When we do these interviews, we send out a list of questions inviting the interviewee to modify the questions as they see fit and we then write an intro and a trailer. Kirkland Ciccone, author of "Conjuring The Infinite", seems to have highjacked the blog totally but we read it and felt - what the heck, we might have said/asked that anyway. So it's over to Kirkland...
Conjuring The Infinite is one of our favourite debut novels of the year. It’s completely unlike any other YA novel in the market and Kirkland Ciccone is completely unlike any writer working in the genre. He looks very proud when Our Book Reviews tells him that Conjuring The Infinite is a compellingly unique oddity. It’s also nearly impossible to put down.
We had a chat with Kirkland and asked him a few questions about himself, his book and his future plans. It was an interesting experience. He is exactly how we expected him: completely over the top one minute, then prone to moments of deep earnestness. He is self-deprecating, cutting, extremely confident and a little bit mad. He is also very funny. Kirkland let slip a few hints about his secret second novel, his plans for the young adult genre and a whole lot more.
Here is what happened:
Before starting this interview I thought I'd visit your blog and try to find out a little bit about you. The first thing I found was the title "Grrr! It's Kirkland Ciccone" making you sound like an angry young man. Would you describe yourself that way?
I know exactly how I want to present myself, which is a good thing because it means I can do things and hopefully not be misinterpreted. I came into the publishing industry full of enthusiasm. You have to understand that I’ve spent years on the fringes trying to get in, writing young adult fiction, looking at what other authors put onto shelves. I would study their books and I’d go over their websites. When the time came for my official website, I wanted a name that was tongue in cheek but slightly acerbic. I was going to name my official site The Kirkland Ciccone Fan Club. I think that’s great. I might use it one day. But ‘Grrr! It’s Kirkland Ciccone’ is more instant, don’t you think? The truth is…it’s actually named after a Betty Boo album.
(Kirkland begins enthusiastically talking about Betty Boo and how he prefers her to John Lennon! He really likes Betty Boo.)
Your biography in the back page of Conjuring The Infinite and on your website is hilarious. It mentions your brother being an ex-armed robber, your dog being named Lord Fanny, your one-man shows and your stint as a psychic consultant. It reads like a man who takes very little in life seriously. Is this a fair assessment? And how much of it is true?
Most of it is true! When I tell stories I can say pretty much whatever I want because people don’t believe any of it. And that’s a good thing because I can tell them the truth. It’s very cathartic. Why hire a therapist? My readers and my audience can be my therapy. It’s my idea of heaven! I speak and people listen and love me. I grew up in a really crappy area in Cumbernauld (Note: Cumbernauld is where Gregory’s Girl was filmed but over the years it has gathered bad publicity due to the town centre. In 2002, Cumbernauld won the dubious award of being the ugliest town in Britain, but by 2010 it had improved. Kirkland shrieks with laughter when he informs us that he moved out of Cumbernauld in 2009) but I never ever noticed how bad everything was because it was how people lived. It was unpredictable. Constant drama! My mother got most of her exercise by putting her foot down on my brothers and sisters. But I was extremely bookish. I read so many books I had to be fitted with glasses by the time I reached Primary Four. I watched television and horror movies and I was listening to punk at the age of eight thanks to mum’s boyfriend Davy Doomsday. He loved punk and 80s new wave. I absorbed everything. My sisters were wild but great fun. My brother bungled loads of armed robberies and ended up doing a stint in prison! It was completely crazy…but I’m grateful for it because it helped me get where I am now. Storytelling and that town have shaped me and now I look back on my childhood with pride. It might have been chaotic, but it was bloody interesting. And I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t grow up in the shadow of Cumbernauld Town Centre.
It says that you trained in journalism. How important was it for your writing?
I trained as a journalist but didn’t take it to a degree. I decided that I wanted to get out and start making things happen for me. I would have been trapped in further education for years. I had horrible visions of my books being reviewed in my obituary column if I didn’t get a move on and do my thing. I remember one incident in class when our lecturer told us the secret of good journalism. He explained that alcohol was the secret to being an amazing journalist. Well I sat there in my angora cardigan numb with shock and dismay…because I’m tee-total! I’ve never touched alcohol in my life. People probably think I’m a recovering alcoholic. That’s not true. I used to brew beer with Davy Doomsday when I was a kid. But I never developed a taste for it. My teacher took me aside and encouraged me to write fiction. I’ll never forget it because it was one of those rare moments in your life when someone takes you seriously. He told me I was a very talented writer. He didn’t see me out on the streets. I agreed with him. Could you imagine me quizzing people about car boot sales or anything so mundane? I hate car boot sales…all those lost people, trying to find something missing in their lives, something they can’t replace with a bargain. I was always going to write YA fiction anyway. I want to be the author that the teenage version of me would have loved obsessively. My training gave me a good foundation to work from but my personality allowed me to take my writing and put it onstage. It all helped in the end.
It also seems to say you have done stand up. Is that the case?
I thought I was doing serious live literature until Cumbernauld Theatre slotted me into their comedy strand! I don’t know why but I’m just funny even when I’m being serious. So it seems that I can do stand up! I’ve always been quick-witted. It’s a useful skill, isn’t it? I’d rather go dooking for apples in a toilet bowl than be dull!
Having read Conjuring The Infinite I found myself musing over your approach. Many writers tell stories of how they start writing and the story tells itself. Others that they plan it all from beginning to end. This had the feel that you started at the end and then wrote backwards. How did you approach this book?
Conjuring The Infinite was an absolute joy to write. It was so easy too. I knew the story from start to finish. I knew the characters. I didn’t want to leave their world. The unwritten rules of the YA genre state that the book must have a relatable protagonist, a character for the reader to grab hold of until the end. You see it in Twilight with Bella or The Hunger Games with Katniss. You see it in every young adult novel. I decided to scrap that rule for Conjuring The Infinite! I love the idea that I can trick my readers. No matter who they start to root for in the book, suddenly I hit them with something different and as you spotted in your review…the characters don’t allow people into their heads and yet – you still get fully formed characters because of how I wrote the book. I’m very proud of that aspect of it. Small comments and little details build up the characters whilst adding some distance between them and the reader. I wrote a book years ago called The Weirdness, which you will never see! Chicken House sent it back with a lovely handwritten note. They saw potential in me even back then and thank goodness because I needed to know that maybe, just maybe, my take on the YA genre could be understood by other people. I needed that support and reassurance, so I’m forever grateful to them. Chicken House said I had some amazing ideas and great quirky dialogue, that I should keep working and come back to them. Strident Publishing got me first though with Conjuring The Infinite! They’re great and the level of support has been fantastic. I love it.
I have seen you are secretly working on your second book. How's that going?
I’m nearly finished my first draft and a few weeks ago I got that buzz again…that thing an author gets when they know they’re writing a hot book. I don’t want to give away the title because I have two! It’ll be one or the other depending on what the publisher decide to go with. It’s written in the same style as Conjuring The Infinite but I’m pushing the structure even further. I don’t know if it will work. Readers will need to stay vigilant at all times! It has a very experimental feel about it. It is a bit more hyperactive, a bit deeper. When I started writing Conjuring The Infinite, my goal was to write something really distinctive, a book which stood out in the market. But I also wanted to create the most spiteful and unpleasant teenage antagonist in YA fiction. Seth Kevorkian was my attempt at a really hateful baddie. Let me say that he has nothing on one of the characters in this book. If it ends up the way I have it in my head…you’re in for an absolute treat. I think it’s my masterpiece, I really do. It’s about a group of misfit teens who slip into a world of fantasy and are caught up in lunacy and murder. I can’t say anymore because the actual concept is so good and for next year it’s going to be especially relevant. Just wait and see!
Can you give us a bit of dialogue from the book?
“Don’t eat the sandwiches. Sandwiches are funeral food!”
Do you see yourself becoming a full time author or are there other ambitions you would like to achieve?
I’m going to remain in the YA genre because it’s the one I feel passionately about and I ‘get’ it. I can’t stand these bestselling authors who have decided to come into the YA market because they want to expand their brand. Even James Patterson is writing YA books! How they get away with it is a bigger mystery than Jennifer Aniston’s acting career or the Mary Celeste. I’m writing for teenagers and adults. All adults were teenagers at one time. The concepts and ideas in my book are completely relevant to my audience. I would like to get out and do more festivals. I’m doing my first ever festival date on Thursday. The Tidelines Book Festival in Largs! My mum took me there as a kid and I swear to God I thought it was Spain. My main ambition is to get my second book finished. I have loads of ideas and I’ve discussed them with my publisher. I can’t wait for you all to see what I’m doing…it’s going to be really interesting.
Having wrested control back from Kirkland it only remains to thank him for his time and the most interesting answers. And questions (that he included) too.