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Cricklewood born author and illustrator tells us why Cricklewood Library means so much to him
I loved the silence, and the unmistakable smell of wooden shelves and paper. When I last visited the Library in 2009, before it was demolished, it had been modernised, except for the wooden shelves at the back of the room, and the smell was still there, transporting me back to the 1970’s instantly. The Library was without doubt, the reason I love writing, reading and words in general, to this day. I can’t wait to visit the new one.
We asked author and illustrator Terry Cooper, now resident in Wales, about his memories of Cricklewood Library. Here’s why it matters to him.
Terry Cooper, Cricklewood boy, author and illustrator, shares his memories with us.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I’m an artist and author, born in Cricklewood in 1969, (in the ambulance on Chichele Road!), and living in South Wales since 1980. I’ve had a record deal as a rapper, I’ve worked at Pinewood Studios as a set/prop builder, I still do voiceovers, acting and I regularly appear as everyone’s favourite Pirate Captain at events all over the place. Savvy?
2. What were you like at school?
I wasn’t too bad. I left school with six O Levels, and four CSE’s. Remember those? I naturally enjoyed Art, English and P.E. but never could do anything mathematical. I still can’t count at all. My accountant is glad of this.
3. Were you good at English?
Yes, I really enjoyed English, but near the end of my education, I started getting low marks for not doing homework – I hate writing anything by hand, and had the teacher let me type out my discursive essays on Macbeth, I would’ve done much better.
4. When did you decide to become a writer?
I’ve always written things like poetry and film scripts, but I finally sat down to write a novel in 2003. I’d just started a degree, and I was living in a house that had no phone line or internet, so to while away the evenings, I churned out my first book, (‘Kangazang: Remote Possibilities’) without any idea about how or where to send it after that.
5. Why do you write?
I write because it’s incredibly exciting to orchestrate an entire universe from nothing, right out of your imagination. I’m an artist, so I’m very visually imaginative. The events are like watching a movie play out, and I just write what I see and hear in my head. It also gives me a massive sense of achievement to finish a story. It feels like these books will be around long after I’m gone.
6. What did Cricklewood Library mean to you?
My parents made sure that reading was a regular thing. Dad was barely literate, while Mum had beautiful handwriting and incredible mental arithmetic skills. We lived literally across the road from Cricklewood Library on Olive Road, and my two brothers and I regularly went to and from there with six books at a time. I loved the silence, and the unmistakable smell of wooden shelves and paper. When I last visited the Library in 2009, before it was demolished, it had been modernised, except for the wooden shelves at the back of the room, and the smell was still there, transporting me back to the 1970’s instantly. The Library was without doubt, the reason I love writing, reading and words in general, to this day. I can’t wait to visit the new one.
7. What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Well, my main ambition was just to get a book finished, let alone published! That’s a pretty big mountain to climb if you’ve never done it before. But after that, I wanted a trilogy of books. That’s been achieved now, with my third book being released later this year. Now, I have three more books in the works: An illustrated fairytale entitled ‘The Princess And The Spaceman’, a serious 1984-style dystopian future tale entitled ‘Control’, and a book of light-hearted funny poetry about love, called ‘Absolutely Ridiculove’. I like to vary my output, as you can see. My biggest ambition is to write a movie, or TV show like Doctor Who or Blake’s 7, if and when the BBC notice me!
8. Which writers inspire you?
I was, and still am, inspired by Ben Elton, James Herbert, Neil Gaiman, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan and Glen Duncan. And also not to forget the great writers of comic books and movies, like Stan Lee, James Cameron, Joss Whedon and George Lucas. But to this day I will always be in awe of the humour and genius of the late, great Douglas Adams.
9. So, what have you written?
My first three novels are a trilogy. They are all under the title of ‘Kangazang!’, and have the sub-titles, ‘Remote Possibilities’, ‘Star Stuff’ and ‘Small Cosmos’. Other than those, the aforementioned book projects are almost complete. I may also be co-writing a new book for my publisher, Candy Jar Books, based on the Doctor Who character Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, as part of their range of titles featuring him. That’s going to be pretty exciting.
10. What genre are your books?
The ‘Kangazang’ Trilogy is sci-fi comedy, similar to Red Dwarf or Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy. ‘Control’ is still sci-fi, but it’s more a serious thriller, with a large dose of social commentary thrown in. I don’t really see myself writing kitchen sink dramas – I like to really let the imagination run wild.
11. What draws you to this genre?
I suppose it’s the excitement of imagining how people and things will change in the future. What would aliens look and sound like? How will society and behaviour change? The challenge of trying to imagine something completely new and unseen, and then bring it to life. Pushing the limits of creativity is very exciting to me.
12. Give us an insight into your main character (if appropriate). What does he/she do that is so special?
My main character is Jeff Spooner. What makes him special is that he’s completely not special at all. He’s a scruffy, cockney, thirty-something, under-achieving Londoner, who likes his beer, football and junk food. But when he’s thrown into an intergalactic crisis, we find that his down to earth approach and his big heart often help him win the day. I guess I’ve based him largely on me, except you can substitute the beer and football for wine and sci-fi conventions!
13. What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a movie project of my own, for an animated adventure comedy, which I’m hoping to be made in CG animation. It’s unashamedly very in the style of Disney / Pixar, and it’s a love letter to every age of Hollywood movies, from the silent era to the action epics of the 1980’s.
14. What’s it about?
I don’t want to give too much away at this early stage, but it deals with a man who feels worthless and unappreciated. But when disaster strikes his friends and family, he realises that he’s the only one in a position to save the day. I think everyone feels a bit like a spare part at times. We just need a purpose in order to feel worthwhile.
15. What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
I read the old saying that “Everyone has a book in them and that, in most cases, is where it should stay.” It might have been Christopher Hitchens that said it. I wanted to see if I could get that book out, and would it be any good?
16. Do you write full-time or part-time?
I write part-time now. Shaun Russell, my long-time friend and publisher, keeps me busy with drawing cover art, interior illustrations and proof reading other books.
17. Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I’m very, very disorganised. But I find that I do most of my work, be it writing or artwork, after midnight. It’s quieter and there are less distractions in the early hours.
18. Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
I used to write on an electric typewriter, which I loved, until I bought a PC. Microsoft Word is perfect for me. I bought a tiny mini-netbook thing a couple of years ago, which served two functions at once: I could take it out and about, writing on long train journeys, or drinking coffee in pubs, and it also made me look incredibly pretentious.
19. Where do your ideas come from?
I usually just let the ideas percolate in my brain for a long time, before I begin to write. I find that the best ones remain there and the lesser ones fade away. Once I’m writing, I make loads of little notes whenever I think of something that I could use, and see where I can incorporate it into the plot, like a jigsaw. I’m also a big fan of letting someone read it – when I feel it’s ready – and gathering feedback. Then I often make changes based on the feedback, which makes me look like a genius, when I’m really just pinching their ideas.
20. What does your work space look like?
It’s a tiny corner table in my living room. I have no TV. Just a PC and all my notebooks, pens, art stuff and general clutter to hand. (see photo on left)
21. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I always write an outline, in a few short sentences per chapter, then I break each chapter down and so on, until I’ve written the entire chapter. Then I continue in this way.
22. How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I think I’ve learned to trust my instincts a bit more. I used to be full of doubt, and keep going back, re-writing the same thing over and over. But it’s true that you have to write for yourself, and try to put the audience out of your mind until you’ve finished. I also pay more attention to the thoughts, emotions and senses of my characters now, not just the actions and dialogue.
23. What is the hardest thing about writing?
It’s getting into the frame of mind to sit down and do it. Once I’m there, I’m good for a chapter or two at a time. But when a deadline is looming, I hate feeling as if I’m rushing to meet it – I feel as if I might be sacrificing quality for word count. On the other hand, without a deadline, there’s no real motivation to get to the finish line, and I’ve found this with my fourth novel: Started writing it just after my first book in 2003 – and it’s only now halfway through! That’s the problem – I need my publisher to crack the whip, or I fall back into writing one word per month.
24. What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
With Kangazang : Small Cosmos, I was so into the story and I knew the characters so well, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a comedy, like the first two books. It was in danger of becoming an exciting sci-fi action story with no humour. Fortunately, I can’t stay serious about anything for too long. Also, as it was the final part in the trilogy, I had a lot of things to tie up, and even decide who, if anyone, was going to meet their fate!
25. What is the easiest thing about writing?
The easiest thing for me, is dialogue. I know not every author enjoys it, but I like wordplay and sentences. I find it easy to jump into the mindset of a particular character, assess their situation and just say what they’d say. I think that’s a handy thing to be able to do.
26. How long on average does it take you to write a book?
When I’m not slacking? On average, I give myself a year. That’s a long time for some of my fellow authors can write 10,000 words a day. I can only write as much as I have the ideas and energy for at any time. But a novel in a year is for me, a good use of a year.
27. Do you ever get writer’s block?
Not after I’ve got an outline to work from. Writing the outline, often presents me with logistical problems, but I quite enjoy weaving a story line.
28. Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
I don’t think writer’s block is a problem if you have a plotline worked out in advance. But if I ever feel like I’m not getting anywhere, I unplug. Go for a walk – a long one. That’ll get the mind thinking about the problem. Or read someone else’s work. It should inspire an idea or two.
29. If your new work is part of a series, tell us a little about it?
Jeff Spooner, the Earthman, thought he had problems before. Now, he lives on the sun-kissed holiday world of Kangazang, with his best mate and his girlfriend. Sounds good? The problem is, his girlfriend is pregnant. And she’s an android. It’s complicated. She gives birth to a petulant baby robot-hybrid that is growing exponentially in size every hour, absorbing everything it touches. He’s taking over the planet, and he’s not at all happy with his Dad. I blame the parents…
30. What are your thoughts on writing a book series?
I enjoyed writing parts two and three of the trilogy, but I don’t think it’s necessary for all books to have continuations. My next book will be self-contained. I don’t really want to write multi-part stories all the time.
31. Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?
At present, I’m not reading much due to my multi-tasking everyday life. But I do have some books lined up – ‘Star Wars: Aftermath’ by Chuck Wendig, in particular. I often revisit my favourite books though – ‘I, Lucifer’ by Glen Duncan, ‘Life, The Universe And Everything’, by Douglas Adams, and ‘Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas’ by Hunter S. Thompson are my top three.
32. For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
Traditional paperbacks are the best. I’ve never been able to read from a Kindle. I don’t quite know why!
33. Tell us about the cover/s and how it/they came about.
My sci-fi books have had a number of covers. For the most part, they had items from the stories set against a star filled background. The first book had a ‘spacehopper’, the second a Space Invader, and the third a Rubik’s Cube. All three books will be repackaged with the same items but a simpler background and new fonts and colour scheme.
34. Who designed your book cover/s?
I designed them myself with help and feedback from Shaun, my publisher.
35. Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
Yes, I think it does. Many great books are left undiscovered if the covers don’t grab the customer’s attention, and on the other end, many not-so-great books can be helped by a good cover. Not all authors have the luxury of a great reputation to guarantee sales.
36. Did you get interviewed by local press/radio for your book launch?
Yes – I had a great day at Cardiff Bay, bouncing around on a spacehopper while holding my book, for an interview with the Welsh national press.
37. Did you format your own book?
To a certain extent, yes. But my publishers are much better at it than me.
38. How do you relax?
I either watch dvds, cinema, YouTube for literally hours, or grab my best friend and put the world to rights with the help of numerous bottles of wine.
39. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Start writing now! Draw more! Learn parkour! Don’t buy a cross-trainer – it’ll wear your right knee out! And marry the first girl you meet in 2011…
40. Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Argh! So many to consider! Carl Sagan, Douglas Adams, Joss Whedon, George Michael, Billy Joel, Tom Baker, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, George Lucas, Stan Lee…
Let’s go with the great Kenny Everett.
41. If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
Frankenstein. It’s the first real science fiction story. Just mind-blowing how Mary Shelley wrote it while ill, at such a young age. That’s genius right there!
42. How can readers discover more about you and you work?
43. Do you have any message for the aspiring writers of Cricklewood?
All I can say is that writing is so, so worth it. There’s no greater feeling than to finish a book that you created. When you finally hold the first copy of your book in your hands, you’ll feel invincible. And anyone can do it. Don’t compare yourself to other authors, just churn those words out, take heed of (some, not all) advice, and get to the finish line. Read it through, let others read it and make changes for the better. It gets easier too, it really does!
44. Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
I was very fortunate in that my publisher was a friend of mine, and he went into business purely to publish my first book, which he read and enjoyed. I doubt that an established literary agent or publisher would touch my particular brand of nonsense, so if you can’t take lots of rejection (I know I can’t!), your choices are to keep plugging, or why not look into self-publishing. It’s an equally valid way of getting your stories in print. If you’re after the fame and fortunes of J.K. Rowling, you’d have to have a very good story and a lot of luck and contacts. I may never get rich from writing, but the experiences and feeling of achievement is all invaluable and unforgettable. We need more storytellers, more imagination, more art in this world.