5 Questions for Cathy Brett

Cathy Brett has been scribbling stuff since she could hold a crayon – on paper, on walls, sometimes on her sister! At school she was hopeless at maths and cross-country running but quite good at scribbling and doodling (achieving A-Levels in both) She attended Doodling College then doodled professionally for a number of years – as a fashion illustrator, as a jet-setting spotter of global trends and as a consultant to the behemoths of the British high street – until trying children’s book doodling and having a go at scribbling them too. She lectures in design and visits schools around the country, trying to convince students, teachers and parents that scribbling and doodling are proper jobs.

What was the last book you read?
Life Class by Pat Barker

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t read it?
Maus by Art Spiegleman.  I didn’t discover this amazing graphic novel until my
thirties and my younger self deserves the life-changing revelation that
pictures are not just for young children and can tell serious stories

What was the first book you remember having a big impact on you as a child?
Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden – great story and ignited my love of history.  Then The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (a bit of a cheat because I read this when I was 19, but it simply blew me away!)

Can you describe your school days in one sentence?
Twelve years of confusion, staring out of windows and doodling on exercise books.

Have you got any real life experience with pyromania or communicating with the deceased that you would like to share?
The ‘talking to dead people’ thing, no.  But, I’ve experienced two fires, one which destroyed our next door office building as we watched.  We saw the
first puffs of smoke and hardly had time to evacuate before the fire
had caught hold of the entire roof and upper floors.  It was scary
stuff and has ‘haunted’ me ever since.

Cathy will be appearing at WORDfest for all of Thursday April 7th (because she is wonderful!). She will be visiting Thomas Bennett Community College & you can meet her at the Library at 4.30pm & at 6.30pm as a member of the Graphic Novels Panel.

5 Questions for Peter Lovesey

Peter Lovesey’s first novel WOBBLE TO DEATH introduced the redoubtable Victorian policemen, Cribb and Thackeray. He won the Gold Dagger Award with THE FALSE INSPECTOR DEW and in 2000 joined the elite group of people awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award.

What was the last book you read?
Storyteller: the Life of Roald Dahl, by Donald Sturrock. These days Dahl is regarded mainly as a children’s writer, but he produced some classic crime short stories as well. Sturrock’s biography is full of insights into this strange, gifted and not very likeable man. I’ve always felt a debt of gratitude to Dahl for the Tales of the Unexpected TV series because when the format was opened up to other writers it gave us good opportunities for us to come in on his coat-tails. I now have a better understanding of the mind that could write the brilliant Lamb to the Slaughter.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t read it?
Strangers on a Train, by Patricia Highsmith. Of course most people remember the Hitchcock film, but the book is even better, essential reading. I’ve always been fascinated by stories that tell the tale from the murderer’s point of view and no one does this better than Highsmith. This one has more interest for me than her Ripley novels because here we have an unwilling killer trapped into the act as part of a pact. It’s a fascinating idea, done with such economy.

What was the first book you remember having a big impression on you as a child?
When I was seven and discovering the magic of reading, our house was bombed by one of Hitler’s “doodlebugs” and we were homeless. With no books to read, I was desperate until my father brought in The Life of Sir Edward Marshall Hall, by Edward Marjoribanks. Not a promising title, yet it had me enthralled, for Marshall Hall was the great defence barrister of the early twentieth century and each chapter unfolded a real case he was involved in: the Brides in the Bath, the Green Bicycle Murder; Dr Crippen. After that, how could I be anything else but a crime writer?

When writing numerous books with recurring central characters do you find that you grow to love the character more or like them less?
I don’t think “love” is the right word for the way I feel about them, and even “like” doesn’t do it. I’m getting to know them, seeing how they cope in their job and in life. They become real to me, but I don’t necessarily admire them. If Peter Diamond knocked on my door I doubt if I’d invite him in. He is the longest running character in my books and this is only because I gave him a life-changing experience mid-way through. Up to then I felt I was getting to understand him too well. If the character gets predictable, then so do the books, and that’s a trap for a writer. In the new novel, called Stagestruck, Diamond is instructed to investigate a murder mystery in the Theatre Royal, Bath. His difficulty is that he has a phobia about entering the theatre. If he is to solve the crime, he must first face his own demons. So as the author I watch and try to make sense of his behaviour.

With the recent success of The King’s Speech, do you have any plans to re-release the sleuthing escapades of Bertie, Prince of Wales?
I doubt if “my” Bertie, the grandfather of King George VI, would make it into the cinema, but I had fun imagining him as a rather incompetent amateur detective. As Prince of Wales, he was bored waiting for his chance to become King, so it was reasonable that he should find something else to interest him besides ladies, horses and the South of France. The most amusing of the three to write was Bertie and the Seven Bodies, a sort of tribute to Agatha Christie in her centenary year, with a corpse for each day of the week at a house party and a nursery rhyme to help predict the outcome.

Peter Lovesey will be appearing on the Crime Writers Panel at WORDfest on Saturday April 2nd.

5 Questions for Christina Koning

Christina Koning is an award-winning author and critic, who has published five novels. Her first novel, A Mild Suicide (1992), was shortlisted for the David Higham Prize for Fiction; Undiscovered Country, her second book, won the Encore Award in 1998 and was long-listed for the Orange Prize; Fabulous Time (2001) was awarded a Society of Authors Travelling Scholarship. In 2010 she published The Dark Tower simultaneously as a print-on-demand text and an ebook. Her most recently published work is Variable Stars (2011).

What was the last book you read?
The last book I read was Hangover Square – Patrick Hamilton’s wonderfully louche depiction of the seedy Earls Court pubs and Soho dives of late-1930s London. I read it just after re-reading Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock – another noirish portrayal of Britain between-the-wars.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?
The book I’d have recommended to my younger self would have been Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, a novel that changed my perception of Space, Time, and everything else! For a fuller discussion of this amazing book, see my website: www.christinakoning.com

What was the first book you remember having a big impact on you as a child?
The book that made the biggest impact on me as a child was Alice in Wonderland, which I first read when I was about seven.

Where is your favourite place to research/write and why?
My favourite place to research and write is the London Library.

What made you decide to branch out and self publish and how much influence did new publishing technology have on your decision?
My first three novels were published by Penguin Books during the late 1990s and early 2000s. At around this time, publishing was going through a massive shake-up – largely as a result of the collapse of the Net Book Agreement, which led to the closure of so many bookshops, and the subsequent decline in demand for good literary fiction. Suddenly, book selling was dominated by the big chains, whose aggressive ‘three-for-two’ marketing of an increasingly restricted range of books was bad news for serious writers. I decided I wasn’t prepared to give up on my career just yet. Fortunately, new technology has meant that writers can now wrest control back from the mainstream publishers and booksellers, and produce high quality fiction in both textual and e-book form. I’ve been lucky to be part of this new publishing revolution, and am about to publish my second novel with Arbuthnot Books, one of the new online publishing companies. My intention is to re-publish all my earlier novels in the same format.

Christina will be at WORDfest for the Working With Words panel on Tuesday 5th at 7pm at Crawley Library.


5 questions for Will Atkins

Will Atkins is Editorial Director for Macmillan Publishing. He was kind enough to answer some questions for WordFest.

As an editor, what’s the primary bit of advice you would give to any writer?
Read. And write. And keep at it.

Outside of the slush pile, what type of books do you read for pleasure?
I publish fiction, and perhaps for that reason I read a lot of non-fiction – currently a wonderful memoir by Andrew Barrow called Animal Magic. And short stories – Stuart Evers’ Ten Stories About Smoking is a cracking debut.

Can you remember the first book that you read as a child that had a big impact on you?
I’m fond of Where the Wild Things Are.

What was the last book you read?
Edgelands, by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley – a travelogue written by two poets, about Britain’s unloved suburban hinterlands.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?
I imagine I’d ignore me, but poetry – Heaney and Hughes’s Rattle Bag anthology is a good place to start. Or else Roger Deakin’s Waterlog.

5 questions for Julia Crouch

Before becoming a writer, you were a graphic designer/illustrator. Do you think being such a visually literate person has informed your writing in any way?

Yes – I tend to write with my eyes. I ‘see’ the scenes as I’m writing them. If I get stuck, I shut my eyes and play the ‘movie’.

A big part of my work as a designer/illustrator was drawing. If you’ve ever sat and drawn anything, you’ll have observed something closely – a great exercise for all writers. Simiilarly, looking for the right image, typeface and layout to get the client’s message across is all about defining character, detail, tone and narrative. More or less what a novelist does. The structuring, logical part of a designer’s thinking is also very handy for the second draft.

You’ve recently had your first book released. Has the experience of being published differed in any ways to your expectations?

Publication day was a bit weird – I’m on a deadline for novel #2, so it was more or less business as usual during the day – except for a tad more tweeting and blogging than normal. The launch the following day was better than I could have expected – Brighton Waterstones, wine provided by publishers, new frock, stacks of my books, loads of friends and colleagues, signings and sales. And I’ve got lots of author events lined up for the next few months, so the public side of it is very much as I had hoped (I like getting out and about).

The process leading up to publication was wonderful. It is such a great feeling to have people taking your work seriously and to work with an agent and an editor to make it as good as it possibly could be. As is the case for most writers, this followed years of working on my own, in my spare time, with publication only a wild dream. Now I get to write full time. Life is good.

Can you remember the first book that you read as a child that had a big impact on you?

I guess it’s got to be The Cat in the Hat, the first book I read on my own, at a precocious three years old. I remember being so excited by the imagination at play there – the way the words could lead to anything, the feel of the pages, the big broad flat planes of colour…

I always had my nose stuck in a book – it was a bit of a family joke in our decidedly unbookish family that I could always be found at parties curled up behind the sofa, lost in my own little world.

An illustration of the importance reading plays in my life is that when I arrived in the marvellous city of Venice for the first time, on my own, aged 19, I checked into the Youth Hostel there, but I didn’t go out and explore. Instead, I spent the next three days on my bunk, completely gripped by John Fowles’s The Magus. Venice could wait. I had to finish that book first.

What was the last book you read?
Funnily enough, I’m just finishing Someone Else’s Son by Sam Hayes, and I’m loving it. She is such a great storyteller, and captures the darker side of life brilliantly. The book suffered a hiatus when I left it, half-read, in the hairdresser, so before I went and picked it up I read The Hand that First Held mine, by Maggie Farrell. I loved that too – the characters really come to life, and there’s a great sense of London in it. It is ultimately a hopeful book about love, but there is a thread of threat wound through it that keeps the pages turning.

Which book would you recommend to a younger version of you that hadn’t yet read it?

The Summer Book by Tove Janssen – although it would have been difficult, because it was only translated into English about 8 years ago. This simple story was the book I read that made me realise that I could write a novel. It’s nothing like my own work, but there is something about the way the setting and character and story work that I found incredibly inspiring. Perhaps if I’d read it sooner, I’d have got started earlier!

Julia Crouch will be appearing on the Crime Writers Panel at WordFest. Find out more about her and her writing on her website. Her debut novel, Cuckoo, is out now.

Poets from Limerick, Ireland at Pizza Express Friday 8th April

Pighog Press
presents a special free event for Crawley WordFest

Munster Poets

Ciaran O’Driscoll
Bridget Wallace
Mark Whelan

Friday 8 April
Upstairs at Pizza Express
2 The Boulevard
West Sussex RH10 1XX
01293 531678

Three fascinating poets from the province of Munster have flown in exclusively for the Crawley Word Fest supported by Arts Services, Limerick City Council.

With its blend of dark humour and lyrical craft, it’s no surprise that Ciaran O’Driscoll’s poetry has received international acclaim. His work combines a killer sense of humour with the acumen and verbal dexterity gained over a lifetime creating and teaching art and literature. O’Driscoll has five poetry collections to his credit. Among the many awards O’Driscoll has won are the James Joyce Literary Millennium Prize and the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry. His election in 2007 to the Aosdána, an institution established by the Irish Arts Council to honour artists and writers who have made an outstanding contribution to art and literature, confirms O’Driscoll’s position as one of the leading Irish poets of his generation. He was born in Callan, Co. Kilkenny in 1943, and now lives in Limerick.

Bridget Wallace is a native of Limerick city. She has been writing poetry for many years and has been published in Incognito and The Stony Thursday Book. Some of her most recent work appears in Sextet, an anthology. Bridget also has a strong academic interest in literature, particularly poetry, and has been a tutor with Oscail, the Irish Open University. In 2010 she graduated with a PHD from Mary Immaculate College, Limerick. Bridget’s special area of interest is Postcolonial theory and modern Middle Eastern literature, with a particular focus on poetry.

Mark Whelan was born in Limerick in 1960 and with Paul Sweeney was instrumental both in the establishment of what is now known as Cuisle Limerick City International Poetry Festival and in the revival of The Stony Thursday Book literary journal, for which he was editor of four editions. Involved in just about every poetry event in Limerick, his collections are Scarecrow Dyptich (2003), from Anam Press, with illustrations by John Shinnors, and Pushing The Pull Door (2008), from Revival Press—the imprint of the White House Poets.

Apostrophe Catastrophe

I thought I was a bit of a pedant grammar-wise,  I once marvelled at a design client who didn’t want to heed my advice on plural spelling, because he liked it as it was. However, at WORDfest Towers a crime against all things good and correct has slipped past a tote of booksellers, a shelf-load of librarians and a ream of writers!

A superfluous apostrophe snuck it’s way in (see there! It did it again!), apologies, snuck its way in. Sorry to have horrified anyone who suffers with grammatical sensitivity and has a fondness for Lynne Truss. We can only put this down to our workload and need for speed. The website is correctable, but alas, the print versions, having all been copied and pasted from the one offending document, sadly cannot. The culprit will be found and dealt with forthwith.


I would like to make a silk purse from this metaphorical sow’s ear and add an edifying element to this post. Whomever is the next person to find an error in grammar on WORDfest’s website, and comment on it below, will be awarded a copy of ‘F in Exams: The Funniest Test Paper Blunders’ what I just purchased from Waterstone’s in County Mall. I would have offered a book by Lynne Truss but the winner would probably already have a copy!