Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Author Visit: Carys Bray Talks Books




This Tuesday is an excellent Tuesday because I’ve got the lovely Carys Bray – author of the shiny new The Museum of You here to chat about all things bookish. Hurrah!

Carys!  Thank-you so much for stopping by my little corner of the blogosphere; grab a coffee and a jar of Biscoff spread and a spoon and make yourself comfortable.

Before we get started, let’s warm up with a quick fire round.

Ready, steady, GO:

  1. Coffee, tea or…?
Coffee
  1. Favourite film?
Oh, erm – I do like the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. I know it’s not strictly a film, but I’ve watched it loads of times!
  1. Favourite book?
It changes, but at the moment I love A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler.
  1. Summer or winter?
Summer
  1. Favourite Colour?
Red
  1. Last thing you ate?
A Magnum ice cream.
  1. Dream holiday destination?
Moab, Utah.
  1. If you could jump to any point in history, who would you have dinner with?
I’d love to have dinner with Carol Shields. I think her novels and short stories are brilliant and it would be great to speak to her about her writing.
  1. How do you like your steak?
I’m a vegetarian, so alive and mooing, living in a field somewhere would be good!
  1. What are your pet peeves?
I hate it when taxis park overnight on both corners of the end of my street, just outside my drive. According to my family, my annoyance is totally disproportionate (but it definitely isn’t – ha!).

I do love that bit! Anyway, on to the proper bookish fun stuff!

Let’s get started.

Firstly, I’ve read The Museum of You (and I thought it was ridiculously wonderful) but for anyone who’s yet to get acquainted with the book, can you tell us a little bit about it?

The Museum of You is the story of Darren and his daughter Clover. Clover is twelve, old enough to spend the summer at home while Darren works, driving a bus between Southport and Liverpool. After a school trip to the Maritime Museum, Clover decides to curate a collection of objects that have been sitting in the second bedroom for years.

I love the whole premise of the book, the way Clover goes about setting up The Museum of You and the way you weave the story she’s discovering for herself with Darren’s. Where did the idea come from?

I was thinking about museums. In my town we lost both our nearest library and nearest museum (the loss of the library was particularly galling – the building that housed it was knocked down and whenever I drive down that road the empty space is there, like a missing tooth). I was thinking about objects and the stories they tell. I’d been to the Titanic Exhibition at Merseyside Maritime Museum and I was fascinated by a display case containing some of the personal effects that had been found at the bottom of the sea. I started to think about curation and what, if anything, we can learn about people from their possessions.


It’s always so excellent when a book is set somewhere you’re familiar with so I loved that Museum of You was set in my neck of the woods – Rivington Pike (about a ten minute drive from my old house), Southport, Formby (which might be my favourite beach ever). Was it a conscious decision to set the book here or did you find Clover and Darren living on your doorstep quite by accident?

It was definitely a deliberate decision. After Issy Bradley, I wanted to set another book in the North West – there wasn’t a reason not to, and we have so many amazing museums here that it was easy to set the book locally.

I can remember a pal of mine telling me about The Lawnmower Museum and thinking she was joking. Have you ever been? What is the best museum you’ve ever visited? Or the weirdest?

I have been! I’m not that into lawnmowers, but the stories really make the museum. I learned that James May of Top Gear once reassembled a particular lawnmower without any instructions. Another lawnmower was pulled by a horse that wore leather shoes so as not to spoil the lawn. And some people like to participate in lawnmower races (12 hour lawnmower races!). My favourite displays involved the ‘lawnmowers of the rich and famous.’ I saw Paul O’Grady’s lawnmower and Eric Morcombe’s Dad’s lawnmower (an object which provoked some serious giggling).

I used to love the Botanic Gardens museum which was close to our house. It was closed in the recent government cuts. The best bit was the taxidermy room which was full of interesting birds and mammals. 

Dagmar. Oh my heart. Talk to me about Dagmar please because I love her, I love her just as much as I love Clover. I actually did contemplate just sending a one question interview that just said ‘Dagmar?’  I want to know about her background and about her friendship with Clover and about what her life was like when she wasn’t with Clover but most of all I just want to know she’s okay.

Dagmar moved to England from the Czech Republic when she was 10. She had a hard time in year 6 at the primary school she attended and she has been having a hard time during her first year of high school too: children call her Dracula and make fun of her accent. Her dad was in the Czech army and experienced some awful things and her mum works long hours in a hotel. Dagmar has had a horrible couple of years, but now that she and Clover are friends, things are looking up for her.


And also Mrs. Mackerel. Is she somebody you know, or did you completely make her up? I’m not even sure which I would prefer. She’s fab by the way. Laugh out loud funny.

I made Mrs Mackerel up, but she was inspired by a funny notebook I inherited from my maternal grandmother. The notebook was full of linguistic mistakes that my grandmother had overheard and jotted down. I decided that Edna Mackerel would make similar mistakes and I started keeping a notebook of my own, writing down funny things I overheard in order to use them in the novel.
Some of the funny things in my grandmother’s notebook came from one of her colleagues at work (she was a teacher).
They included:
“I’m saying this with my tongue in my mouth.”
“There’s a pair of knickers here. I’ve had them on my hands for a fortnight.”
“These three have hit the headlights.”

My own notebook included things my children said:
“I’m just twisting your leg, Mum.”
“He was an “escape goat.”
“It was a racist Shloer.”


The book kind of made me want an allotment; it felt like a kind of catharsis for Darren and for Clover, the allotment – a place they could just go to and be and I love the idea of that. Do you have one?

I do have one and I love it. In 2015 we didn’t need to buy any potatoes or onions for the whole year, which felt very satisfying. I’d love to get better at growing more exciting things like sweetcorn and spinach; that’s my goal this year.

The Museum of You is a different story entirely to your first novel A Song for Issy Bradley although they both deal with loss and grief and the strength of love &your book Sweet Home is a short story collection so a different thing entirely. Which of the books did you find easiest to write, and why?

I loved writing A Song for Issy Bradley because there wasn’t any pressure. I didn’t know if the novel would ever be published and I didn’t think about how it would be received. I just wrote it, and really enjoyed myself in the process. Writing The Museum of You was a very different experience from writing Sweet Home and A Song for Issy Bradley. I knew quite early on in the process that The Museum of You was going to be published which meant that I was working to a deadline and hoping that people who enjoyed my other books would like it. As a result, the process felt quite different.


And is the answer to that question the same as the answer to ‘which is your favourite’ and if not because I’m just a little bit mean, which is your favourite? & I hope that doesn’t make you feel like I’m asking you to choose a favourite child!

Oh, I don’t know! Perhaps Issy Bradley because it was the first book to find a wide range of readers and the one that made me feel like it was okay to begin to describe myself as a writer.

If The Museum of You was a DVD what would the special features be - are there any scenes that ended up ‘on the cutting room floor’ that you can share? *cough*A Dagmar and Clover scene*cough*

The special features would include a few deleted scenes. There was a parent’s evening scene during which Clover attempted to set Darren up with her English teacher. It was pretty excruciating! And there was a scene during which Darren almost thumped someone in a staff training exercise.

Tell us about how you write: do you prefer a loud room or a quiet room; is your manuscript typed or handwritten, do you write during set hours or as the word comes, and at home or some place else? What works best?

I type everything. I like being able to go back and delete things or move them around by copying and pasting text. I work in both loud and quiet places, although I do prefer things to be quiet, if possible. I try to work while my children are at school, but I also work in the evenings and, occasionally, during the night.
 
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new novel about a marriage that goes wrong when one partner starts to believe that the world is ending.

What’s the best writing tip you’ve been given?

Read lots. I think it’s really important to read while thinking about what works and what doesn’t. It’s also very enjoyable!

& because I’m always on the look out for new book recommendations, what are you reading right now?

At the moment I’m reading Modern Lovers by Emma Straub. It’s very entertaining.

& what’s the best book you’ve read this year?

I recently read Jenn Ashworth’s fourth novel, Fell. It’s creepy and disturbing, a haunting evocation of regret, redress and the kindness of strangers, and it’s not quite like anything I’ve read before. It will be published in July 2016.

If you want to read The Museum of You (and you should because it's glorious) then you can grab a copy here.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Review: When We Were Alive



I have been away for a while again haven’t I? I do so hate it when real life stops me from doing blogging. I’m back now though, my mojo sorta returned and to make up for it I have a list of books I’ve read that I want to talk to you about and maybe even a special guest. We’ll talk about that later though, because right now I wanna talk about this:


I went into CJ Fisher’s When We Were Alive not really sure what to expect.

Do I need to mention that Fisher is also on YouTube under the handle Ophelia Dagger? Most people probably already know that already. I didn’t; I’ve seen her videos but hadn’t realised that this was her. I’m not actually sure how relevant it is, actually, because I’m not here to tell you that you ought to read this book because books by YouTubers are super cool. I’m telling you to read this book because YouTube Channel or not, CJ Fisher is A Very Good Writer. I tell you, for a debut, this is seriously good. In fact, that might be unfair. Probably I should just say that it’s good, because it is.

It’s very wordy, which, well I loved. All the pretty words, all of the time thank-you please, and it’s very cleverly written, with three equally excellent stories interwoven together and taking us from 2011 to the 1970’s to the 1930’s and back again, each voice sharp and unique and strong with a mixture of third person narrative and letters from a young boy to the Mother he doesn’t know. It’s witty and clever and very perceptive and I was gripped. Utterly gripped.

Lemme tell you a bit about it because I’m being vague, and being vague does not a helpful review make.

It’s three stories – I said that already I know, bear with - seemingly unconnected stories, told independently of one another but woven together so intricately that sometimes it makes your breath catch. Themes are repeated and ideologies are repeated and it’s so damn clever that you don’t even realise it right away. I love that.

In 2011 you’ve got Myles. Myles is in his early 20’s and though it’s never explicitly stated you can’t help but think he places somewhere on the Autism Spectrum. He reminds me a little of Charlie a little bit, from Perks. He tells his story, random and wonderful and a little bittersweet as it is, through the letters he pens to the Mum he never knew – gimme all the epistolary stories please – and he’s candid and honest and open even though sometimes he’s a little bit inappropriate and he’s really intriguing. Probably not the most reliable of narrators lets be honest but that’s kind of the appeal.

Then, in the 70’s there’s Will who is on a path to self destruction in a bid to just feel. He gets drunk in a hotel in Vegas and meets a girl. Dawn turns his life upside down. Will’s kind of fascinating, a bit of a train wreck, and you kind of want to help him, to save him, and at the same time (because you know he’s not real) you want to sit back and watch, see where, exactly he’s going to end up.

Then further back still, right back to the 1930’s and Bobby. We meet Bobby when he’s 12 and he’s a misfit and he wants to be a magician and he has no friends but his parents until he meets Rose. Rose who becomes his friend quite by accident and is part of his story through WWII and after and Bobby might be my favourite actually, partly because of the setting of his story and partly because he sort of makes your chest tight. Gah. I love him.

It’s a book about life, skipping from one decade to the next and back again and showing you with no holds barred these snapshots into these three lives and making you root for them, ache for them, believe in them. There are twists and there are turns, there are things you see coming and sometimes you find yourself saying ‘oh hello foreshadowing’ and things that you absolutely did not see coming but at all. It’s not a barrel of laughs (and I know, I hear you say: probably that’s why I liked it so) but it’s a good book. It’s about love and it’s about life and it’s about how with the passage of time some things remain the same even as others change beyond recognition. It’s about how sometimes things look truly fucking awful but you have to find a way to pick yourself up and carry on. It’s a book that wraps it’s arms around you and clings; you can’t help but be absorbed. I cannot wait to see where Fisher goes next.