1 - First things first. What are you having? Name your poison, Fan, or in this case the hot beverage of your choice. Are you a latte or a lemon tea? A shortbread or a chocolate cake? Or perhaps you have some local delicacy in mind?
Well... lately I've been very influenced by a book called NOURISHING TRADITIONS by Sally Fallon, an American food scientist. Her book has given my ideas about healthy nutrition a good old shake-up. So today, I'll have a glass of kefir, made with milk. It's a bit like buttermilk, kind of sour and delicious. Oh, and it doesn't need hotting up! Alas, no cake for me - I don't do glucose.
2 – Let’s get to know a little bit more about how you ended up here on my sofa. A quick bio if you please m’dear.
I'm a new girl to the world of novels; I made my living as a children's playwright [and before that, a director and actor in theatre] for too many years to specify! Having been launched in 2010, I quickly discovered the joys of knowing and sharing information and tips with other writers, which is how I come to be on your sofa!
3 – How did you get into writing and which came first, the theatre or your novels?
I've always loved writing. I learned to read at three and a half. Just looking at a shelf of books makes me feel happy. Theatre has always been a passion too - both my parents, and grandparents on both sides, worked in theatre, either as performers or behind the scenes. What I really wanted to do when I left university was ACT, but so did thousands of other women. I discovered the only way to act, was to write and produce the plays myself, and luckily, the seventies in England were a great time for small scale theatre companies to flourish.
Mm. Do you count a limerick I had read out on the radio when I was eleven? Or the short story in a young people's magazine called The Young Elizabethan? I was fourteen then, with dreams of being a child prodigy. I always had a novel on the go, from age twelve, but none of them ever got published. Which is just as well, as they weren't very good. 'Micka' was my first novel, published in 2010. I went in for a competition run by Cornerstones, a literary consultancy, and from that, I found an agent, Annette Green, who loved Micka, and found a publisher for me within weeks [we didn't even meet!].
5 – From your experience do you have any tips for those not yet published?
Yes - read a lot of good literature, old and new. And when you start writing, give yourself entirely to it, it's like a love affair, be as passionate as you can be, and never look back or forward. Be in the moment.
6 – I love to genre hop, how about you? Do you write in a specific genre? Which is your favourite and why? Is there a particular genre or type of scene that you would avoid and if so why?
I am a total chameleon. Writing plays gives you a chance to speak as a character, from Tom Crean to a cunning Fox. So I see novels as a chance to speak in a voice, and that voice sets the tone of the book. I don't have a favourite genre, though I'd like to become known [ah! wouldn't we all!] as a writer of literary fiction. I also write outrageous erotic romances, under the name of Pan Zador, and she is a very strong character who has to be kept firmly in check. Oh dear, I'm beginning to sound as if we're at a seance! Genres I would avoid - thrillers and crime novels, I don't have the kind of logical mind to construct those plots. And historical fiction, which I love reading, but could not write - too much detailed research for me.
7 – Promotion and marketing, most writers see this as a necessary evil. What do you do to make sure your work reaches your readers?
Not enough. I HATE selling myself. That's why I have not bitten the bullet and self-published. I have huge admiration for friends who do, including yourself.
8 – As a child which was your favourite book? Were you read to as a child and did that develop your love of books? Do you have a favourite book and author now? What are you reading now?
I didn't have a favourite. If I found an author I liked, I went to the library and steadily read my way through everything s/he had written. Enid Blyton, Louisa Alcott, Richmal Crompton, Anthony Buckeridge [The 'Jennings' series], Alexandre Dumas, P.G. Wodehouse - that takes me from age six up to eleven. Yes, I was read to by my mother, herself a gifted actress and maker of stories, who made the magic happen and gave me a hunger to read and write and make stories myself.
9 – Tell us a little about the books you currently have published.
I have four books currently seeking good homes. 'Micka' is about two ten year old boys who come from difficult homes and when they meet, they get themselves into serious trouble. I enjoyed the challenge of writing the entire book just in their voices - could I convincingly be those boys? It's a dark book, but authentic, based on my time in Newcastle and my work with travellers [gypsies] in Scotland. 'Dollywagglers' was published in April, and it's a dystopia. I've wanted to write my own take on the world after a major disaster ever since I read Orwell and Huxley as a teenager. Again, it's dark, but told by a character determined to find humour in any situation. Now Pan Zador is elbowing her way in and has just ordered a knickerbocker glory and a triple strength espresso while she waves copies of 'Act of Love' her theatre romance, and her own extremely rude version of 'Far From The Madding Crowd' - oh, and she's offering a ride in her Bugatti to anyone who can tell the difference between her additions and Thomas Hardy's original.
10 – Can you give us a hint at what you have planned next?
I'm nearly at the end of my first draft of the sequel to 'Dollywagglers' - I realised there was a lot more story and I wanted the challenge of writing a dystopia, but with some utopian moments, as society sorts itself out into the power-hungry and the idealistic. I won’t tell you who wins, or if anyone wins.
11 – And tell us even more about the one you’ve brought with you. I did explain about reading an excerpt later didn’t I? Oh good. Don’t think you get coffee and cake for nothing.
I first tried this out with potential readers - who are also writers - on the extremely helpful 'Authonomy' site run by Harper Collins. 'Dollywagglers' is not the kind of book HC would pick up, but I had over a hundred useful comments which helped me polish up the umpteenth draft and find a publisher, the dark fiction imprint Tenebris Books.
12 – Pick one of your characters and sell him/her to us in twenty words or less.
I told you, I am hopeless at selling! But here goes: Tall, overweight, sings folk songs to keep up the morale, doesn't do crying, hopes everyone will think she's a man.
13 – While I top up your coffee would you like to read a short excerpt from your book?
Chestnut Avenue used to be near Tollington Park, according to my A-Z; a wide street now barely distinguishable, like the stain on the mattress, a tired overlay of rubble in order of meltdown with the ruin of the old railway bridge slashing blackly across it. Beyond, a pale sun-flecked landscape where a few middle-aged figures are moving to and fro with wheelbarrows, purposeful as dungbeetles, but not as lovable.
Number thirty-nine no longer exists, as such; just a plot and a mixed mound of interesting, though slimy, remnants. It’s been raining recently. Patiently I begin sifting, trawling through these dead strangers’ effects.
Looking up, I see three beings wheelbarrowing grimly towards me. They’ve probably got rights of piccage and pokage and rummage. One of them speaks:
‘Looking for something?’ His voice is civilised; not friendly, but civilised. Christ! He’s wearing a dog collar!
I adopt a harmless, sad, religious expression.
‘No. I’m only saying goodbye to a friend.’ My gaze travels over the three wheelbarrows with a nauseous suspicion that they are gathering bodies for Christian burial, but not so. They seem to be going big on blue. All kinds of blue objects are tumbled indiscriminately on the three wheelbarrows. The vicar’s wheelbarrow is the emptiest – maybe he’s got a bad back.
‘You’re not from round here, are you?’ says a beak-faced woman in a black hat who could have stepped from the vestry of a church – except that she’s wearing rigger boots, and they’re spattered with blood.
The vicar has a strange expression on his face... maybe the words of a funeral benediction are whirling inside his hairless pate.
‘So – how’s the Jesus business?’ He gives me a twisted, intelligent smile. I notice how thin his lips are, and how his hooded eyes take on a fleeting resemblance to a species of small raptor. Before he has time to answer, the third wheelbarrow, her generous jowls trembling with loyalty, cuts in.
‘Don’t waste your time talking to him, Vicar dear. He’s just a filthy ref. Needs a jolly good bath, if you ask me, his face is positively grey.’
I ignore her, and address the vicar again – I know it’s sexist, but it serves her right for assuming I’m a man.
‘So, you’ve got the hot line to God. Explain this to me.’ I gesture at the general devastation. ‘Why? What did we do to get Him so upset? And who’s going to triumph in the end, good or evil?’
Jowls and Black Hat, alert for his response, stand respectfully silent by their wheelbarrows, twin pallbearers at the funeral of civilisation as we know it.
‘How the fuck should I know?’ says Vicar with simple dignity. ‘And if I knew, why the fuck should I tell you?’
He reaches into his pocket and stuffs a flyer into my hand.
‘TUESDAY JANUARY 28th. RAINBOW JUMBLE SALE,’ it reads. ‘IN AID OF CHURCH FUNDS.’ It is printed by hand in marker-pen rainbow colours; the spelling is faultless. Incredulously, I let it drop, and the Vicar suddenly whispers, urgent and serious and almost certainly insane:
‘Life goes on. You see?’
Jowls has had enough of this disrespect. Heftily engaging with her wheelbarrow, she gives a Valkyrie-type cry and directly targets my solar plexus. I hop comparatively nimbly behind the pile of rubble as she veers off to the left, steering hopelessly out of control, squawking like an enraged chicken, fetching up entangled with the old Habitat armchair. As she lies sprawled in the mud, I see with immense delight she is sporting old-fashioned pink interlock knickers.
Vicar, like many mad people, is right. Life goes on. I offer to help her up and she shakes me off, giving me the born-again evil eye. Black Hat dusts her down, uttering wren-like chirrups of consternation.
Ah, the bird life of London!
Thanks to Fan for popping in and telling us about her life and her books. If you'd like to check out Micka or Dollywagglers you can find them here: