Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Aufwiedersehen, goodbye

Hello all

I've packed up and moved out of this blog now. It's been fun, but I've found another calling. Thanks for coming back to read every now and then - I'm more than grateful for it.

If for some reason or other you really want to find me (n'aw) then you can find me here or here (sometimes here), or even here, but mostly here.

I co-edit Synaesthesia Magazine now, which is where that last link sent you (and most of the others that I've littered this post with), so it would be great to see you all there too.

(That said, if you're a writer and/or artist, who draws great pictures and writes great things and takes great photos - then get in contact, because we need you)

Bye darlings, see you on a future blog.

Carlotta x

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

CzechMate: E.P. Launch Party @ The 100 Club

Oasis, The Clash, The Damned, Sex Pistols... are only a few examples of some of the legendary bands that have set foot in The 100 Club. For up-and-coming punk rock band CzechMate, here was a chance to scratch their name into the iconic walls of London's favourite underground venue.

Hailing from Sittingbourne, CzechMate are an agglomeration of tight riffs, British charisma and memorable lyrics. Their sound brings to mind some of the feverish voices of 70s-era bands that rose to the top in a jumble of clashing metal and catchy vocals, particularly with Jordan Arthurs' lead vocals - whose voice seems older for his age, as if he'd grown up on the distinctive Britishness of The Libertines or Buzzcocks. Fear not, he's far more likeable than The Libertines frontman, thankfully, with a rough voice providing a well-placed edge to some of CzechMate's smoother songs. 

The night had already seen a brilliant and diverse selection of rock bands, including Jeaga, Lite Feed Frenzy (well worth checking out) and Black Orchid Empire. Jason Williams - the band's drummer - began their set with an insanely good solo; blasting out some wicked talent. Then the rest of the band slowly filed onto the stage, plugging in their guitars and adjusting their microphone stands with smooth confidence. It was all very much in the style of a band about to headline - here we are, shall we blow your heads off?

While some of CzechMate's members started off visibly nervous, their fresh-faced anxiety made them all the more appealing. It's always refreshing to see the band interacting with each other as well as the audience in between songs, something which Williams and Arthurs did naturally. Another stand-out performance came from bassist Ben Jones, who not only looked the part (swooping blonde fringe, vans, skinny jeans..), but provided one of the band's most enthusiastic performances - falling to his knees with guitar in hand is always a sure-fire winner. Lead guitarist Lewis Evans is also another to look out for - a natural, understated flair for some serious guitar solos.

The rest of their hour-long set was a sweaty fever of heart-thumping passion. The band really came into their own after Arthurs brought out his guitar; all visible agitation disappeared. CzechMate love the stage and they love their songs, and the audience clearly felt their passion. 'With Me' was one of the band's most popular songs, the audience reacting in an uproar of excitement (possibly a single in the making?). A personal favourite of mine was 'Tonight' - all gravel and fire and iron-laiden punk.

The night was a stupendous success for the band, and it was hard not to feel proud at the boys who had walked on stage nervy and pumped - to the guys who were genuinely raking in the applause and encore requests by the end. Be sure to check these guys out as soon as you can. You'll be delighted to hear a refreshing return to good old-fashioned rock n roll.

Click here to listen to CzechMate's latest E.P!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

INTERVIEW: Joe Craig, author of 'Jimmy Coates' books

Joe Craig would rather be a ninja than a pirate. He has a love-hate relationship with Nigel Slater and would rename London to 'Joseph' if he could. He is also bad at video games and doesn't understand Japanese anime.

For those unlucky folks who have never heard Joe Craig's name whispered in hushed tones behind school bike sheds, Joe is the author of the much-loved Jimmy Coates series, soon to reach a whopping 8 books in total, with the latest (Jimmy Coates: Blackout) due for release this year. He's made an album, is currently working on a screenplay and his first book won him the 2006 Manchester Book Award as well as the 2006 Bolton Book Award. He has a particular fondness for French noir films and can recite every cricket stat since 1991. Thankfully, this didn't happen.

The Jimmy Coates books are a series of thrillers following an 11-year-old boy who discovers that he has been genetically engineered by the government. Very soon, Jimmy is thrown into an action-packed adventure that turns his life upside down. Things will never be the same again, but now Jimmy has more important decisions to make than whether or not he'll get his homework done on time.

I met Joe Craig in a quirky tea shop in King's Cross this past December. While we wait for his order of tea and brownie to be delivered, Christmas songs blast loudly from a 50s jukebox and my interview with the children's author soon descends into a conversation about cat names and sandwiches. Still, Joe is delightful, funny and eventually offers me some of his brownie. What more could you want? 

The latest book - hitting shelves in April, 2013!
The book

Me: Hi Joe!

Joe: Hello!

Your new book is out in April, am I right?

Yep, that's right.

Can we expect any more nasty surprises?

You should always expect nasty surprises with me. There are some big twists. I've already revealed that there's a significant death, and also a significant return.

I read the first few chapters of Blackout that are available on your website. I have to say, you left it at the most annoying part!

[laughs] I always do! That's what you do, that's the ups and downs of the story. But I don't like to leave the end of the book on a cliffhanger; it feels unsatisfying. There's gotta be some threads left for the next one for it to be a satisfying read as a thriller in its own right as well. [Pause] I thought that was my brownie arriving for a second, I got excited.

It'll be here soon. How have you done your research for your books? As well as MI6, you've got a lot of ... helicopter jargon.

Yes - some people love the helicopter jargon...

Do you know a pilot?

As it so happens I do! But... almost everything you can get off the internet. My abiding principle with research is something Chuck Jones said, you know, the director of the Bugs Bunny cartoons? Bugs Bunny's my idol. Chuck Jones said about stories and movies in general, "don't give me something realistic, give me something believable." There's a danger that you do loads of research and find out the exact ins and outs of what's actually realistic and try to shoehorn that somehow in your story - oh! My brownie's arrived! This is thrilling, thank you! This brownie is twice the size of the brownie that I had here last week. I need to find out who cuts the brownie on what day of the week. Literally, twice the size - anyway, I've signed up to loads of defence forums which makes me sound quite sinister and scary, but I can just ask and find out stuff there. What I like to do is start by gathering that information about what's real and then I do two things. One is to tweak it so it's believable and then I don't go into stuff that I have to explain...

You don't want to end up making it too technical either.

Exactly, it has to tell a story. The other thing I like to do is take the existing technology and move it on one step. So if there are serial numbers or model designs I imagine the next one on. I wanted one better than MI6 so I made NJ7, and I do exactly the same with helicopters, cars, planes, guns even, because it's a slightly other-worldly setting anyway, futuristic almost. 

That's a very good idea. And what's your opinion on genetic engineering? 

The funny thing is when I started writing the books, it was a very different scientific world to now, over the last seven years. The first book came out in 2005 but I was writing it in 2003, so that's a lot of time in something like genetic engineering. So when I started it was very much of my imagination, trying to work out, okay, what could one day be possible....

Do you think Jimmys will exist, or that they already do?

I don't know if Jimmys will exist exactly as in the book, designed for a specific purpose, but we're already screening genetics. I think you’re going to gradually start getting into territory where you're picking and choosing certain attributes for your children, even if it's something as superficial as the colour of their eyes. So we're kinda going that way and I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. The question is what we do with that technology and how we control it and whether there is any thought behind what we're doing or whether we are just saying, oh make my child prettier, smarter, taller!

That's very true. So with all this MI6 research...

I have a friend who works in MI6, by the way.


Yeah, I absolutely cannot tell you anything about him or her though.

Damn. Was there a moment before you started writing the Jimmy Coates series where you decided you were going to write for children?

No. Throughout the course of my life I've made very few decisions, especially as dramatic as that [smiles]. I was a musician and songwriter before being an author. I didn't even decide I was going to be a writer. I just started developing the ideas for a story and didn't want to waste those ideas so I thought, I'll see what happens. I was just writing a story that would grab me. I'm a very selfish writer because I'm an impatient reader. 

What sort of books did you read when you were younger? Can we see any of those influences in Jimmy Coates?

Oh, that's a great question! I don't think you can see any of the books I read when I was younger in the series. I was not a huge reader. I read lots of Dick King-Smith until I was 10 or 11, and lots of non-fiction. I read books about cricket (every one there ever was), so if you need to ask me about any cricket stats up to about 1991 I'll be able to answer. I also read film magazines, but there weren't novels that really grabbed me. Then when I was about 13 or 14 I read Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake, which is very good. That was the first time had strongly recommended a book to me, and because I liked it my sister recommended every book I ever read for the next 15 years. Do you want some brownie by the way?

I'm good with my tea, thanks.

Okay, well I'm going to stuff my face so the next few answers might be brownie-garbled.

"... a totally excellent adventure - a bit like Bond,
a bit like Matrix and a lot of what you've never read
before. Someone make this into a movie!"
- Flipside
The writer

How do you decide on your characters' names? It's my favourite part of writing.

They come from all over, but there's always thought that goes into them. I start off with the alphabet, and I pick a letter that hasn't been used yet; no two characters have names that begin with the same letter. So Jimmy's mum is called Helen, his dad's Ian and his sisters' Georgie – G, H, I, J – that's the family altogether. Ares Hollingdale, the prime minister in the first book - he's the first name in the alphabet. That's probably the most obvious because that's just the Greek God of War, so that's a reference to something in his character. And Miss Bennett is the B. She's just a joke because I found it hilarious and slightly annoying that every character in Pride and Prejudice is called Miss Bennett, so she's named after every Miss Bennett in Jane Austen books. I do anagrams and codes. Christopher Viggo came from Viggo Mortenson.

I love the name Viggo. It's so gangster. I wanted to call my cat Donnie Darko.

That's a very cool name for a cat.

No, sorry, not Donnie Darko, I meant Donnie Brasco.

Well, you could have two cats. Brasco and Darko. That'd be amazing, my dog is called Harpo.

That's awesome! Where did the name Jimmy come from?

Well, I needed to be able to type it quickly, but I also wanted it to be one better than James Bond. Jimmy is the short version of James, one along from the alphabet would be C so I wanted a J.C name, and I wanted a hard/soft name because that reflects his character - looks sweet and innocent from the outside, that's Jimmy, but there's something more sinister under the surface, that's Coates.

You've also got a lot of writers' self-help videos on Youtube... 

I apologise for them. 

No, they're good! The hippo one was my favourite. I wasn't listening to a word you were saying. 

[laughs] Inbali [the woman in the video] didn't speak to me for about 10 minutes after that, she thought the thought bubbles were coming from her.

Oh dear! Were all these writing tips and advice something you learnt throughout your writing process, or were you taught them?

Not taught it, as such. I've learned them from various places and picked it up over the years, reading about other peoples' approach to writing, but also just by doing it. I learned a huge amount writing my first book and then editing it with my agent. This year I've been writing a screenplay, so I've been trying to read as widely as I can about screen-writing, and reading screenplays myself.

What is it about thrillers that you love? Would you consider writing away from them?

Very good question. I think I'll write away from them at some point, but there will always be that fascination with plotting and constructing a story where you can lead a reader down one way and then surprise them in a satisfying way; not totally out of the blue but something that is layered in a way that they realised was there once they reached the twist. I remember watching films like Sleuth and A Few Good Men, beautifully constructed stories which have twists all the way through and that's what really got me excited and fascinated about how you do that.

You work on a variety of different projects; screenplays, song-writing  novels. Do you have to get yourself in the zone for writing each of these different forms?

Well, it's not that different. It's the same bit of my brain, the same creative process, it's storytelling. And actually writing a screenplay is a really nice, refreshing change of pace. You have to do it more quickly. It can be refreshing to move to different projects and different formats, which ultimately come down to the same thing; telling a story. Doing the album was nice, last year [2011], when I wanted a little break from writing books. Wow, this song is loud.

It really is. How often do you write? I've heard you're quite a disciplined writer.

I love that I give that impression! I'm totally not a disciplined writer. It really varies so much, when I'm working on a draft of a book – which is only a small part of the process – I write 2000 words a day until I'm done. Some days I'll miss a day, but I try as much as I can to clear the diary of everything and just write 2000 words a day. If you do it everyday it's much easier. Every day you miss makes it twice as hard the next day. Days when I'm not actually writing the first draft, I'm planning. That'll be on my mind constantly, and then once I've written the first draft I'll be re-writing. It might be a question of letting things sit in my mind for a while and it'll take me as long to re-write the book as it took me to write the first draft, or longer. That's when it gets good.

And I've heard you've written a Jimmy Coates theme tune...?

I have! I've got two versions of it. I was thinking of putting it on some kind of book trailer, maybe for Blackout?


The man himself, Joe Craig. "I'm a selfish writer
because I'm an impatient reader."

The man himself

Time for the fun questions.

Okay! They've been fun so far anyway.

Awwww! Okay. Your books have been described as a mixture of Harry Potter and Bourne Identity. Who would you rather be; Harry Potter, Jimmy Coates or Jason Bourne? Or even Matt Damon?

[laughs] Probably easiest to be Matt Damon. I don't think as many people are looking to kill him. I don't want to be Harry Potter, he's a bit lame. His parents are dead, he needs a wand, he has quite a boring life if you ask me, and there's some evil overlord trying to kill him. Miserable. Um... I don't know whether I'd enjoy being Jimmy Coates either, and it's my own fault because I put him through torture. Jason Bourne is probably the best one to be, then at least you're a grown-up, right? Much more power of your own decisions.

If you could be stuck in a lift with one of your characters, who would it be?

It would have to be either Miss Bennett or Saffron Walden. One of the hot women. Either one of them could kill me at any point, but that would part of the fun, right?

I suppose... what about a character not from one of your books?

Jessica Rabbit, can I have her? Or Geri Halliwell, is she fictional?

Great answers. Would you rather be a pirate or a ninja?

Ninja! Far too seasick to be a pirate. Can I be a land-pirate?


Nah, I'll be a ninja. I don't like stupid costumes – ninja, far better.

Would you rather make one new law of choice or get rid of one law of choice?

Oooooh! Wow. That's huge, I need to think about that. [A while later] If you put me in charge the country would quickly descend into some sort of authoritarian chaos. Err... I would add a law. I'm not going to tell you what it is though.

Why not?

It's controversial.

Oh, okay. Would you rather...

Actually, no! Why not be controversial, it's important that people say these things. I think that gay marriage is important, whether that's getting rid of a law or introducing a law I don't really know, but gay marriage is a go - let's do it. I think there's too much interference with the church, I would marginalise the church completely. I'd sack all bishops. That's where I’d start, I think.

Wow, okay, very interesting. Howabout this: would you rather have your face on money or a city named after you?

Oh, a city. Definitely. London is my city.

So, London would now be ... Joe.

[laughs] It could be Joseph. We could make it more regal, somehow. Josephopolis. Josephgrad. Go Russian on it. Or Josephsburg.

That would be a bit weird in England.

Yeah, that's true. Joseph, then.

Brilliant. Would you rather be good at something you hate or bad at something you love?

What a wonderful question. If I'm bad at the thing that I love do I still get to do it?


I sort of am bad already. I'm bad at snooker but I play it all the time.

I'm bad at video games, but I want to be so good.

Oh, I'm terrible.

There's just too many buttons. I get so confused.

You know what, if you're confused with the buttons that's a step ahead of me. I just don't understand what's happening on the screen. And the person I'm playing against is sitting next to me frantically pressing buttons, and I'm next to them going 'oh okay I'll just press this' and by that time they've won. What just happened?

Exactly. Invisibility or teleportation?

Ooh! Invisibility has its charms but I'm not really someone who hides away, and I would use it for evil purposes, obviously. But I think anything that I could use invisibility for I could use teleportation for. Instead of having to be invisible and sneak into a bank vault, I could just teleport straight in. So, it kinda trumps invisibility.

Good idea. Would you rather be able to fly or travel through time?

Fly! But... I wouldn't just fly around, I'd have normal conversations like this and then freak people out by just hovering... just a centimetre off the ground so people didn't even realise what was wrong until I got gradually higher...


But travelling through time seems good as well.

Would you go to the future or past?

I wouldn't go too far either way in case I got stuck. And life doesn't seem that much better in the past, but I might go back a week, just enough so I can remember everything that's going to happen and just use it for evil purposes.

No internet or no phone?

Where are you getting these questions from?

I don't really know.

They're amazing. Well, no phone is fine by me. I don't like phoning people, talking to people – overrated. Internet's great. I don't even know why we still have phones, all we do is text.

If you could have one meal for the rest of your life, what would you have?


Really?! For the rest of your life?

Oh yeah.

Even for breakfast??

Yeah, sushi's great. Broad enough to have many flavours. I might miss Peking duck, and roast chicken, and roast potatoes. But I'm not going to choose roast potatoes for the rest of my life.

But you could have a meal. You could have roast dinner.

Oh, well... that's just going to be heavy, you're not going to want it for breakfast. Whereas sushi...

Will probably give you food poisoning.

Ha ha! I have no fear.

Okay, then. What's been one of your favourite moments in the Jimmy Coates series so far?

I have a few, usually they're clever twists that have really worked or given me a buzz of satisfaction. I do have a favourite moment. It's page 110/11 in Jimmy Coates: Target. There's a point when Jimmy is in hiding in France and hears that he's going to have to go back to London, and he'd have to see his father. He's got a bottle of water in his hands, and he hurls it against the wall in anger and frustration and throws the bottle top after it. You would only get the significance of that if you really had a good memory of what happens early on in the first book, where Jimmy has grown up believing that his father has made bottle tops for a living. I like how that moment isn't expressed with an explanation or conversation, but just by him looking at the bottle in his hands and the bottle top.

Is that something that just came to you?

No, I work really hard for those moments where I can tell a story visually.It was the first time that I'd done that well in the series, so I was pleased with that.

[We then talk for an extremely long time on tea, chocolate and sandwiches. For the record, he goes to Lidl to buy his favourite supermarket chocolate, and has a picture of his favourite sandwich as the screensaver on his phone]

What was it like to hold your first ever book?

I don't remember, sadly. Because I think what people who don't write books don't realise is that by the time your book is printed in physical form, you can't even remember writing it, and you're so worried about writing the next one. So actually there's much more anxiety than excitement. I think if I was satisfied seeing my book in a bookshop I would stop writing, because I would have done it. But I want to achieve other things so I keep going. There are small moments when I get letters or e-mails from readers or parents of readers that just tell me that something significant has happened because of something I've written. That's wonderful, you can't plan for that, it just happens and it's really special.

Any career highlights so far?

This has been one!


I remember when I went to the Bolton Book Award in 2006 – which I won – but the winning itself wasn't the career highlight, what was so nice is that at the side of the stage two kids had the job of bringing on the giant cheque, and the organisation had kept the winner of the prize a secret, but I'd met the kids beforehand and one girl had said how much she'd loved my books and she was rooting for me. When they were about to announce the winner I looked to the side of the stage and saw her holding the cheque with another boy. She snuck a peek at the name on the cheque and her face lit up! And that's when I knew that I'd won. It was a lovely way of finding out that I'd won the award, almost better than finding out I'd won the award itself.

I also remember chatting to Nigel Slater at a party and telling him I had one of his roast chickens in the oven. That was highlight for me, but he thought I was a complete psycho. And then I bumped into him in Waitrose a few weeks later, and he was trying to stay anonymous and had his cap all down and his collar turned up – and I just walked past him and went ‘roast chicken!’. And he hurried away like I was a psycho again! [laughs] So me and Nigel Slater have this love hate relationship, I love his roast chicken and he has no idea who I am!

Interested in reading more of Joe's books? Because you SHOULD be! Find them all here!