FAQ/IAQ

I couldn't make up my mind whether to do a FAQ or IAQ so voila, it's both! And I'm starting with the really important stuff…

Who would you rather travel through time and space or investigate dodgy extraterrestrial incidents with—the Doctor or Captain Jack Harkness? 

Various DoctorsThis is a question that's tough to answer due to the multiple different incarnations of the Doctor over the years. Many people claim Tom Baker made the best Doctor ever yet Matt Smith is also very well-liked and Peter Capaldi's been bringing some welcome gravitas to the role lately. And of course, David Tennant was named most popular Doctor in a 2006 poll and then again in a 50th anniversary one.

I admit I, too, dearly love and admire Tennant's portrayal of the Doctor, which was highly entertaining—witty with depth (plus, he had really cool sneakers), but for a long time I believed that Christopher Eccleston offered the most intense and layered performance of the Doctor. Recently, though, I've realized it's Tennant whose face comes to mind first when I think of the Doctor, and Tennant who I miss most. It helps that he was equally wonderful in Broadchurch and Single Father.

So my comparison here will be between my favourite Doctor (Tennant) and Captain Jack Harkness (of the fantastic RAF coat, radiant smile and dark secrets {the 456!}). This still makes for a difficult comparison as both of them are sharply intelligent, charismatic and endlessly resourceful. Jack can't die but when the Doctor's two hearts stop beating he can, of course, regenerate. Fortunately, if you travel/work with one of them the odds are you will encounter the other sooner or later. Okay…I know, I'm stalling. I guess ultimately I'd have to choose the Doctor. I mean, he's a Lord of Time. If you ever have to face down the Daleks you want the Doctor's 900 year old intellect standing with you against the ultimate enemy.

However, I want to point out that if I removed the word extraterrestrial from this question I'd be tempted to add a third choice: Fringe's Olivia Dunham. Olivia's the picture of inner strength and resolve, grace under pressure, and an unwavering sense of justice. She's also only ever as badass as she needs to be in a given situation because that's how damn cool she is. All this without having a sonic screwdriver or the gift of immortality to fall back on!

Fringe: Walter, Peter, Olivia
Walter, Peter & Olivia, Fringe
Where do you get your ideas from? 

I rarely have an answer for this question! I think ideas are similar to colds in some ways. One minute you're fine and the next you wonder if you're coming down with something. Most of the time I don't know why my brain latches on to certain stories but when it does I feel as though the story already exists and I'm just tuning in to it and transcribing.

I Know It's Over is an exception. The idea came from the Third Eye Blind song Ten Days Late. Even then I didn't feel as though I was inventing Nick's life, though. It's as though the main character themselves is telling you their story and you just have to try really hard to listen to what they're saying so that you can repeat the details faithfully.

What was the first book you wrote?
Indigo Island Adventures mock cover

I wrote and illustrated some picture books for myself when I was seven years old and continued writing for fun during my childhood but the first thing I ever sent off to a publisher was a sixty-five page Choose Your Own Adventure style book that I penned when I was eighteen. I loved those books when I was a kid and when I got a little older I used to take them with me when babysitting and read them aloud to the kids at bedtime. Anyway, I sent my finished manuscript off to the publisher in NYC who replied that they already had an entire team of people writing the Choose Your Own Adventure book series. Damn!

So my Choose style book, Indigo Island Adventures, came to reside in a drawer at my mother's house for decades but she passed it back to me several years ago now and it begins like this:

You have travelled with your family to Indigo Island, a small island in the South Pacific. Your father and mother will be doing wildlife research here for the next three months. 

On the drive from the airport to your new house you notice a variety of strange animals. You see a koala bear with an extremely long neck that jumps like a kangaroo and a dog with two legs and two wings that walks upright then bursts into flight. Your mother photographs these oddities. 

Your father tells you that these unusual animals are the reason for their trip to Indigo Island. "These animals are a mystery," he says. "Such mutations have never been seen before." However the island holds more than one mystery. Your father also mentions that the house you will be living in belonged to an American man that disappeared many months ago. You hope to find some clues to his strange disappearance but all that remains in the house are a few pieces of furniture. 

There's lots more but you get the idea. Sometimes the story ends with you as a hero and sometimes you meet an untimely death, it all depends on your course of action. There are aliens, erupting volcanoes, werewolves and diamond thieves. I still think that the publisher made a mistake in turning it down!

What does the “C. K.” stand for? 

My first and middle names: Carolyn Kathleen. I'm a big Cary Grant fan and watching The Philadelphia Story years ago I absolutely loved the name of the Grant character, C.K. Dexter Haven. Sharing the same initials I realized I could be C. K. too and that putting those initials together with my mother's maiden name and my own surname gave the entire name much the same cadence.


Did you always want to be a writer? Why young adult novels and would you ever write a novel for adults?

Technically this is 3 questions but I thought I might as well get them all over with in one shot. I suppose on some level I figured out I wanted to be a writer when I was about seven. I loved books already and I guess as soon as I reached a certain proficiency in composing sentences it occurred to me that I could make up my own stories. I wrote on and off while growing up but I knew that it would take me a long time to get around to really dedicating myself to it.

Come See About MeIt was only after I'd finished university and lived in Ireland for several years that I actually felt ready to get down to it in earnest. At that point it was my enthusiasm for the show Party of Five (read more about that here) that made me want to try writing a young adult novel. Before that it'd never occurred to me to write something specifically for teenagers and after writing that first YA novel it was a hell of a long time until it seriously occurred to me to write anything other than teen fiction.

With YA you're writing about such an amazing time in people's lives, everything is fresh and new, even the people the characters are becoming. I think everything that happens to you when you're young, whether good or bad, feels more intense. I'm really drawn to that energy and come back to YA time and again but in 2010 began work on a book for adult readers too. It's called Come See About Me and since the main character is twenty the novel still has a lot of that youthful energy but having those extra few years gives her more independence and presents her with some different situations than you'd find in YA. I released the novel as an e-book in the summer of 2012! You can read more about it right here and buy copies on various places online including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Apple.

Do you have any writing advice?

Personally, the things I believe really helped my writing were reading tons of great books (I took plenty of English courses before I switched to majoring in Film Studies) and then writing, writing and more writing. Later on having a fantastic editor helped too.

I know a lot of people swear by writing classes, critique groups and certain how-to guides. Different things work for different people. I usually show a couple of trusted readers my work to get feedback before sending it out into the publishing world, but I've consciously avoided all writing classes and things of that nature. For me, the thought of formally studying writing has always felt extremely claustrophobic—an inspiration killer rather than booster. It's important to find what approach works for you. I'm suspicious of pretty much any writing or publishing advice that contains absolutes. The sole directive I agree with is that you need to read as much as you can. Beyond that you may or may not find critique groups, books about writing, writing courses or writing conferences useful.

I don't have any special techniques or process and have never done any writing exercises. Whatever process I do happen to have is unknown to me, going on behind the scenes in a place I don't have full conscious access to. The writing is a mystery to me and the following Billy Bragg lyrics (from Must I Paint You a Picture) sum up my feelings about not wanting to peer behind the curtain: “The temptation to take the precious things we have apart to see how they work must be resisted for they never fit together again.”

I'm also lacking in self-discipline so it's mostly obsession that keeps me writing. Once an idea takes hold I can't stop thinking about it. So I guess my only advice would be to write about situations and characters that are capable of obsessing you. If you're going to be spending countless hours on something (I'm a slow writer so this is definitely the case with me) it won't feel so much like work if you're completely engrossed.

Do you teach creative writing or offer writing workshops?

I don't (see above).

You deal with a lot of edgy subject matter. Do you ever worry about how people will react to your books?

Not in a way that makes me think twice about writing them. As far as I'm concerned many of the things that are hardest for people to talk about are the things we probably need to discuss in more depth and try to drag out into the light. I know there are some people who don't think that teenagers should be reading about things like drug use, sex and sexuality, abusive situations etc. but the reality is that teenagers live in this imperfect world with us and are already exposed to these things through the media, their own lives and the lives of their peers. I believe books are a medium that can inspire critical thinking and give young people a chance to explore their thoughts regarding various subjects as well as open discussions.

Do you have a favourite author? Favourite book?

The Handmaid's Tale
I don't really have one favourite author but some of the best books I've ever read are Atonement (by Ian McEwan), Crow Lake (by Mary Lawson) an assortment of Margaret Atwood novels and Emma Who Saved My Life (by Wilton Barnhardt). I hardly ever reread anything (there are always so many new books I want to discover!) but Emma Who Saved My Life is one of the few novels I keep coming back to over the years. It was first printed in 1988 and is about a twenty-year-old guy named Gil who moves to New York in the seventies to become an actor. For years the two constants in his life are his feelings for Emma (his first roommate in New York) and the vibrancy (both good and bad) of the city itself. On a more general level I think it’s about that time in your life when everything feels like a possibility and you want it all so badly. You’re consumed with drama and longing.

Would you believe in a love at first sight?

Yes, I'm certain that it happens all the time.

Abbey Road silhouette

There are a lot of song references in your books. Is music a big inspiration?

Music, theatre and movies all have as big an influence on me as other novels do. When I was a teenager music (and Late Night with David Letterman!) mattered more than books. Music felt both like an escape from mundane reality and as though the bands and musical artists I admired were the ones able to give voice to my feelings. I think Finn, from One Lonely Degree, feels that same way about music but not all the characters in my books do. Regardless of whether music is in the background or foreground we all live our lives to music to a certain extent.

Teenage C.K.
Teenage C.K. in Paul Young T-shirt
Any favourite song lyrics you'd like to share?

So many! But then this could get really long so for now I'll just say:

"If no one out there understands start your own revolution and cut out the middleman."
~ Billy Bragg, Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards 


AND

“You, I thought I knew you/
You I cannot judge
You I thought you know me,
this one laughing quietly, underneath my breath,
Nightswimming."
~ R.E.M., Nightswimming