Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Live Long and Prospero by Scott Pixello: Interview and Excerpt: RABT Tour Stop

 


 

What’s behind your current book?

Live Long & Prospero takes a look at a little-known all-male environment (that of a lighthouse) and turns it upside-down when an outsider comes in with a fresh perspective.  In the early 80s in Britain, the political agenda of Margaret Thatcher was beginning to take hold and what became Thatcherism was spreading to all aspects of society- measuring the financial rather than the social value of an activity. Lighthouses were faced with the threat of automation and in my story a group of characters who cannot easily cope with normal life on the mainland have created a bizarre lifestyle, which is now threatened by technological and political change. I was also interested in what happens when someone is allowed to indulge his obsession to an extreme (here the Captain’s immersion in Star Trek). Oh, and it’s full of great jokes.  

How do you manage different writing projects?

‘Manage’ makes it sound a bit grand. My brain works (when it works at all) a bit like those plate-spinning acts in circuses. I have at least 10 different stories at different stages of gestation ‘on the go’ all the time. It’s not a sign of genius unfortunately. I just get bored very easily- not a particularly admirable characteristic. I used to find it really hard to make myself concentrate on one project at a time but I’ve solved that particular problem by not doing it. I’m like a little child who is instantly distracted by the newest, brightest, noisiest object that comes into my vision. Right at this very moment, things that are interesting me include: art theft, stand-up comedy, Shakespearean child actors, immortality, allotments, talking to cats, obesity, the Roman occupation of Britain, Leni Riefenstahl and time travel. See what I mean? It’s unlikely all these topics will make it into one single book but these and others will appear in stories over the next few years. This is reading like a justification of why I should be institutionalized. 

Do you listen to music when you write?

I have music on constantly, when I’m writing or thinking. Or breathing, basically. There are a whole group of artists/bands that I grew up with in the late 70s/early 80s, who all had some success but then either fell out of fashion or took a musical direction that didn’t work for them commercially or personally. This isn’t so unusual perhaps but what makes this group different is that in the last 10 years or so, they’ve come back.  John Foxx, who had stepped back from making music to lecture and produce great cover artwork for the likes of Salman Rushdie and Jeanette Winterson, has released three jaw-droppingly-good albums in as many years and he’s in his mid-60s now. Ditto for Gary Numan (not exactly in terms of age) but apparently consigned to the dustbin of history, he’s reinventing himself again alongside Nine Inch Nails; Pete Murphy (formerly of Bauhaus)- check out his live version of ‘Reptile’; and Thomas Dolby who produced a sublime track called ‘Oceanea’ which I had playing constantly while writing Live Long & Prospero. All these figures are like Kevin Spacey’s character Lester Burnham in American Beauty. When he goes jogging for the first time in ages, he realizes, “It’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself” and that however lost you may feel, “it’s never too late to get it back.” This capacity for imaginative renewal by a whole group of musicians (Morrissey, David Sylvian, The Cure) at any age is a great source of inspiration for me. 

Are all your central characters dysfunctional?

Pretty much. Daniel, the 16-year-old protagonist in Luke, I Am Your Father has to face up to being a father, potentially of a disabled child at the same time as wanting to hang out with his mates and talk about Batman. Memoir of a Gothic Girl (fear not, it’s not a real ‘memoir’) by contrast has a female main character, Celine, a sassy teen who decides to ‘go Goth,’ renaming herself Severina as a way to escape trouble at home and school. She starts a diary (like lots of us do) but continues it for a year (like lots of us don’t) and fills it with all kinds of random (and hopefully funny) thoughts about life, all things Goth and the pursuit of a Robert Pattinson lookalike.

I seem to be interested in adults behaving childishly and adolescents trying to work out what maturity is. Probably, if I’m being honest, I think most men are just big kids, especially when they’re in predominantly-male surroundings. 

Why do all your books feature a character who hates Chris de Burgh?

Ah, well. It’s not so much that they can’t stand his reedy, monotonous voice or are repulsed by his caterpillar-style monobrow or are alienated by his overbearing arrogance or annoyed by his continual existence as- sorry, what was the question again? 

Beatles or Monkees?

Actually not wild about either. Just because you’re the first to do something, it doesn’t necessarily make you the best at it. 

And what are you working on now?

Live Long & Prospero also features an extract from Rainbow, my first Middle Grade book, about a psychic cow that can predict soccer scores. I am interested in the whole notion of animals as celebrities (remember Knut the cute polar bear cub in Berlin), as well as the way in which it seems a whole nation gets behind sporting teams sometimes. I’ve been living in Germany for several years now and the 2006 World Cup really showed an entire culture profoundly changing how it thinks about itself (flags being flown for the first time in years). I was also interested in a strong father-daughter relationship and the idea of farming as a collision between business and heritage. Add an animal that is born in a way that is defined as ‘abnormal’ and you have an interesting mix, I think. I’m trying to write books that couldn’t be written by anyone else. And maybe they shouldn’t be. 

Any future plans?

Oh definitely. I’d like a future. Preferably one in which I’m writing full-time. I think my current employer would like it too. Definitely a win-win situation all round. 

Any last words for your readers?

Sounds a bit final- I’m not on my deathbed yet. Remember Pixellites, as that great philosopher, Mr Bon Jovi once noted, “Keep the faith.”

 



This darkly comic YA novel, set on a lighthouse in 1983, introduces us to the deeply dysfunctional Captain Church and his crew of social misfits, whose well-ordered universe is turned upside down by the arrival of a marine biologist, who has come to study the local puffin colony. This in turn leads to an encounter with a nasty gang of drug dealers, a surprising undersea discovery and a hamster called Steve.

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Available now on Kindle, Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko &Adobe Digital Editions
 
 
 

The following extract is from the first meeting between Principal Lighthousekeeper Church and Chris Newman, who has come to study the puffin colony on the island.



“Milk and sugar?”
“Please. A little of both.” She looks round the room, which is even more cramped now with boxes and an additional inhabitant. A couple of dark-looking, heavy wooden units separate the radio and ‘business’ area from the stove and upon one of them stands a large TV set. Opposite, sit three well-worn armchairs and in one a cat lies curled up, apparently asleep. The walls are covered with duty rotas, meal schedules and a clock featuring the face of Lenin. Overall, there is the sense of orderly clutter with furniture chosen for its function, not because items match one another.
“This is all very...compact and bijou.”
“Retirement home chic really. It lacks a certain woman’s touch.”
“And now I’m that certain woman.”
“So you are.” He holds her gaze for a moment. “I have to confess, I was expecting someone a little more...masculine. A man, in fact. Is that all your stuff? Steve’s always making sexist jokes about women’s inability to go anywhere without a mountain of clothes and make-up but I try to tell him that not all women are like that.”
“No, my stuff's actually down in the store room at the bottom and the room above that. There’s rather a lot, I’m afraid. Collection boxes for eggs, bones and faeces, that kind of thing. And some make-up.”
He gestures with his own mug to one of the three armchairs. “The most important thing is a good pair of boots. If you’re into collecting bird...that, you'll find a large supply of it out here.” He picks up the cat, a large ginger tom, whose head flops, apparently comatose and begins to stroke it while adopting a cod Eastern European accent. “So, Meeester Bond, tell me about your project.”
Selecting a maroon leather-covered armchair, which shows distinct signs of wear and several claw marks, she sits, slightly hunched forward away from the headrest that has a suspicious, waxy sheen. She looks up at her reflection in the dead TV screen and gives a faint smile.
“Well, I’ve been asked to record the migratory and breeding habits of the birds on the north side of the island, especially puffins. I’m working with a number of other European universities to study sea-birds so that governments can make provision for them when they build oil platforms, wind turbines, that kind of thing.”
Church takes a mouthful of his own tea, which is far too hot and burns his lip but covers this with a pained smile.
“Well, we’re pretty isolated here. This is a rock lighthouse, rather than a land or shore one, so-called because, duh-duh, we’re on a rock. The last few days have been very still weather-wise but often we’re cut off from the mainland, sometimes for several days.”
Chris sipped her tea carefully.
“OK?”
“I’m sure I'll get used to it. Er, did I hear you right, when you talked about a dead body?”
He shrugs a little, trying to look unconcerned but spills hot tea on his lap, which he tries to pretend doesn’t hurt. “Just a little misunderstanding. We’ve got a washed-up seal down there. In the sense of brought in by the tide rather than trying to restart a flagging pop career but I suppose you never know.”
“Do you get many injured mammals?”
“Not really. The occasional bird flies into the light and we snag the odd dolphin whilst fishing. Fishing is more of a hobby really, a way to pass the time. And if Alf can’t bring the supply boat, it can be a useful way to supplement our limited food stocks.”
“But no rodents? No mice or rats?”
“Not in our diet. Oh, I see. Er, no, not that I'm aware of. I doubt they could survive the germs from Cal’s room. Waving a couple of his socks out of the window- that’d soon see them off.”
She gestures at the cat in Church’s arms. “What’s his name?”
“Moggy. Short for Mogadon. We’re not really supposed to have animals on the premises but he doesn’t do a whole lot. Cal doesn’t like him. Claims he’s allergic but I think it’s more that he’s finally found something that sleeps even more than him. I’ll just put him out.”
He walks to the same window he threw the letters out of earlier, opens it and hurls the cat out. There is a feline scream and a few seconds later, a splash.
Chris leaps up in shock. “Isn’t that a bit cruel?”
“Oh, he’ll be alright. He normally swims a few laps and then comes in the cat-flap.”
“You’ve got a cat-flap on a lighthouse?”
“This is 1983. Technology’s moved on since the Dark Ages, you know. Our internal communications system is state of the art.” She takes in the small chalkboard, which displays what is for supper that evening, general weather forecast and a list of ‘to-do’ items. “Anyway, Steve can give you a quick Cook’s tour of the lighthouse. And by that, I don’t mean sail around the world, discover some interestingly-shaped vegetables and be savagely murdered by cannibals in Hawaii.”
“I’m glad.”
He looks up at Lenin. “Right, I’m chef today so you’ll be able to see the culinary challenge ahead of you. Oh God, you're not a vegetarian, are you?”
“No, I don't think so. I'll give anything a try.”
“Well, I’d keep that quiet if I were you. The crew hasn’t seen much in the way of women for quite a while.”
Church puts his empty mug on the sideboard by the stove and offers to take hers, beginning the process of washing up. “Oh sorry. Force of habit. We like our routines here- reusing captured rainwater, bathing weekly rather than daily, that kind of thing.”
He proceeds to thoroughly clean and dry the mug before replacing it on its particular hook above the stove. He has his sleeves rolled up, revealing a burn on his forearm, which he hastily covers up but not before Chris notices.
“Is there a Mr Truman? Sorry but we don’t really do social etiquette here. It’s the shortest line between two points, I’m afraid.”
“Separated. Oh, it’s OK. We were young. We wanted different things. I wanted to gain my doctorate and an academic career. He wanted to shag as many nurses as he could.”
“Well, I suppose it’s good to have a goal in life. Sorry.”
“About that joke or my marriage? I don’t think women have to be defined by men anyway.”
“Ah, so he dumped you.”
“Yes, alright.”
“He must have been a bit of an idiot.”
“He was,” she agrees quickly before realizing this is a compliment. “Oh, I see, er, so anyway, right now, I’m off men. I’m not sure I’m even attracted to men anymore.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place. A group of more unattractive men would be hard to find.”
“Celibacy quite appeals.”
“Ah well, Steve’s your expert there. He hasn’t had a date since…the early 1970s. And between you and me, I’m not sure he didn’t imagine that.”
“I’m even giving serious consideration to becoming a lesbian.”
“Well, if you’d like someone to talk to about…that in exhaustive detail, my door is always open. Well, it’s not actually, you need some privacy on a lighthouse but you know what I mean.”
“Thanks. What about you? Are you married?”
“A long time ago but it didn’t work out. Came home early one day and found an electrician putting his plug in her socket, so to speak.”
“That must have been quite a shock.”
“Yeah, I know. Usually, you can never get anyone to come out in the afternoon.”
At this point, there is the sound of running footsteps and Steve almost bursts into the room.
“I think you’ll want to see this, Skip.”


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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