PDB: Can you pitch your latest publication, “Weirdo”, in 25 words or less?
CU: Teenage trauma in a Norfolk seaside resort. Female transgression, witchcraft and witch hunts, corrupt establishment and the power of friendship.
PDB: Which books, films or television shows have floated your boat recently?
CU: The novels “How I Killed Margaret Thatcher” by Anthony Cartwright, “The House of Rumour” by Jake Arnott and “The Blood of Crows” by Caro Ramsay have all had me gripped to the page recently.
I’m currently re-reading “Brighton Rock” and marvelling yet again at Graham Greene’s perfection in prose. The soundtrack to this has been “Blues Funeral” by the Mark Lanegan Band, Big Sexy Noise, We Are Birds of Paradise and a new recording of a live classic by The Cesarians known as “The Fuk Off Song” – it’s very cathartic.
On TV, the BBC’s London Season and the archive they put online of programmes about the city – in particular the Man Alive documentary about a day in the life of Hyde Park. I am delighted by the return of “The Thick of It” – Armando Ianucci is a genius. And the last film that really blew my tiny mind was “Iron Sky”.
PDB: Is it possible for a writer to be an objective reader?
CU: But of course. Books are like friends to me, I lean on them, take inspiration from them and aspire to try and write as well as the authors that take me far from wherever it is I’m sitting and into the world they have created. Without constant stimulation from other authors, past and present, I really don’t see how your own work can continue to progress.
PDB: Do you have any interest in writing for films, theatre or television?
CU: Yes, I have had no success at any of these ventures yet, but I have dabbled and learned a lot from doing so. The idea of making a book into something 3D, with people actually living the roles and the soundtrack you hear in your head as you are writing coming alive, is a really thrilling prospect.
PDB: How much research goes into each book?
CU: I try and make every book as authentic as possible, and I love researching – so a lot. “Bad Penny Blues” took the most, as that was an act of time travel to an era before I was born, and at every juncture I had to stop and think: Would they really say this? Was this even invented? It took a long time to write, and it wasn’t a comfortable experience at all, but after immersing myself in that world for so long, I now feel that I actually somehow was in London between 1959-65. I always think the best thing about being a writer is that you can be a traveller in both time and space.
PDB: How useful or important are social media for you as a writer?
CU: I have a website and use Facebook to put up events, but I am personally deeply wary of social media. My instinct is that it is counterproductive to a writer to have so much distraction. If I had the luxury of being able to write full time, maybe I would think differently, but I doubt it. There was a brilliant article in The Guardian recently about how destructive it actually is to a writer’s time and psyche – the author estimated that it takes up about 80 per cent of the time you have to write, and that all the evidence points to the fact that you would be more successful flogging your wares on a street corner than trying to do it online. I would far rather actually be writing!
PDB: What’s on the cards in 2012?
CU: I am putting together outline ideas for a new novel – I am going back down the time tunnel again, so in the words of Captain Oates, I could be some time…