on research. And he says he only uses already publicly known facts.

Lesley Kelly

Lesley has a policeman father, but she wished she’d spoken before William, as she’s ‘not as interesting’. She used to be a stand-up comedian, and finds the two-year wait for laughs when writing a book rather long. You never know what readers want, but in her next book she kills a lot of civil servants.

Rachel Ward

And then we have Rachel, who based her detectives on ‘a life of food shopping.’ This is a fine thing, and you can listen to and observe people in the supermarket. Everyone shops for food. The humour in her dialogue wasn’t intentional, but when she sent her husband a chapter at a time to read, she liked hearing him laugh.

None of the three authors write about sex. Well, Rachel does, a little. There was a question as to whether you have to be a bit drunk when writing about sex.

Asked whether they plot in advance, William described how you need only know some, because as long as you can see into the near distance if you are driving in fog, you will be able to reach your destination. A little at a time, and that works for writing as well. Rachel has realised that ‘plot is quite important’ and Lesley plots because she doesn’t want to get lost.

Then there was some discussion about Tom Cruise, and I’ve forgotten how many of them want him in the film of their book. Potentially all three.

And then we got to the end. Helen and I both went up to ‘Mr Ward’ and chatted. I reckon Rachel will want to lock him up, but it was nice to meet him at last.

Spoke briefly to a book fan from Chile, as well as more formally meeting blogger Kelly, who apparently reads Bookwitch. Hello!!

Realised that Sandstone Press, and Ceris, are not from Perth. They are in Dingwall, and that is a very long way north. Very very.

Chatted some more with William and urged him to really let go in Linlithgow, without telling him the whole story. Tried to be professional, handing out business cards to him and Lesley. Just hope they’re not going to turn up outside my door..!

Then I grabbed Helen Grant, and carefully avoiding Fleshmarket Close, we walked to the station where we got our train home, and one of us almost told the guard he was too loud.

(Photos by Helen Grant)

Christoffer Carlsson – neither pink nor fluffy

Here is what you’ve all wanted to read; my little chat with Christoffer Carlsson, where we talk far more about schools and immigration, than we do crime novels. But it’s not every day ‘a boy from home’ comes to Stirling.

Having successfully caught the last coffee cup in the Bloody Scotland green room, Christoffer apologises, but I point out he’s better to have it than I am, since I don’t drink coffee. Anyway, he’s the guest.

It’s very noisy in the green room, after three events have come to an end and people have gathered, chattering away. In fact, Christoffer has had quite a conversation with Denise Mina, who didn’t run away as fast as I’d expected, seeing as she was in a hurry.

Christoffer Carlsson

Promising to talk loudly into my recording device, he bends his head halfway down to the table. I ask about his new, Swedish book, which he mentioned during his morning event. I’ve been wishing for something set in or around Halmstad, and now it seems he has already written it. ‘It will be published in the spring,’ he says, ‘but I’ve not started talking about it yet.’ He’s been afraid that the place he’s from won’t be considered interesting enough, for a novel. It’s the hardest book he’s written. It took two years to write, and when I ask where it’s set, I get a very exact description, which I won’t burden you with here. I know. That’s enough.

It’s close to where he grew up, where he and his brother used to play. And then, halfway through writing the book, his parents sold up and moved away from his childhood home, moving into a flat in town, enjoying their new life on the 13th floor with marvellous views. ‘The novel became some sort of farewell. It was pretty hard. It’s as if part of my past has moved out of reach.’

From his parents’ high rise, to the ones Christoffer wrote about in Salem, the Stockholm suburb in the Leo Junker series, I wonder if he knew enough about that kind of existence, after such a rural childhood. He giggles. He’s lived in various parts of Stockholm, including Hagsätra, which is his fictional Salem. He tells me about a smash and grab at a pawnshop, saying that the crimes in the more disadvantaged areas are different from those in the posher parts of the city. To be honest, he felt more at home there, enjoying being recognised as a regular in the newsagent’s. He felt he belonged.

My next question is about schools, as he and I attended schools in small-town Sweden, whereas Leo went to a troubled school in one of the capital’s suburbs. Christoffer’s primary school was Snöstorpsskolan; which had one non-white pupil and no library, in a cute and quiet area on the outskirts of Halmstad. Secondary school was Östergårdsskolan where, thirty years after I should have gone there but didn’t, immigrants made up 50%, which Christoffer and his Snöstorp friends loved. Not so much the parents. It was a well integrated school, where the white pupils only noticed that the cool kids from Andersberg were good at football, or that someone had a great collection of [ice] hockey cards. Christoffer reckons this background helped with his writing.

Christoffer Carlsson

I ask about the many immigrant names in his books. I’m not used to this. There are obviously still a lot of Carlssons, but they have company now. Christoffer mentions the books by Arne Dahl. ‘They are bloody interesting,’ he says. His A Unit was pretty homogenous at the outset, but as society changed, so did the group. ‘There are still more -sson names, numerically.’ In his new book the names come from former Yugoslavia. It was the mid-1990s, and the war meant people came to Sweden. Now it is people from North Africa. ‘But they go from being refugees and immigrants, and ten years on they have ordinary jobs.’ I mention my childhood immigrants; one from Hungary and one from Finland, and he grins. ‘How exciting.’

We compare sixth form colleges. Christoffer says mine was old and posh, so I point out it was brand new in my day. He retorts that the teachers had all moved from the town’s posh school. He cackles some more when I mention that my head teacher was considered rather infra dig by the other teachers.

We talk about the Chileans, some of whom come to sticky ends in his books. ‘A bit sad,’ Christoffer admits, but tries to reassure me that most of the Chileans did fine. One of his professors at university comes from Chile. ‘The young are in a vulnerable situation, looking for excitement.’

And you miss the new integration in more expensive areas, because the newcomers simply can’t afford to live there. ‘People just want to survive. They are neither potential terrorists or angels. They are just like us. Some are idiots, some are good. They are just people.’ Christoffer reckons crime novels have a role to play in showing us this. 

‘Why did you write your YA novel?’

He laughs. ‘The truth, the truth, Ann, is so bloody banal,’ he almost chokes on his coffee. ‘Book three about Leo Junker was so hard to write. It’s the longest, and in the middle of it I just said “I’ll do something different now.” So I went from writing about a middle aged man to a female teenager. Writing about crimes from a 16-year-old’s point of view, I didn’t want it to be too Kalle Blomkvist (an Astrid Lindgren child detective). I was, “what is it about? Is she staying put, or getting out?” Get out, or get stuck. It’s her choice.’

Christoffer Carlsson

‘Then when it was written I wondered what to do with it. The publisher felt I was in the middle of a series, so maybe make it a YA novel. I wrote it for myself; what I would have wanted when I was a teenager.’ There weren’t many changes, other than perhaps shortening the sentences. He was challenged on the flashbacks, that they might be too hard for young readers. ‘They’re into Game of Thrones! They see flashbacks all the time!’

‘So, Stirling High School, where you went yesterday. Did they really let you in?’ He giggles. ‘Yes, of course. They were great.’

Our conversation moves to October is the Coldest Month; his UK publisher Scribe calling it ‘almost transgressive fiction,’ while the Norwegians, the French, the Spanish and the Italians said the violence was sort of OK, but asked if he could ‘make the sex more pink and fluffy.’ Christoffer refused, and he asks, ‘pink and fluffy, what does it even mean?’

He isn’t sure what role fiction has today, but when he was young, fiction shouldn’t lie, there should be no whitewashing, and it shouldn’t be doing your parents’ job. Young readers can tell very easily.

‘But, in short, I was allowed to go there, and they were fantastic. We talked about books, about what they read, which is everything from Rankin to John Green to Virginia Woolf.’ Asking if people tell them what to read, Christoffer advised that they should decide for themselves. ‘Maybe not the best thing to say in a library…’ After a quick aside from me regarding Melvin Burgess once being asked to leave a school, we both say, ‘but you’re/I’m so kind and sweet looking!’ He reckons his image is really ‘sweet’ and I suggest perhaps he’s quite horrible, behind that innocent facade, and he cackles again, slapping his thighs. ‘Exactly, it’s what I’ve got going for me, I’m so kind and sweet.’

Christoffer Carlsson

Anyway, it had been good, and the students stayed to chat after the bell went. He moans that school periods are too short. He’d have liked to get there earlier, to talk for longer, but is grateful he was able to go at all.

When abroad he usually says ‘you either take me to a school, or you take me to a prison.’ And it works. Apparently it’s much harder to get into prisons in Sweden. (Although I can think of one way…) He’s been in the UK twice now, including when we first met in Edinburgh last year. He hopes to attend Newcastle Noir in the spring, with Jacky Collins, and if Scribe agree, Christoffer would like to visit a prison there. ‘Are there any?’ he asks, and I admit to not being an expert on prisons. More cackling.

We decide we’ve been sitting in the green room for quite long enough. It’s now very quiet, or would be, if it weren’t for us. Leaving the Golden Lion, Christoffer goes up the hill to his hotel and an evening of working on his book, and I go the opposite way, ‘promising’ to look him up in Newcastle if I end up missing him too much.

And that’s it. Let’s hope we can find him a prison…

Another Bloody Saturday

After a caffeine disturbed night’s sleep I walked down to my first Bloody Scotland event on Saturday morning. Got my left pavement mixed up with my right, but a witch can always cross the street twice. And this time we were invited to enter the Allan Park Church through what was last year’s wrong door.

Christoffer Carlsson, Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean

It was a ‘Swedish’ event, with one real Swede – Christoffer Carlsson – and two fakes, but equally lovely – Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean. And, because someone had tagged me on Facebook, I’d looked up the other tag-ees, and decided that the one I vaguely recognised should be looked out for. I didn’t have to look long, as it turned out that Jacky Collins was chairing the Swedish event.

Jacky Collins and Michael Malone

Please don’t consider this a spoiler, but it was the best event of the day, and I’ll tell you more later. It over-ran, and when we finally emerged into the famous Scottish sunshine, I made arrangements to meet up with Christoffer at the end of the day; then went over to sit on my usual sunny park bench, to devour my lunch.

Met another crime fan who sat down and chatted to me, with each of us trying to outdo the other about who we knew and what we read and so on. Well, the Resident IT Consultant did tell me to make new friends… 😊

Frank Gardner

Popped into the signing area of the Albert Halls to take a photo of Frank Gardner. It was absolute mayhem in there, which I deduced meant he’d had a good event and a big audience.

Caroline Mitchell, Ruth Ware, Mel McGrath and Alexandra Sokoloff

Escaped to run – figuratively speaking – to the Golden Lion hotel where I enquired about tickets for the afternoon events. I went for Family Secrets with Ruth Ware, Mel McGrath and Caroline Mitchell, chaired by Alexandra Sokoloff. This was followed by the Kiwis, which like the Swedes consisted of real ones and fakes; Paul Cleave, Fiona Sussman, Denise Mina and Liam McIlvanney – winner of the previous night’s McIlvanney Prize – and chair Craig Sisterson.

Paul Cleave, Denise Mina, Liam McIlvanney, Fiona Sussman and Craig Sisterson

Liam McIlvanney, The Quaker

Unsurprisingly the event over-ran, but as Christoffer turned out to have been there too, I wasn’t as late meeting him as I’d been afraid. Where to conduct an interview, though? The foyer was heaving, as was the bar, so eventually we traipsed up to the Green room, where we commandeered a corner of a table, and Christoffer managed to grab the last coffee cup.

Christoffer Carlsson, Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean

We began our chat with Christoffer talking very loudly into my recording device, to drown out everyone else in there, and when they’d all disappeared we suddenly sounded rather loud, not to mention foreign. I found out what his Friday visit to the Resident IT Consultant’s old school had been like, and that would have been good to have seen.

It was time for me to go home to my dinner, and Christoffer headed uphill to the old High School for some work (and everyone else going to have fun on a Saturday night), saying what a great place Stirling would be for spies…