Alison Croggon was awesome enough to sit down and answer some questions for Lytherus about her book Jimmy Wonderspoon, her writing, and other wonderful tidbits. To go along with this interview, we’re giving away a digital copy of Jimmy Wonderspoon, so make sure you enter before 3pm EST today!
Now, without further ado, here’s Alison!
1: Many of our fans are familiar with your epic YA Pellinor series. But instead of writing something similar for this next book, you went a completely different direction with Jimmy Wonderspoon. How did this idea come to you, and was the shift one that was deliberate/ one you were happy with?
A: I actually wrote Jimmy Wonderspoon for my daughter Zoe, who was then around 11. (She’s now 22, so it was a while back). I would write a chapter and read it to her at night. So really I just wrote it for fun, for me and for her. I guess that’s why it’s a bit eccentric – the suburb where we first meet Sam is not very different from the suburb where we were then living, and a lot of the animal characters are based on animals we knew, either our own (we had quite a lot of cats at the time) or her cousin’s. My sister lived around the corner, with her son and daughter. The idea for it actually came from a very vivid and strange dream, in which I was flying in a giant shoe through a purple sky. I can’t remember anything else about the dream, but when I woke up, I thought: I want to write a story about that place!
I’m the kind of writer who hates repeating herself, and I write in lots of different ways, although I hope that the work I do is always identifiable as coming from me. Which is probably bad news when writers are expected to be “brands”. I have very confusing persona: some people know me as a theatre critic and have no idea I write novels, others know me as a poet, others as a fantasy novelist. Though maybe over the past couple of years those different worlds collide a little more. It’s just the way I am, and I can’t help it, but it’s a problem if people expect one thing of you!
2: There was a lot of interesting discussion in the book of time travel and location travel. These seem like they’d be challenging topics to write about, with all the different details to work out. Was this something you had always wanted to tackle?
A: Not really! It’s all a bit (a lot) nonsensical, really: it didn’t really need to make a lot of sense. I enjoyed writing some of Jimmy’s theories about waves and particles which was really a riff on some reading I did about String Theory, but the narrative is actually quite linear – there’s a story in this world, and then it continues in the other world but takes no time in ours. Very Narnia, but actually I was thinking of Where The Wild Things Are, when Max gets back and his dinner is still hot. I always loved that last line.
3: Why cat people?! I absolutely loved them, but why a world with cats and mice as the dominant beings? What about them was fun to write? What were the challenges?
I think I answered that above! It was cats because we knew so many cats. All the cat characters are based on real cats – Lily was the snooty matriarch, Sinbad still is a very pretty cat who is quite apt to embarrass himself, and so on. Yes, it was great fun to write. I can’t remember the challenges – I just enjoyed it!
A: I guess it could be, but there’s been no reason to write any others. We shopped the book around, but nobody was much interested, and in the end I forgot about it – it had amused my family, and I figured that was why I had written it, and that would do. When I found it on my hard drive, all those years later, I read it again, and thought: well, why not publish it myself? My kids enjoyed it, so maybe someone else will.
5: If you personally could travel to another planet, what would be the coolest thing you’d hope to find there, if all things were possible?
A: I remember reading a short story once about a planet which had a great civilisation. The people there had built it on the fragments of writing about the civilisations on Planet Earth, but were sure it was only a shadow of the reality. Of course an Earth visitor arrives and is blown away, but can’t convince them that they’ve made something immeasurably greater than Earth ever was. Something like that, in which everything brilliant we imagined possible was actually realised, would be quite cool.
6: What is your writing day like? Walk us through your routine. Any mandatory habits that help inspire the muse?
A: It depends what I’m doing, because I have a lot of different hats. I don’t really have a routine as such. I’ve also noticed that it’s different for every project. If I’m writing a novel, the one thing I do is take an arbitrary word count and make sure that I do that five days a week. Again that varies, depending on what the writing is – for the Pellinor books it was 2000 words a day, for Black Spring (coming out 2012/13) it was 1000. Some books, for some reason, need to written faster… Ideally I would write in the morning so I can do what I like for the rest of the day, but sometimes, frustratingly, it doesn’t happen until late afternoon. Days like that, I tweet a lot and play videogames. I can waste whole days staring at the screen wondering why I can’t think of anything, until it’s just time for me to go to the theatre (I write reviews for my blog Theatre Notes) and suddenly something loosens and it all arrives. I find it hard to work away from my study, unless I have some kind of private study set-up. Could never write in cafes – they’re for talking, as far as I’m concerned. I find the process of writing endlessly mysterious.
A: A bit of both, really. I spend a lot of time th
inking about structure before I write a book – what the shape is going to be. Plot, not so much. And it depends on the book – something like Jimmy Wonderspoon I just made up as I went. I like to have space to discover what happens when I’m writing, and things – events, people, places – often seem to just turn up, although some part of my brain must have thought about them somewhere, because they’re never simply arbitrary. I’m a great believer in the back part of the brain. With everything I’ve written, there’s been an aha! moment about three quarters of the way through when I begin to understand what the book is actually about. It’s only then that I know if the book is going to work or not.
8: What is currently on your reading shelf? What are some of the books you love most and that inspire you?
A: Oh. Hard question. At the moment I’m reading Pablo Neruda’s last collection of poems, World’s End, which is a massive book in which he’s trying to deal with the illusions and disillusionments of the 20th century. It’s a beautiful and sad and often bitter book. I love a lot of books, and a lot of different kinds of books: probably as a prose writer one of my biggest inspirations (not that it’s obvious) has been Dostoevsky, because of how dramatically he structures his stories. Black Spring is a tribute to Emily Bronte. Probably my favourite recent discovery is Roberto Bolano. But then, I am also addicted to Terry Pratchett.
9: What projects are you currently working on?
A: I mentioned Black Spring, my go at a Gothic novel (with wizards). I’m in the final throes of editing that, and it will be out in Australia in late 2012 and early 2013 in the UK and the US. I’ve got a half finished novel that kind of ran out of steam and which I like too much to throw out, so I am thinking that maybe it ought to be a novella. I’m also writing at least two opera libretti. This year I want to write an adult epic fantasy, meaning something darker than the Pellinor books. It’s an old idea, and a bit scary to contemplate, because it has to be big. And after Pellinor I swore I’d never write another epic!
10: Any advice for people who want to get into epic YA fantasy or middle-grade fantasy?
A: Never patronise young people! And write as honestly as you can: young people deserve the best you can do. That’s about it, really.