Dogsbodies and Scumsters – Alan McCormick interview

+++now with added launch invite+++

I’ve been enjoying reading Alan McCormick’s excellent new book Dogsbodies and Scumsters, published by Roast Books, a collection full of entertaining and sometimes puzzling tales of people whose lives are in need of fixing. Favourites so far are ‘Storyteller’, about a doctor who is not really a doctor, and ‘Suspicious Minds’ in which a couple experiment with bizarre treatments for a terminal illness.

It’s half term this week and Alan has been looking after his two young children in the run-up to the launch, so I’m especially pleased he managed to find time to catch up with me to chat about the book.

Alan, tell me about how you got started with writing Dogsbodies and Scumsters, and how it evolved after your illustrating partner Jonny Voss came on board.

Dogsbodies, the short stories, and Scumsters, the shorter illustrated work with Jonny Voss, are separate long-term entities. Faye Dayan at Roast Books had the innovative idea of publishing them together in one book.

Nice idea – I like the way the shorter stories with the pictures come in bursts throughout the book – it helps vary the tone and pace.

Did you find it liberating to work on microshorts? And was your process for the Scumsters pieces very different to the way you worked when writing the longer Dogsbodies stories?

Jonny draws the pictures and I respond by writing something – I enjoy being reactive and writing in short bursts, I find it liberating and stimulating.

Although writing the first draft of a [full length] short story generally happens quickly, editing it can be a drawn out and fastidious business.

However, when I write Scumsters I go with the first idea that comes into my head once I’ve looked at one of Jonny’s pictures and then stick with that idea. There is rarely any editing. Jonny’s artistic skill and creative originality inspire me to write in a different way.

Head to head: Alan McCormick, writer, and Jonny Voss, illustrator

What are your favourite illustrated stories to read to your kids?

We love the sombre compassion of Anthony Browne’s ‘Gorilla’ and the evocative dream-like pictures in Maurice Sendark’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’.  Recent classics like ‘The Dashing Dog’ by Margaret Mahy (illustrated by Sarah Garland), Donaldson and Scheffler’s ‘Gruffalo’ and ‘Room on a Broom’, Michael Rosen’s re-telling of  ‘We’re All Going on a Bear Hunt’, Oliver Jeffers’ beautifully simple ‘Lost and Found’ are all great fun.

The kids enjoy the dense bountiful pictures in books like ‘You Choose’, which leads to a lot of debate deciding which character or game or cake etc to pick. For nostalgia’s sake I’m glad they’re showing an interest in David McKee’s zen-like ‘Mr Benn’ and in Roald Dahl’s stories so brilliantly illustrated by Quentin Blake.

Half the proceeds of Dogsbodies and Scumsters will go to InterAct, a charity that helps people who are recovering from strokes. Why did you choose that particular charity?

I won InterAct’s first short story competition in 2008 judged by Ruth Rendell, which led to me becoming their Writer in Residence for a time.  They are an amazing charity that employ professional actors to perform stories, poems, (sometimes jokes), to people suffering from strokes in hospitals and stroke clubs.  The effect of their readings helps stimulate the brain, particularly the understanding and up-take of language, and has a beneficial effect on mood and the depressive effects of the condition. It was Faye’s idea to donate half the proceeds of the book to InterAct.

And finally, what you are working on next?
My energy and time to write are best suited to short stories, so I intend to write more of them.  Jonny and I are also working on an illustrated book for children and we’d like to bring a book out of darker weirder Scumsters some time in the near future.  I also have a couple of ideas for longer works.

Well best of luck with the collection Alan, I hope it’s a goer.

Dogsbodies and Scumsters can be ordered from Amazon or direct from the publisher, Roast Books.

The book launches Tuesday 7 June at Woolfson & Tay Bookshop and gallery, 12 Bermondsey Square, SE1 (tube: London Bridge.) If you’re in London and reading this, why not drop by? It’s free to attend, and runs from 7pm to 9pm…. See you there?