The Big Interview: KT Davies

Karen Davies

I met Karen at my first FantasyCon. I was just starting out as a writer, as was Karen so we shared ideas and suggestions before meeting the following year. Shared work on The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse and other projects shored up our friendship. She makes amazing masks, has worked in theatre, lived in China, rides horses and enjoys LARPing and swordplay (she’s even started teaching the Lamb how to swing a sword!). She has two novels out, my favourite The Red Knight and the award nominated Breed and her website. So lets find out more about this fantastic story-teller.

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GCH: If you could edit your past, what would you change?

KTD: Nothing. I’ve thought about this on many occasions as I’m sure everyone does (you and I at least;) I’ve come to a conclusion that I’m happy with in that good or ill, everything that’s happened to me has brought me to the place I am today and I rather like that.

GCH: Do you have any superstitions/quirks/unique qualities others would call odd?

KTD: Gosh, hundreds, I should think, I just hide them reasonably well.

GCH: What would you consider your greatest achievement?

KTD: Making two human beings.

GCH: You’ve worked as set and costume designer. How did you become involved in this? Can you share some of the creative process, how you approach these projects, some of your triumphs and, well, not so triumphant creations?

KTD: I’m more of a prop maker than a set designer. I fell sideways into making props when I was working as an actor in various, small theatre companies.

GCH: I’m in awe of the masks you’ve made. How do you create them?

KTD: Aw, shucks, thanks!:) If it’s not to a brief from a client I let my imagination off the leash and, when I’ve got an idea I draw it and then make a pattern keeping in mind what it will look like in 3D…you still awake? When I’m happy with the pattern, I cut it out of leather or make a mould to cast from in whatever material I’m using. Simples!

GCH: What keeps you awake at night?

KTD: Everything. Not everything every night, that would be exhausting, Everything is on rotation. I have a noisy, childish brain that constantly clamours for attention and refuses to shut up unless it’s really, really tired.

GCH: If you could be a character in any movie, book or TV show, who would it be and why?

KTD: Dr Who, fo sho. I can relate to the eccentric outsider and I have a time machine…okay, I don’t have a time machine but I’d still be really good.

GCH: Favourite food? Restaurant or take away?

My favourite food is seafood, although, like Wallace, I’m quite partial to cheese.

GCH: What made you travel to China?

KTD: Escaping the law after a bank job went wrong /jk. I’m quite partial to the occasional BIG adventure and went to Taiwan on a bit of a whim and ended up teaching English out there.

GCH: What was the craziest thing you did while there?

KTD: I got caught in a landslide and fell down Yushan also known as Jade Mountain while out hiking. Not one to do anything by halves, I made sure I fell down the biggest mountain on the island. Whilst lost in the jungle I was lucky enough to come across a couple of tribesmen who showed me the way back to town.

GCH: Strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? 

KTD: 1000 year egg. They’re not really a thousand years old, but even so, I can’t recommend them.

GCH: What music do you write to? 

KTD: It depends on what I’m writing. When I’m editing a final draft, I quite often don’t listen to anything other than the voices in my head. Rock, goth and techno feature heavily during first drafts depending on the mood I’m after, but it varies widely.

GCH: How do you go about writing a novel/short story/poem?

KTD: If it’s not to a brief/prompt from an editor then it starts as most stories do with a random idea, quite often of the ‘what if?’ variety. It’s then a case of putting one word after another until the story is done. This can take a while and many, many drafts as I’m a bit of a fiddler; I never feel anything I write is ever finished and quite often have my fingers peeled off the keyboard by my wise and patient partner when I’ve revised the same sentence for the twentieth time.

GCH: Tell us about your latest project.

KTD: My latest project is Breed 2, the follow up to my fabulous, award shortlisted novel, Breed. I’m also going to be working on Breed 3 and a spin off novel. (GCH: um, what about the sequel to Red Knight??)

 

GCH: Tell us a secret.

I could, but then I’d have to kill you.

The Big Interview: Chloë Yates (C. A. Yates)


Life’s a funny old game isn’t it? You never know who you’re going to meet, and in today’s virtual world, you never know who you’ll meet very briefly in the flesh, but who you’ll end up becoming friends with online. However, that’s how I met Chloë – we met very briefly as Alt-Fiction four years ago, then worked together on different Fox Spirit books, before chatting online and becoming friends.

Chloë has been very open about her struggles with her mental health and as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2017, she’s kindly agreed to discuss her issues, what methods have worked for her and how her creativity has saved her. She writes as C. A. Yates and is on twitter as @shloobee

WARNING: Chloë discusses her issues with mental health which may be a trigger for some readers. Also, there may be a little swearing. You have been warned.

GCH: Which living person do you admire most and why?

CAY: Do they have to be alive? Almost all my heroes are dead. Let me have a think. Okay, I’m going to have to go with “someones”. I’m involved with a collective of creative dames, called The Speakeasy, who support each other through thick and thin. There’s musicians, artists, writers, crafties, all sorts. I admire every single one of them and I’d be lost without them. There’s always someone (quite often a dozen someones!) you can speak to and bounce ideas off, to encourage you, to talk over problems with, expel your fury, laugh with, and almost anything else you could need. There’s so much creativity, chutzpah, and common sense in the group, it can’t help but keep me going. I’m honoured to be a member because these women are balls out cool… and that makes me sound like I think I am likewise some cool shit. Maybe I do, maybe I am… *lights cigar and tips hat*

GCH: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

CAY: I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I mean aside from stuff like chopping up your granny for pies, whatever floats your boat, however it floats your boat, shouldn’t be apologized for. An it harm none, y’know? Guilt and shame are what society uses to pop us in our assigned boxes, to keep us on the supposed straight and narrow so we can “fit in”. Ugh. Fitting in. So vulgar.

GCH: If any of your stories could be made into a movie, which one would it be, who would direct and star?

CAY: Hm. ‘Tuna Surprise!’ from the Fox Pocket, Under the Waves, might be fun. Live action, everyone dressed up as fish. Either Terry Gilliam or Guillermo del Toro would do a magnificent job, natch. Not sure about the stars. Anyone who could cope with the demands of Sub-Aquatic Operatic training? Kate Winslet might give it a decent bash. Of course, I already wrote part of a script for another Fox Pocket, The Evil Genius Guide, called PROFESSOR VENEDICTOS VON HOLINSHED VERSUS THE SORORAL LEAGUE OF BAZOOKA-BIKINI-WIELDING DEMONIC DIVAS FROM OUTER SPACE (it won’t let me write it in anything but capital letters, sorry). Ed Wood is dead though and who else could do it justice?

GCH: What music do you write to?

CAY: The Cure (aka The Greatest Band in the World Ever) is always my first port of call. My story in Fox Spirit’s anthology Respectable Horror is called ‘The Holy Hour’ and I listened to the song on repeat the entire time I wrote it. They make my brain swell in that good way that means it’s really ticking.

I can’t lie; I will listen to pretty much anything. To pare it down, any old Eighties playlist (I LOVE making playlists, every story has one) is likely to please me. Zoë Keating is a more modern favourite. She’s a cellist and her music is incredible. I really can’t recommend her enough. Epically talented. Sometimes I need absolute quiet, depending on what I’m tackling, sometimes I need something loud and thumping; I recently discovered Rage Against The Machine (yes, I know, I know). They seem very cross about a lot of things and the fury and the loud keeps my head in the game, as the kids say in Management Cliché school.

GCH: Any tips for how you edit your work?

CAY: Editing is my favourite part of writing. I’m a procrastinator and a perennial self-loather with first drafts, but once I have something down, it’s best to go at it like the Devil eating cherries. Yes, he likes cherries, ask Jack Nicholson. Keep at it for a while, take a break, and then go back (to the editing, not the cherries; too many cherries will give you the raging Trotskies, and I don’t mean you’ll get all revolutionary and such). Never get to the point where you feel like you want to bang your head through the screen or page (even though I do it all the time; what’s good for the goose sucks for the gander). Get up, Taylor Swift that shit off, and go back when you’re less frustrated. Just don’t stay away too long.

GCH: Writers are always asked where they get their inspiration. Where do you get yours?

CAY: Moonbeams and rainbows and coke bottle bottoms… there’s no real answer to this because ideas come from anywhere and everywhere! I read a lot, love art of most kinds, take frequent trips through the internet, keep notes about everything – news stories, the people I meet and see, places I visit – I love quote websites, surfing through image stashes online, etc. All these things can trigger an idea into being. I recently felt a tingle of inspiration while staring at an embankment on the M25. Story lives in the air we breathe, even when it’s thick with noxious fumes.

GCH: Tell us about your latest writing project.

CAY: My primary focus at the moment is on something called Feral Tales for Fox Spirit Books. I can’t tell you too much, but I guess you could say it’s concerned with what happens when you leave the path…

GCH: What’s your favourite drink? Wine or beer? Tea or coffee?

CAY: Water predominantly, although a mug of sweet, strong coffee always goes down well. That said, I’ve yet to say no to an ice cold Martini, two olives, no dirt.

GCH: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

CAY: When I was very small we lived right by a river. My mum would often find me behind the sofa, which was in front of the window, eating all the poor insects that had flown in and died (there were a lot). Necrophagia ain’t just for the ghouls, baby… or perhaps I was a ghoul baby?

GCH: You’ve been very open about your mental health issues. Would you mind giving a brief outline of how they affect your day-to-day activities?

CAY: It might sound like a cliché, but some days simply getting out of bed, feeling like it’s worth it, like I’m worth it, is the hardest part. Sometimes it lasts all day, sometimes there’s just a flash of it, but it happens every single morning. It’s a bloody ballache to be honest, like waking up and hitting a brick wall. That said, and I don’t want to sound glib, lately I’ve found coffee can help immeasurably. The ritual of making it – measuring out the grains, heating the water, pouring it into my special mug, sipping its inky delights – gives me a specific task to focus on first thing. It’s one thing I can definitely get done. Small things can change your mindset more than you might imagine.

Focussing can be hard work – I admire anyone who can do it. I munch up people’s advice about it like a starving man, but applying it successfully can seem like the Holy fucking Grail. This is of course pepped up by the wonder that is self-doubt which, on a bad day, can come at me like a petrolhead’s pimped out monster truck. I mean, we all have self-doubt, and with creative types I guess it’s especially endemic, but it can paralyse me, dousing me with a whole ‘can’t do right for doing wrong’ feeling that’s very frustrating and wholly unproductive. I can sit in front of my computer for long stretches seeing nothing but emptiness and pointlessness. Well, I say nothing but obviously I am EPIC at making myself feel terrible about myself and if reinforcing negativity were an Olympic Sport you wouldn’t have heard of that Redgrave fella. It’s very difficult to talk about all this without sounding like a liability, but if people want to think that about me, let them. Being more open about it has really helped my recovery and maybe it can help someone else too. That’d be a genuinely Good Thing.

GCH: You’ve recently been having some successes at dealing with your anxiety. How have you managed this?

CAY: Last autumn, stuck in bed with bronchitis and the broken rib of doom it caused, my mental health in total disarray, I felt pretty much like I was over, that I was going to be trapped in this awful cycle for the rest of my life with no way out. It was suffocating. I’ve felt bleak before but that was something else entirely. Anyway, during a half-hearted Internet perusal, I read about something called DBT – Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. It focuses a lot on mindfulness, calming yourself down, analysing what you are really feeling, and gives you the tools to help keep you balanced. When I say it’s changed my life, saved it even, I’m not overstating the case. I’m clearer and calmer than I’ve been in so long it feels almost like a miracle. It’s not, it takes hard work and constant vigilance, but it is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I’m still learning and probably always will be, and that gives me more hope than anything.

GCH: How has your writing helped you to cope?

CAY: Ironically enough, while I often find it difficult to focus, writing is a lifesaver. It’s a bit like me wishing on those Ruby Slippers; it’s been there all along, I just had to realise it. I can channel all my negative emotions and frustrations into my work, I can control it (if it sometimes feels like it’s the story dragging me along that’s okay because I brought it into being in the first place), and it’s a place of shelter from the cacophony of the world. I’d rather be there than most anywhere else. Except libraries. Libraries are the best.
GCH: Mental health is increasingly coming into the (I hate to use this phrase but it’s either this or the worse ‘popular consciousness’) ‘mainstream’ with books by Matt Haig and the ‘Heads Together’ charity set up by the royals. Has highlighting these issues helped you to cope better?

CAY: To be honest, I don’t feel like it has helped me cope better on a personal level, but anything that highlights the issue and tries to de-stigmatize mental illness is just fine by me. I often find that people are happy to pay lip service to the fact that mental illness is the same as physical illness, that we should take it every bit as seriously, but I can’t tell you how often that goes out the window when the latter does come up. I understand it, but it shows how much work still needs to be done. It sure as shit can kill you just as easily as cancer can and needs to be taken every bit as seriously. I don’t say any of that lightly.

GCH: Whilst treatment and the complexities of individual diagnoses, what would you say to others suffering from mental health problems?

CAY: To be clear, while I am pretty open about my mental health issues, I am in no way an expert and have no desire to set myself up as such. With that in mind, there are two things I personally rely on. First, remind yourself to breathe. Stop a moment, concentrate on your breathing. Give yourself time. Repeat. It might sound banal, but it’s the easiest form of self-soothing there is. Second, YOU MATTER. Don’t let anyone, not even that nasty little inner voice that’s so bloody convincing, tell you otherwise. You. Matter.

GHC: Tell us a secret.

CAY: Everybody’s pretending. None of us know what we’re doing, so keep on trucking.

Throwback Thursday: I was interrogated!

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Way back in 2012 I was working with an amazing bunch of girls on a project called ‘The Girls Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse’. It was a funny, insane website which you can access here. My first article ‘Running in Heels From Zombies‘ was a very tongue-in-cheek look at apocalypse footwear and I wrote assorted other silliness, some of which has been incorporated into other things.

Cat Connor is one of the Apocalypse Girls and she interviewed me for her website on 9 April 2012. To read the original interview click here.

The Big Interview: Darcy Lazar

I always say I’m so lucky to have some incredible women in my life. It’s rare to meet someone and just ‘click’ but that’s what happened when I met a crazy American in Ecuador, looking at the fish on the reef. Over ten years later, Darcy is still my sounding board, chief advisor and generally amazing person.

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In my original interview, I asked about Darcy and her husband Bruce’s travels. They sold up their life in Arizona and went on the trail, first living in Costa Rica, then assorted other countries in Latin America, Australia and Europe. She rediscovered her Jewish heritage in Eastern Europe. Since then, they’re relocated back to the US and are working in their local community, fostering animals and helping care for the wildlife. They were even featured in their local paper for their efforts. You can read the article here.

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GCH: Any quirks or cultural misunderstandings you’ve experienced on your travels?

DL: Lots! In Costa Rica they have a saying, “Pura vida”, which literally translates to “pure life” but means everything from “Have a nice day” to “You got robbed? Oh well, nothing you can do about it!”. While we were feeding cats in the Buenos Aires botanical gardens we accidentally told our friends in Spanish that we were going over to EAT the cats rather than FEED them. And in Spanish speaking countries don’t ask your buddy to pass the “preservativos” assuming that means preservatives or jam, “preservativo” means “condom” in Spanish!

GCH: Was there anything you learned while living abroad which has stayed with you when you go home?

DL: I learned that you need hardly any things at all to be a whole and happy person. A clean toothbrush, some good spongy earplugs, and enough money in the bank to know you’ll be eating for a month is all anyone truly needs, the rest are extras. If you have your health then you’re very, very rich.

GCH: What made you keep travelling?

DL: The world is huge, and there’s so much to see. Once you’re out there and you’ve got some momentum it only makes sense to keep going and going. Also, it was easier to keep traveling because there wasn’t much to return to – no house, no kids, no pets, no jobs, no attachments.

GCH: We’re constantly asked if we have a favourite country and it’s always so difficult to choose because everywhere we’ve visited has been special. Do you have a favourite country or place?

DL: My answer is usually Krakow and Rome for the history, Galapagos and Queensland for the wildlife, Central America for the coffee, Granada for the food, and Victoria (BC) for the people.

GCH: What was the most important thing you learned to help you integrate where ever you were?
DL: How to say “please” and “thank you” in the local language. Just making the attempt opened many doors, and so did having a friendly smile.

GCH: Strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

BL: Blood sausage in Argentina. Talk about non-vegetarian cuisine!

GCH: Your trip helped you learn more about your roots and reignited an interest in Judaism. Can you tell me more about what you witnessed to encourage this?

DL: I remember going to the big Jewish cemetery in Prague and seeing familiar names on the headstones – Kohens, Siegels, Ruths, Esthers – and a Rabbi was singing a sad old prayer over an ancient grave. He noticed me and said, “These are YOUR people” and I began to cry. I didn’t know why at the time, but I realized later that I’d never felt I had people before, and that he was right, Jewish heritage is my heritage. That was the moment I felt Jewish for the first time in my life.

GCH: Where would you like to visit again? 
DL: I’d love to go back to Eastern Europe now that Bruce and I both know a bit more about our family histories. I’d start in Poland where we’ve already been – Krakow, Wroclaw, Lublin, and then go further and trace routes our ancestors may have taken through Romania, Austria, what was Prussia, etc.

GCH: We all watch nature programmes with bizarre and odd creatures. What’s the strangest animal you’ve ever seen (please don’t say me!)?
DL: Not you! Probably the echidna. They have the neatest snouts, and weird spines all over their little bodies. They move around like they’re the center of the universe, not a care in the world.

GCH: How would you like to be remembered?
DL: As a brutally honest, generous person, an animal lover, and a woman with a very strong bullshit-meter.

GCH: What’s your favourite movie?
DL: “Everything is Illuminated” hands down. It’s sweet, honest, sad, funny, very moving.

GCH: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
DL: Quit my job and sold my house, cars, and belongings, and relocated my pets in order to travel for a year – which turned into six.

GCH: Do you have any superstitions/quirks/unique qualities others would call odd?
DL: You know I do! I have an intense phobia of flying, which I never let stop me (but I have to thank Ativan for helping me get onto each flight). I don’t have kids by choice, which is “odd” for a 42 year old woman (especially if you live in a Latin country).

GCH: What would you consider your greatest achievement?
DL: Surviving depression and making a good life for my husband and I.

GCH: What is the worst thing anyone’s ever said to you?
DL: “You’re selfish!”. It took a long time for me to learn to ask others for help and to take good care of myself, so to then hear that I’m being selfish really stings!

GCH: What was the best kiss of your life?
DL: A giraffe kissed me with its huge green tongue when I was four. Fantastic.

GCH: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
DL: “That’s awesome!” and “That totally sucks” – they both date me! But I can’t help myself.

GCH: What was you most embarrassing moment?
DL: It’s so embarrassing I can’t even tell you the full story, but I will say it involved food poisoning, someone’s patio, and a fresh pair of shorts.

GCH: Which living person do you admire most and why?
DL: It would have to be Judge Judy. She somehow manages to be ladylike while telling someone what an idiot they are, and she only rips on people who really deserve it. She’s one of the few public figures to tell it like it is even if it’s not politically correct. I just love her.
GCH: Tell us a secret.
DL: It’s been over a year since we’ve settled down and we’re bored out of our gourds! Might be time to dust off those backpacks…

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Book-irthday for Weird Wild!

Yay, it’s my book-irthday for Weird Wild! To celebrate my publication anniversary for Weird Wild, I’m doing a quick throwback to when I was interviewed by Margret Helgadottir on her blog about the inspiration for Weird Wild, how I get writing and other musings. You can read the interview here. If you’d like to contact me about my writing, reviews or anything else, please comment below 😊

The Big Interview: Jasmine Gailer

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I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet some inspiring women during my travels. One such lady is Jasmine. We worked together in Australia before I ran away to join the circus and she took a gap year in the UK. It was whilst working in London that she suffered a knee injury and upon returning home was diagnosed with cancer. After successful treatment, and determined not to be defined by or ashamed of her scar, Jasmine set up ‘Scar Stories’ which aims to empower teens and young people with cancer by photographing them and their scars. The photos are stunning and I highly recommend you take some time to view them here. Not content with setting up photo shoots, she’s also developed Scar Stories to include documentaries, exhibitions, a festival and creative projects to help young cancer patients and survivors. She’s one busy lady!
I originally interviewed Jasmine back in 2012 and sadly her original interview was lost when I lost my old website but she’s kindly sent through an update which you can read below.  Scar stories page 2 Weekend Jan 14 2011.jpg
The last 5 years has been a whirlwind of portraits, TV appearances, marketing strategies and beautiful stories. Scar Stories continues to provide photoshoots to young adult cancer patients and survivors and an avenue to tell their stories, along with a few new projects – free creative workshops and our favourite side project, RockScars! Scar Stories released a book in 2014 which is the epitome of the Scar Stories mission – it is designed to help cancer survivors see their scars and experiences in a new light; one that is empowering and beautiful. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness about young adult cancer. The young adult age group has been in the media recently in Australia for a number of reasons – fertility preservation one of them. This is just one example of how this age group has unique needs and why it needs specialist attention.
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In personal news, I recently got engaged to the most fantastic man! Wedding planning has taken up most of my spare time (along with work and studying my Masters in Social Work as well!!), so I am now heavily relying on my dedicated team of volunteers to ensure Scar Stories keeps providing support to our participants.
The Scar Stories book is our main fundraising item and is on sale through our website for just $25″

Throwback Thursday: I was Interrogated!

Way back in 2012 I was still starting out as a writer. I was involved with the Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse, a fun group of online women discussing all things apocalyptic with tongue firmly in cheek. One of the women involved was Cat Connor, a New Zealand based writer who runs ‘Interrogations’ on her blog. On 9 April 2012 I was taken into her Interrogation Room to answer some very challenging questions about my writing. You can read the original interview here.

It’s funny re-reading this interview. I remember doing it and all the assorted work I was doing at the time (as well as some of the crumby temp jobs I was working!). I discuss the short stories what would eventually become ‘Weird Wild‘ and mention The Vampire’s Bodyguard. The dystopian sci fi I mention is still gestating if I’m honest. I wrote a few chapters but the characters weren’t ‘meshing’, their story wasn’t coming through clearly so I’ve set that on the back burner until I have a clearer idea of where I want that tale to go. What struck me re-reading this is the sheer length of time it takes me to write some of my projects and the various stages they go through. It’s been five years and I’ve hardly worked on the dystopian sci fi as other voices started shouting more loudly, toddlers and dogs came along and life moved on, but those stories are still there, untold. I think it’s high time I dug them out and let them be free!