After Kate Atkinson's Whitbread Prize- winning debut novel Behind The Scenes At The Museum comes a triumph of a fOIIOW-Up. Words: Ann Donald
Three things you probably don’t know about Kate Atkinson: she has a Sindy doll with glitter nails, a fondness for Victoriana scraps purchased from Past Times and a very fine set of white fairy lights decorating her sitting-room.
Three things you probably already know about Kate Atkinson. She wrote a Whitbread winning novel called Behind The Scenes At The Museum. She harbours no fondness for the Daily Mail after an infamous stitch up by a lady of the press who inaccurately described her as ‘spotty’ and ‘greasy-haired’. (In fact she is a good decade younger and more petite in the flesh than publicity photos would have you believe.) She has a new and very good book out called Human Croquet.
Some of the above scraps of innocuous personal information could be causing the Edinburgh-based author frowns of consternation and much gnashing of teeth. For even now on the cusp of her second whirl on the book publishing hoopla, the immensely likeable and excitable Atkinson is still ﬂabbergasted by this very impolite journalistic insistence on unearthing the personal.
Curled up on the sofa and clapping her podgy meowing cats to the accompaniment of a workman’s power drill, Atkinson notes with alarm the down- sides of the writer’s life. ‘I do find that a very difficult aspect of being in the public arena — for some reason you’re suddenly fair game. It’s as if
'I don't react very well to criticism . . . If I get criticised I'll pretend I don't care but really I want that person to die.’
Kate Atkinson: 'If I was twenty years younger I‘d get mad'
there’s someone out there with your name and people feel they can say horrible things about you quite freely! People who don’t even know you call you by your ﬁrst name.’ With this she lapses into one of the regular eruptions of laughter that pepper her conversation. ‘I think I’m quite puritanical that way. Perhaps I should write one of those Victorian Guides To Manners.’
But she hasn’t and thankfully instead we have Human Croquet. It is an accomplished and far more adventurous novel than Behind The Scenes in its imaginative use of time travel. an admittedly jarring eco-awareness theme and the recognisable factors of humour, the eccentric family and the feisty female teen. A healthy sliver of magic-realism and hey presto — the compulsive read the bestseller list has been waiting for. Despite her belief that Human Croquet is a better book. Atkinson is well aware of the fickle press. ‘l’m expecting bad reviews.’ declares the writer with raised eyebrows. ‘l’m expecting the worm to turn because we live in a spiteful society. I don’t react very well to criticism actually . . . lfl get criticised l’ll pretend I don’t care but really I want that person to die.’
And another thing while we’re at it. High on Atkinson’s list of pet hates are literary snobs. ‘I find such snobbery fascinating,’ she says. ‘If you admit to writing for a women’s magazine it’s like, “My God, how can you admit that!”’ Or how about subtle sexism displayed by reviewers who believe ‘Kate’ has been scribbling away on the kitchen table in ye olde Yorkshire? ‘Oh, if I was twenty years younger I’d get mad but now [just think “sad bastard”.’ And our preconceptions of Atkinson’s reading matter? ‘Hah! You’ll be hom‘fted,’ she says. ‘l’m reading the American bad boy crime writers — all sadomasochistic lesbian serial killers.’
One more thing about Kate Atkinson: her true aim in life is to write a sitcom — preferably about a man and his talking dog.
Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson is published by Doubleday at £15.99.
preview BOOKS The Write Stuff
The spotlight fell on crime writer Nicholas Blincoe with his novel Acid Casuals. He spills the beans as his latest book Jello Salad is published.
NAME: Nicholas Joseph Blincoe. AGE: 29.
PREVIOUS JOBS: I was a nightclub reviewer for the Manchester listings magazine City Life. I've also been a van driver for my dad's small exhaust company based in Rochdalo where I also had to learn how to weld exhausts, though my one year at art college when I was sixteen helped with that. I taught ancient Greek philosophy at the University of Warwick.
ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER: It's always been my ambition to be a writer so I had three not very good novels already written by the time I was twenty. They say you've got to write 250,000 words of crap before you get anywhere. Even though I'd become a student thinking it was a grant-subsidised way of being able to write for six years, I only started writing after the age of 25.
DAILY ROUTINE: I'm a freelance journalist [Eat Soup, The Guardian] so I force myself to get up around 93m. read the newspapers and start work by 11am. If I've got an article to do I'll get that out of the way first and then work through to 7pm with a long lunch in between.
INFLUENCES: Harry Crewes the crime writer - he's from Georgia so there's an element of the overblown Southern Gothic about his work. I love Elmore Leonard, especially Get Shorty and I was blown away by Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.
AMBITIONS: I'd like to write a helluvalot more so that I could be both prolific and good - like Anthony Burgess. I'm getting into writing screenplays now which I love and is helpful financially.
FEARS: This is a weird one but I'm very scared of slashed wrists. I cringe even talking about it and can't stand any jokes about it. My legs 90 to jelly and I have to sit down.
INCOME: It's pretty low - somewhere under £15,000. The chances are it will go up astronomically if these screenplays happen and the adaptation of my first book The Acid Casuals is made. (Ann Donald)
I .Ie/Io Salad by Nicholas Blincoe is published by Serpent’s Tail at £8.99.
7-20 Mar 1997 TIEIJITI.