Friday, September 3, 2010

Writer Spotlight: Tom Cox

On Coffee and Roses I like to bring you news of exciting authors who are either waiting to be published or published and worth checking out.

So this week, the Coffee and Roses Writer Spotlight falls upon the brilliant (and very lovely)

When did you first decide that you wanted to write?
As a very young child I would always nag my parents to read to me before bed and I remember when I was about seven I had three ideal jobs: writer, librarian or inventor. Somehow, things all went awry in my adolescence and I decided I wanted to be a pro golfer, and essentially didn't read a thing between the age of ten and eighteen. I then got back on my original track when I decided I wanted to be a music journalist, but I was always a stage ahead of myself: as soon as I got my dream job writing for the NME, I was yearning to write about other subjects other than music; as soon as I'd started broadening my journalistic canvas, I started yearning to stop doing journalism altogether and write books.

What interests you as a writer?
Finding the humour in the mundane has become a bit of a theme, recently. I also love writing about weird parts of British life. More and more, I like the actual detail of writing - fiddling with sentences until they're nice and clean. For several years I beat myself up for not having written a "serious" book. I've started (fairly humourless) works of fiction twice, got up to around 30,000 words, and scrapped them. I'd love to write a ghost story or a horror story or a historical novel but I don't think it's where my real talent lies, or at least not if I approach it in the style I was approaching it before. I'm now thankfully over the idea that a very funny book can't be serious as well. My favourite writers - Richard Russo, John Irving, David Sedaris, Kate Atkinson - prove this pretty comprehensively. When I think about what really makes me happy as a writer, it's conveying something funny or absurd that's happened to me or people I know in the most economical and pithy way, or discovering a new turn of phrase, or that moment when you actually learn something as you're writing it. Plot is not something I've found myself hugely interested in yet - I like to have as little idea as possible where a book is going when I start - but that might change. I'd still love to write fiction one day, but I don't want to be the person in that Peter Cook anecdote who's always "working on a novel" ("Oh, really? Neither am I.").

Do you have a typical writing day? If not, when is the best time to write for you?
I remember Salman Rushdie saying that there's a specific writing energy first thing in the morning that has to be bottled before it escapes. The belief in that might just be the only thing Salman Rushdie and I have in common as writers. My ideal day would involve working from about six am until one pm, with cocktail gherkin and cold Malteser treats as incentives for finishing paragraphs, then spending the afternoon lazing about in cafes people-watching and reading, but it never quite works out that way (apart from the cocktail gherkins and Maltesers). My life is a fairly comprehensive lesson in how not to time manage at the moment: I spend far too much time socialising to be a Proper Writer, find it hard to not see another human being for more than 24 hours, and get too caught up in the stuff surrounding writing (Twitter/chasing for money/convincing myself I can't write a decent sentence before I've vacuumed my floor), but I keep hoping I'll be a better-behaved crafter of prose. One thing I've learned, as a slightly reformed workaholic, is the importance of battery-recharging time.

What made you decide to write 'Under the Paw'?

I think there were originally seventeen references to my cats in my previous book, Bring Me The Head Of Sergio Garcia. Even the most ardent cat lover - and certainly the cat-disdaining editor of the book, who quite understandably asked me to remove several of them - would probably agree that that's too many cats for a book about golf. This kind of thing had been happening for years, though: my cats bullying their way into totally inappropriate areas of my writing. I thought I'd relent and give them centre stage - especially as they treat my house like a hotel, and it was about time they started pulling their weight financially. One thing that probably stopped me writing the book earlier was the inevitability of being known as "The Cat Man" but maybe I'm more comfortable being weird, as I get older, even though "Cat Man" is only one of many weird shelves of the weird cupboard that is my brain. Publishers are going to want to use that gimmick in the marketing of a book like Under The Paw, and I accept it. But I'd like to be known as a humour writer more than someone who writes about cats, or golf (or - especially - music, which I don't think I've ever written really well about), and I think that's one of the challenges I face with future books. I'm hoping I've started meeting the challenge with Talk To The Tail which, though a form of sequel to Under The Paw, is only 50% about cats, with other animals "getting the floor'" for the other half of the book. Some of the non-cat essays in the book are my favourites. But I feel sure I'll be writing again about cats in the future.

What are the best things (so far) about being a writer?
1) Ability to choose your own hours.
2) The strange assumptions people make about what The Writing Life might be comprised of.
3) The fact that my whole house can become an office.
4) Snacks.

And the worst?
1) Ability to choose your own hours.
2) The strange assumptions people make about what The Writing Life might be comprised of.
3) The fact that my whole house can become my office.
4) Snacks.

Tell me about your new book, 'Talk to the Tail'.

At the moment, I'm feeling very pleased with it. I want to remember this feeling - that I've done my very best with it - because (and I think this happens to everyone who has a book published at some point, no matter how successful) there'll inevitably be a time when a bad review or a comment here or there makes me question myself. I think it's a (deliberately) messier book than Under The Paw, which doesn't run in chronological order, and a more profane one (mainly due to my dad's greater presence in the book, and my cat Shipley's increasing bad language), but I hope a slightly more strongly felt and funnier one. I was late delivering - mainly for the reason that during its inception, in spring 2009, my relationship broke up. It's ultimately supposed to be a fun read, so I didn't have to write about the break-up in great detail, and wouldn't have felt that was fair on my ex, but because that relationship was a fairly sizeable element of Under The Paw, it would have been an insult to my readers not to write about it at all. I needed time to get the distance to write about it the way I wanted to.

You've written about pop music, golf, growing up and cats. What's next?
More growing up - in the form of a book about being from the Midlands, or a "A Middle Person". I wrote about the golf stage of my adolescence in Nice Jumper, but I feel there are still a lot of odd stories from my childhood and early twenties that are untold: stuff that I've only now realised is genuinely odd. For example: living in a small town where every boy except you gets his hair cut for 50p in exactly the same style by a man called "Mad George", or imbibing no beverage but Special Brew for your first two years as a consumer of alcohol. I used to think that was run-of-the-mill stuff. The Midlands is an odd place and I'd like to try to capture it. I'm also working on a "very Norfolk" project, in a similar vein. So, all in all: more light, inconsequential stories about provincial British life that might hopefully make a train or plane ride go a little bit more quickly.

Anything else you'd like to say?
Thank you for having me!

You can see all of Tom's books here. Read more about Tom's feline residents at his Under The Paw blog. Also, check out parts one, two and three of the Marathon Diaries that Tom wrote about his dad (which may appear in his next book). Big thanks to Tom for giving this interview! I'm reading Under The Paw at the moment and loving it - it's a brilliantly written, hilarious and very real account of the various moggies Tom has shared his life with. I can thoroughly recommend it!

If you would like to feature in a future Coffee and Roses Writer Spotlight, drop me a line at and I'll see what I can do!


Julie Cohen said...

This is a hilarious interview. I make it a policy never to read books with pets on the cover but I think I might make my first exception. Thanks Miranda and Tom!

Unknown said...

Amazingly, Julie (and I perhaps shouldn't admit this), I have the same policy. Thanks! And hope you enjoy them...

jmuhj said...

Wonderful interview! Interesting life, made all the more interesting by the amazing personalities of your cats. ;)

Anonymous said...

I loved Under the Paw so much I have read it a few times it made me laugh out loud (I got a few funny looks on the train) This book could have been written about our Maine Coon cat Cody. Cannot wait to purchase Talk to the tail I bet it is just as good as Under the paw.
Tom I loved your interview 'Well done'

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