Today I'd like to extend a very warm welcome to Dave Cousins author of 15 Days Without A Head which will be published in January of 2012. Dave is the first man to take part in my Awesome Women feature, but I think honouring and appreciating awesome women is definitely not limited to either gender! Here's the summary for 15 Days Without a Head, which sounds really good:
Two brothers. One cartoon dog. And a load of trouble.
Meet Laurence, fifteen years old and six feet tall. Very soon, he'll dress up as his mum and impersonate a dead man on the radio.
Meet Jay, his six year old brother. He looks like an angel but thinks he's a dog. He'll sink his teeth into anyone who gets in the way.
Today is Tuesday and the next fifteen days will change the boys' lives for ever.
Thank you so much for being here today Dave! And if you'd like to find out more about Dave Cousins or 15 Days Without A Head, please do visit the following websites.
Can you tell me a little something about yourself?
I should point out right from the start that I’m not an awesome woman. I do however know a few, so hopefully that means I’m eligible to take part in this feature.
I grew up in Birmingham, in a house full of books, records and table football. When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, but ended up going to art college in Bradford instead. There I joined a band, moved to London and was nearly famous. I now live in Hertfordshire with my family, and write every day in a corner of the attic with an anarchic ginger cat for company.
Did you have a role model growing up?
My parents were young when they had me, so I grew up with lots of their friends around, which meant I had a lot of interesting role models to choose from. I spent a great deal of time with both sets of grandparents too – making cakes and dismantling car engines in the morning, then playing football and learning how to knit in the afternoon (my nan was a demon goalkeeper).
Who do you look up to now?
My wife! It may sound like I’m trying to score points saying that, but she really is an inspiration. She’s one of the most creative and generous people I’ve ever met and she’s prepared to fight for what she believes in. Whereas a lot of us moan about stuff, she’ll actually do something about it, write letters, or go out and campaign. I respect her opinion and trust her judgement.
She’s my second best critic (after me!) and will always give me an honest opinion on my writing. If it wasn’t for her, I’d have binned the early draft of 15 DAYS WITHOUT A HEAD. She convinced me it was worth sticking with. I’m glad she did!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
For a while I wanted to be Batman, or to play football for Birmingham City, or be an astronaut. I actually wrote to NASA asking how I could join – and they wrote back! They sent me some great photos from the moon landings and told me I would need to be good at maths and science, and then join the air-force.
Not long after that though I discovered The Beatles, and decided that being in a band looked a lot more fun than science and maths. I was lucky enough to achieve that dream, and spent ten years touring and recording – even appearing on TV a few times. But writing was something I always did, whatever else was going on.Eventually I decided to have a proper go and see if I could write anything as good as the books I loved to read.
I’m not sure I’ve grown up yet, but when I do, I’d like to still be a writer!
Tell me something about the women in your life who have been an influence on you.
That’s a question with potentially a very long answer! There have been so many – my wife, my mum … friends … the list goes on. But, I’ve decided to narrow it down and just tell you about my two nans, both of whom had a great influence on me and still do. Physically they couldn’t have been more different: one was small and cuddly, the other tall and glamorous.
My Little Nan (whose name, until she married, was actually Little) was a genius at making things and once conjured a pair of football boots for my Action Man from a pair of old leather gloves (they had studs and everything!) She was inventive and incredibly patient, but the thing I remember most was how much she loved books. Having suffered whooping cough as a small child, she had problems breathing for the rest of her life and had to spend a couple of hours each day using a nebulizer. She never complained and used the time to read – working her way through the entire works of Charles Dickens, at least twice. From the time I started reading, up until a few months before she died, my Little Nan and I read, talked about and swapped books. Sadly she didn’t live to see my book published – but she did find her way into the story itself. I think she would have been pleased about that.
My Tall Nan has never been a typical grandma. Even as a young teenager I was aware that some of the advice she offered was somewhat radical. But she’s always been the best kind of bad influence. She encouraged me to believe in myself and follow my heart – not be steered by other people’s expectations or criticism. She always believed I would be a writer and bought me the computer on which I typed my first novel.
She travelled a lot as a child and when the Second World War broke out joined the British Army in India, transferring to the Navy a few months later because, she says, they had better uniforms! She rose through the ranks of naval intelligence, earning a letter of commendation from the Vice Admiral. Following her own philosophy and ignoring the objections of her family, she left the services after the war and married a penniless Irish teacher. Never one to walk away from a fight, she has beaten off muggers with her umbrella and embarrassed my dad on many occasions by breaking up skirmishes outside his school. She’s in her eighties now and still awesome – doing exactly what she wants and not caring what anybody else thinks.
Who is your favourite fictional character and why?
Another tough question, but as the theme of this interview is Awesome Women, I’ve decided to go for my favourite fictional heroine. It was still a difficult choice, even when I narrowed it down to heroines from teen books. Artemis Fowl’s adversary and sometimes friend Holly Short was a contender, as was Hester from Philip Reeve’s MORTAL ENGINES and Gemma from Lucy Christopher’s STOLEN.
In the end I chose Sally Lockhart, from Philip Pullman’s series of Victorian thrillers. She not only battles some truly evil enemies, but also the inequalities of the era – epitomised by the fact that Sally refuses to marry the man she loves until the law changes. This was a time when women were not allowed to vote, and the law regarded a married couple as one person. Women were forced to give up the rights to any property they brought into a marriage, and hand over legal control of all money to their husband. Of all the brave and dangerous things Sally does in the books, this act is probably the most painful for her, but shows a strength of conviction you have to admire.
What were you like as a teenager and how did you cope with all the changes that occurred?
I suspect I was fairly normal, i.e. grumpy and introspective. We moved away from Birmingham when I was eleven, so I had a period of adjustment leading up to my teens, starting a new school, making new friends. It wasn’t easy at times, but taught me to be adaptable and not fear change.
I remember spending a lot of time in my room, reading and listening to music, which inspired me to write angst-filled stories and tortured songs. Through listening to bands like The Jam and Billy Bragg, I developed an interest in socialism and read lots of George Orwell. There was a period of time when I couldn’t watch the news without running off to write a song or a story about something I’d seen. I’ve still got some of my notebooks from that era – they’re very earnest and sometimes quite funny – if unintentionally so.
If you had any advice for your self as a teenager, what would you say?
Don’t be so serious. Get out more. Have fun!
In all honesty, I’d probably just whisper – “Don’t worry, it all works out OK”. I wouldn’t want to change anything or I might not end up with the life I have now. You have to make mistakes and go through set-backs in order to learn and grow. Having said that, I might have something to say about my choice of hair style and clothes. The eighties was a truly terrible decade for fashion.
Of the issues and concerns that women are faced with today, what’s the ar ea you most like reading/writing about?
Of course I can only answer this from a male perspective and therefore am not as tuned in to the issues and concerns facing women today as a woman would be. However, I’m often drawn to stories of injustice, and despite the fact that the position of women in British society has improved in many ways since Sally Lockhart’s time, there is still a long way to go and each change brings its own set of pressures. The world is full of inequality and every day people take small steps towards making things better – many of them women. Whether it is as fundamental as finding food and water for their children, speaking out against domestic violence, or like the women of Egypt at the moment – campaigning for a right to shape the future of their country. Injustice makes me angry, so I’m always interested in reading about people of either gender who are brave enough to attempt to effect change.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I have an idea for a story that requires a female protagonist and I would like to write it in the first person, but I’m nervous about getting it wrong. It’s very important to me that characters feel authentic and believable, so to write as a teenage girl would be a challenge to say the least. I’m sure I’d learn a lot along the way though and stories are all about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes – even if they are a pair of Top Shop t-bar flats. Whatever happens, I can promise I’ll do my very best to make her awesome …
Thank you so much for that, Dave! Brilliant answers. I think I'd have loved to have had a Nan like either of yours!