What are Dollywagglers? A dismissive name that some puppeteers call others. Once upon a time I was the voice and puppet of 'Cosmo' in BBC TV's 'You and Me' programme. My own children were young enough then to give me expert advice on what to put in the scripts. Dollywagglers owes a lot to the seascapes, fields and woods of Suffolk, where I lived for many years; NUTMEG PUPPET COMPANY appeared regularly on Southwold Beach, and I was lucky enough to play a pirate, a female knight and Queen Boudicca in our puppet and actor beach shows.
DANCING ON BONES reflects my recent connection with Wales, a country I have come to know and love through friends and family who belong there.
MICKA, published in 2010, was the runner-up for the Society of Authors' McKitterick Prize in 2011, and featured on BBC Radio 4: A GOOD READ with Mavis Cheek and Chris Smith - click on this link.
Please come and read my blog: franceskaywriter.wordpress.com
Until 'Micka' was published, my writing was all for theatre and mostly for children. My most recent play, 'A FEAST OF BONES' will be part of the Imaginate Festival of children's theatre, Edinburgh, in May 2018.
Writing gives me a chance to explore my obsessions - bones, early twentieth century Antarctic expeditions, dystopias, Ancient Rome and the secret lives of children, amongst others.
'Micka' was partly inspired by children I met on adventure playgrounds in Birmingham, Edinburgh and Tyneside, as well as Walsall and Perth, where I worked on two projects with travelling families. The boys who tell the story are composites of many children I knew growing up in the toughest part of Notting Hill, together with elements of myself. The challenge was to speak in the voices of two very different boys, and to create a fictional world where empathy and compassion were, for both of them, almost completely absent.
It's not a happy read, I know, but I believe there is a possibility of redemption at the end.
Thank you for being a reader!
Thank you for being a reader!
So, this story you’ve written. What’s it about? Why should I interrupt my nap-time to read it?
After I’d finished ‘Dollywagglers’, I realised there was still a lot of story to tell. The events cascaded out of my brain and onto the page. The first book was pure dystopia, with the evil power-crazed rulers very much getting their own way. ‘Dancing on Bones’ has dystopian elements, but I’ve allowed a little utopia to creep in too. As a writer, I find I can’t just keep destroying bad ideas and people – we need light as well as shade. Though the odds are, of course, stacked impossibly high against our protagonist, who represents a force for potential good, even as she denies it vigorously.
Where do you get inspiration? Where did the ideas for your latest novel come from?
Ever since I read ‘1984’ and ‘A Brave New World’ I’ve been fascinated by dystopias, and the idea of writing my own has long haunted me. I needed to know what it was I wanted to say, though, which is why it’s taken me so long… nearly seventy years!
Who’s your favourite imaginary friend? Is there anyone you don’t like?
I have a couple of real friends who died far too soon and I still feel they are out there somewhere – does that count as imaginary? Nicci was passionate about children and literature and made brilliant television dramas – one was about a girls’ football team. I see her looking at what I write and prodding me sternly with questions like ‘Is this the best it can be?’ ‘Have you done all the research you need for this?’ and finally - ‘Never stop, never say your work is finished.’
My other friend, Jude, who died last month, was my best friend at school and in a very formative time for me she showed me funny writers like Stella Gibbons ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ and I realised that pastiche is a perfectly respectable and very flexible tool – metaphors are what we need to lift our work into another dimension.
What are your plans to conquer the world?
Simple – I trust in our youth to make the changes we all need. I’ve spent my life and my writing career giving a voice to those who are never heard, and working for a fairer society where everything is shared and power is not given to those who abuse it – the very reverse of our current political reality. The fact that we are all now living in a dystopia has made me shift away from that view of the world – any future books I write will get away from the increasing sense I have that the world is out of control.
What research rabbit-holes have you been down while writing? What was the most interesting, or the most tedious?
Very hard for me – the geography of the novel, where it takes place. I had to research the Elan Valley dams, the history of Machynlleth town, some engineering stuff about siphoning petrol out of cars. I have to fight the feeling that this is school homework and needs to be done if the book is to have any cred at all. And I can’t compare my work on this one with Dollywagglers, where I didn’t have to do any research at all, it just romped along.
How often do you provide a cat sleeping spot- I mean, write? Do you have a comfy chair and a routine, or do you freelance cat-nap style?
First off, I have to make sure Jasper is comfy. He loves being stretched out on my lap, which means I have to have the pc squeezed into one side. He will occasionally swat a cup of tea out my hand, so I have to be on the alert. I write lying on a day bed – it was not always thus, I used to have a cramped little space in our other house, but I loved it. I wrote all my scripts for ‘The Morbegs’ up in that room, and plays for Team Theatre and Theatre Lovett. When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, it suddenly became ok to lounge and laze as I write. Handy for naps too, Jasper’s and mine. Today I’m on the upstairs daybed, where he is not allowed. My writing routine would not make the grade. I’m not methodical, I write when inspired, otherwise put it off. When I feel I have been too lazy for too long, I deprive myself of news [no papers, no radio, TV or internet new] for a week and this invariably gets me writing. This is one of those weeks.
When you’re not writing, what do you spend your time doing? Besides looking at cat pictures on the internet, obviously.
Politics. I belong to Welsh Labour, which is recent, since Jeremy Corbyn was elected. I also belong to an Irish campaign group, formed to stop the Irish government from selling off all the kelp around the Irish coast to the highest bidder. The most recent atrocity was a licence to one man to mechanically cut 1800 acres of kelp in Bantry Bay, with no environmental impact study and no preliminary scientific surveys. The government was so desperate to make a profit that they cut all kinds of corners and made it impossible for local residents to know about these plans until too late. Happily, the campaign has just been granted a judicial review, which means a judge considers we have a case the government must answer. So, fighting dystopia continues in my non-writing life too. I also spend happy days playing with my two granddaughters, Nancy and Bess. They remind me what fun life can be, and how easy it is to embrace life and all its wonders when you come from a secure and happy home. Other activities in season – making elderflower champagne, planting stuff in the polytunnel, swimming in the sea [not until the end of May, I’d say, this year] and having bonfires.
Is there anything you’ve read/seen recently that would be worthy of my attention? [aka. what book or film recommendations would you make?]
I have recently seen Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri and celebrate that fantastic woman Frances McDormand. She won the Oscar and accepted it wearing a long-sleeved dress and no makeup – just what I would do if it ever happened to me. I’m currently reading anything by Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell. Thrillers are a better option for me as a reader these days because, unlike dystopias, thrillers assume a framework where justice can be applied to put a bad thing right.
If you kindly brought your human a present, and they scream and tell you that they don’t like dead mice - that’s just rude, isn’t it?
It’s all about training. If your human catches on, they will respond by playing with the dead mouse, obv, and then Jasper would, I know, begin a graduated series of lessons at the end of which I would be able to stalk and catch my very own mice [and rats]. Alas, I always fall at the very first hurdle by sweeping mouse up with the rubbish. He doesn’t have a high opinion of my intelligence.
Cats. Fabulous, or completely fabulous?
Wonderful creatures. No house is complete without them.
What’s your second-favourite food? Because obviously you are a human of taste and discretion, and therefore your favourite is tuna.
Pork figures largely in my dream menus – with crunchy crackling. Or bacon, crispy and hot. I am also somewhat obsessed with apples, notable English varieties like Discovery, Worcester Pearmain, Beauty of Bath, Granny Smith, Cox’s Orange and its Kerry cousin, the Kerry Pippin, and Egremont Russets. In our orchard in Ireland we have planted all these, which means we have fresh exquisite apples from early August through till October.
Bold’s bow tie: excellently stylish, or rather dashing?
Bow tie a rather daring choice, might lead to confusion of identity with, for example, Jacob Rees-Mogg or Robin Day of recent memory? In cat terms, this could be a good thing, for all I know.
On a scale of ‘excellent’ to ‘needs more practise’, how good are you at giving ear scritches?
I’d say I am rather good, as I can imagine it being done to me. The high level of purring and [rolling over so I can stroke the fluffy tummy] trust thereby engendered is a good sign, I think.
By the way, I left you a present behind the chair. I hope you like hairballs.
So very kind. Hairballs are my favourite. And I am impressed by your dexterity with the keyboard.
Blogs sporadically at https://franceskaywriter.wordpress.com/
(blurbs on the Amazon links)