Today’s post is *again* a blog tour post, however, instead of a review post it is a guest post and a question & answer with the author of Orphan Monster Spy; Matt Killeen. So I’ll start with the question section and move on to the guest post.
1. What made you pick a Nazi boarding school for your setting?
Inspired by SOE agent Violette Szabo, Sarah – a teenage, Jewish German orphan working as an Allied secret agent – was already in my head, fully formed and demanding something to do. While there were plenty of real-life couriers and partisans that age, I needed a job for her that her British handler just couldn’t do himself…and the boarding school made perfect sense. I loved the Mallory Towers and St Clare’s books and they seemed ripe for subversion. Then I did some research and history, as it often does, delivered. The Napola schools were real and reputedly just as brutal as I describe them.
2. Who did you first tell when you found out Orphan Monster Spy was going to be published?
I had a call from my über-agent Molly who told me that…I don’t know how much I can say, but the upshot was I was getting published one way or another. Shaking, I descended the stairs from my office to my wife’s and sat about halfway down. I told her through the bannister, a baluster in each hand. I think she said, “holy f***”.
3. What is your writing routine, e.g. Do you need to be at a desk with a laptop and a mug of coffee?
Music is very important – it helps both block out the rest of the world and it occasionally inspires whole scenes. It needs to be interesting but not too distracting. I was a homeworker for years and 6Music used to be the soundtrack to the day, and I still put it on if I’m doing admin, but if I’m “authoring” I need my enormous playlist of ambient, classical, piano and world music so I can focus. Nothing like A Winged Victory for The Sullen to get the Rage Against the Machine and Nine Inch Nails out of my head. Oh, and super-strong coffee with milk and sugar-free hazelnut syrup – that’s my real vice. I have it shipped in bulk. The definition of an author is an alchemist who turns caffeine into words.
4. 100 years have passed since women (over 30) could vote. What would you say to anyone who tells you they don’t vote aka convince someone to vote?
In the last UK General Election, 31.3% of eligible voters didn’t show up to polling stations. Non-voters were the biggest party in the country. In the last US Presidential Election more than 40% of eligible voters couldn’t be bothered. Even allowing for these byzantine electoral systems, these non-voters would have been more than enough to change both results.
Never think your vote doesn’t count. That’s what every other non-voter thinks. Reverse that and you’ve got the end of A Bug’s Life. Resistance against tyranny requires one person standing up and doing what is right. So registering and voting is the very least a citizen of a democracy should be doing. Politics is no longer optional. Right now, people are making decisions for you and almost certainly, they do not represent you or your values. Young people have very different ideas to those in power – just look at how 18-25 year olds voted in the last election and the EU Referendum. Those in power are frightened and they are actively making it harder for your voice to be heard. In the US, boundaries are being changed, people are being pushed off the voting register, anything to stem the tide of the popular vote. Changes are being made in the UK too. The way students are registered to vote is being altered. If you aren’t awake to it, you’ll find you lose your vote altogether. Anyone making that happen is no friend of yours.
5. If you have any can you recommend some feminist literature:
I read The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir when I was an adolescent and that steered me onto the right path early on, with the idea that men will never be free until women are truly equal resonating with me, for obvious reasons.
Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman is pretty essential (& hilarious) in the effort to reclaim and re-establish Feminism for today’s world. On hearing that just 42% of British women describe themselves as feminists, she is scathing:
“What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES?”
Her shorthand for sexism – would a bloke put up with this? – is an excellent tool.
At the risk of being too obvious, if you haven’t read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, then do so. It seemed speculative when it was written, and all too likely right now.
Below you will find a female hero of Matt’s. He’s chosen her because she was part of the riot girl movement of the 1990s which was in part about pushing the boundaries of ‘accepted female’ behaviour and self-empowerment.
Donita Sparks of L7
It’s easy to remember the alternative scene of the early nineties as some golden-age of equality, before Britpop’s swaggering blokeishness and lad’s mag anti-intellectualism pushed into the room, followed by its girlfriend carrying all the shopping bags. Certainly there was sensitivity and compassion amongst the grungy angst and it wasn’t socially acceptable to be sexist or racist in public (remember that?) but the journey to enlightenment was just beginning. It was all a work in progress.
In that spirit, I wish to be forgiven in advance for celebrating a possibly juvenile piece of insouciant, revengeful one-upwomanship, because I always felt it was a statement of intent from the women of that community – that discriminatory behaviour based on sex or gender would be dealt with in kind.
L7 were an excellent all-female grunge outfit who, along with The Breeders and others, had one foot in the nascent riot grrrl movement and one in the charts. They were an embodiment of the idea that a woman’s place was on stage and in the moshpit. They hit the main stage at the ’92 Reading Festival, which was turning out to be a riotous celebration of grunge supremacy, decked out in striped war paint.
At this point the power to all their instruments vanished. The audience reacted angrily and pelted the stage with mud.
The Reading Festival audience has been traditionally belligerent, from driving Meatloaf from the country in the ‘70s to its rejection of Daphne & Celeste as the superior ironic comedy pop that they were in 2000, so it’s possible that an all-male band would have received the same vitriol. The frustration for any band, blameless for the outage, with the solution out of their hands and one of the biggest shows of the year in ruins, would have been exquisite. However, we all know that the patriarchy punishes women specifically with a set of poisonous words, phrases and concepts that it uses to belittle and humiliate.
Donita Sparks had enough. She had a rummage, strode up to the microphone and held something up in front of her. Dodging a large sod of earth, she announced she had a “little present” for the audience.
“Eat my used tampon, f******.”
She spun it like a lasso and out into the crowd it went, end on end, like a tiny red-stained Thor’s Hammer.
Game, set and match, Ms Sparks. I raise three Katniss-fingers to my immortal Queen of questionable equivalence.
She described the moment this way: “I went performance art on their asses…I announced that I was throwing it, and I remember a silence afterward. A lot of people reached for it…I guess they didn’t hear what I said.”
She went on to drop her trousers live on Channel 4’s perennially “controversial” The Word, something now laughably described by Wikipedia as an “obscenity”. In fact, there is probably no greater example of the confused yet triumphant state of gender politics at the time than this: Here’s my unshaven vagina, live on TV. There it is, under my guitar. Take it or leave it.
If you would like to pre-order Orphan Monster Spy (Which you should do as it is aMAZINGGG thank you to the amazing Fritha for providing me with a copy!) then you can use the following links below:
And be sure to check out the other “Female Heroes” on the blogs below: