Today it’s my pleasure to take part in the Composite Creatures online tour organized by Angry Robot, in celebration of Caroline Hardaker‘s debut Sci-Fi novel. In fact, my interview with Caroline is the closing act of this awesome tour, and if you only just heard about it, I would recommend you go and check all the posts the other participants hosted over the past weeks.
Caroline Hardaker is a poet and novelist from the northeast of England. She has published two collections of poetry, and her work has appeared worldwide in print and on BBC radio. She is Writer in Residence for Newcastle Puppetry Festival and is currently collaborating with the Royal Northern College of Music to produce a cycle of songs to be performed throughout the year. She lives and writes in Newcastle.
How close would you hold those you love, when the end comes?
In a society where self-preservation is as much an art as a science, Norah and Arthur are learning how to co-exist in domestic bliss. Though they hardly know each other, everything seems to be going perfectly – from the home they’re building together to the ring on Norah’s finger.
But survival in this world is a tricky thing, the air is thicker every day and illness creeps fast through the body. The earth is becoming increasingly hostile to live in.
Fortunately, Easton Grove have the answer, a perfect little bundle of fur that Norah and Arthur can take home. All they have to do to live long, happy lives is keep it, or her, safe and close.
Welcome to the Asylum, Caroline! Take a seat by the fire, have a glass of beverage of your choice and tell me something about yourself!
Hello! Hmmm. Well, if I was REALLY sitting by the fire, I’d definitely have a blanket over my legs and a glass of mead in my hand. I really really love mead. Does that make me a viking? Probably more of a medieval monk. Without the bald spot.
What inspires your writing? Do you listen to music, stare into the fire, listen to the whispering of the wind, make deals with the Devil?
Oooooooooh lots of things. Everything and nothing. Quite often it’s a film I’ve seen or even a photograph or a painting. I’m very much inspired by visual things, and imagine the story running through my head like a film when I’m writing it, complete with camera angles and zooming in on characters’ faces.
In the case of Composite Creatures, I was actually inspired to write the story when I was asked to write several science fiction poems for a magazine in Edinburgh. And this particular poem – not to give anything about the story away – was inspired by watching my cat act very humanesque. I think she was walking around on her back legs around the coffee table looking for treats. If you’re keen to see more of this logic-defying beast, she’s literally all over my Twitter feed.
What was the most exotic place you’ve visited? Did it inspire any of your work? How that experience affected you personally?
Oh I love travelling, though getting to a point when we can do that again still seems so far off!
Thinking about my past adventures, there are two places that most inspired me. A few years ago I travelled around Nepal for a few weeks, and something about the spirituality and quiet of the temples definitely triggered my love of folk tales and ’otherness’.
The other inspirational landscapes are the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Luckily I live not far from the Scottish border so we’ve always visited there quite often. The mountains, valleys, lochs, and rugged seas take me to another place in my mind entirely. It’s like living in a story, but real. One day we’ll live there, I’m sure of it.
If you could switch lives with any character in a book, who would you choose? Would you like to have the author along as a fellow character?
Because I’m such a die-hard fan (and will be until the day I fall off my perch) I have to say I’d choose to be an elf in The Lord of the Rings, simply because then I get to swan around Middle Earth, dancing in forests and making things grow. I don’t even mind which elf, just as long as it’s one who doesn’t have a tragic ending, as so many elves do.
In retrospect, perhaps being a hobbit would be more fun. They’d definitely have mead at all those shindigs and birthday parties.
And though I admire him hugely, I don’t think I’d have J.R.R. Tolkien along for the ride. I’m not sure he’d really think much of my modern way of thinking and insistence that women should’ve had a greater role in Middle Earth (though Luthien did have her moments).
Describe an asylum set in the world of your book, Composite Creaures!
It would appear nice. It’d be very clean, lots of flowers in vases, that kind of thing. Lots and lots of super sweet milky tea. But the doors wouldn’t have handles. And you’d be gaslit by the hour.
Talking about Composite Creatures, what was the main inspiration for the story? Which aspect of the book was the most challenging to write and why?
I wasn’t kidding when I said my cat was the inspiration!
Other than her, the idea did somehow come out of nowhere. I remember trying to come up with several science fiction poems for that magazine and was literally looking around my living room, plucking things out of the air to morph into dystopian lyrics. One was about a houseplant, one was about a tax bill. And then this one was based on my cat, and eventually became the novel it is today, though in the earlier stages it was called The Matter Cow.
The most challenging aspect of writing the story was overcoming my own fear of failure. I’d been a writer for years, working on poetry, scripts, theatre, libretto, and non-fiction, but I’d always been terrified of attempting prose. I just didn’t think I could do it, or that I’d ever find the right idea.
Turns out sometimes you just have to, well, do it. And it turns out to be fine all along!
Which character of your book do you identify with the most?
Though she makes a LOT of morally dubious choices (which I really wouldn’t like to think I’d make myself), it’d be Norah. I wrote the story through her eyes, and everything she does throughout the story is entirely justified. She’s morally grey, and entirely relatable.
If you were a character in your book, how would you be described?
I expect Norah would find me a bit judgey, probably because I know how she ticks and she wouldn’t like that at all.
What are your future plans? Are you working on something now?
I am! My second poetry collection Little Quakes Every Day was published a few months ago, so at the moment I’m entirely focussed on crafting my second novel. I expect to have finished it at some point this year, and then who knows what’ll happen with that next. It’s quite a bit more surreal than Composite Creatures, but then again, I do love to be experimental.
After that, I have an idea for my next novel, which will again be quite different, so I’m not sure what my agent will think when I drop it on his desk, the poor man.
While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you one book – what would you choose?
The Lord of the Rings. Only one answer there. Though technically I suppose it’s a bit of a cheat because it’s three books in one, isn’t it? And appendices? But still – it’s the only book I could ever choose. You can’t make me change my mind! First of all, you’ll never lock me in here for eternity, and second, each time I’m asked this question, I add another book to my virtual library. This time it will be Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I adore that book and have read it several times. It’s due up for a reread.
Well then, we hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks door*
What’s the mead supply like around here?
If you’d like to get in contact with Caroline Hardaker, you can find her on social media:
Grab a copy of Caroline Hardker’s debut Sci-Fi novel, Composite Creatures! Out now by Angry Robot.
For more interviews in the Asylum, visit here!