An interview with Tooty Nolan
What I like about Tooty: He’s one-of-a-kind, that’s what. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what he has to say then we can address whether or not a bronze sculpture should be made in honor of him, displayed on a raised platform, protected by a moat complete with water features such as dancing fire water and swan fountains, or he be committed.
I had to go all Elvira on this interview. My interruptions are in red.
Q: Why hamsters?
TN: Why hamsters? Well I had to come up with something vaguely analogous to human beings with which to people my world, and apes had been done to death already. They also say that you should write ‘what you know’: Well I’ve kept a few rodents in my time, and I pretty much feel that I got to know how they ticked. They are, generally speaking, nice but dim. Cavies particularly so. And to a certain extent hamsters too. Hamsters are also resourceful and relentless, and have many fine attributes – like inquisitiveness, fearlessness, a propensity to get themselves into dangerous situations, (like Richard Gere?) sharp teeth, and (in the case of the males) huge bollocks. And have you ever simulated the advances of a male hamster by stroking the back of a female? (not lately) She’s a right little tart, I can tell you. She turns ridged, her eyes bulge, her tail rises to expose her doo-dads, and she’s instantly ready for it – any time of the day or night. As a writer what more could I ask for? Nosey little bastards out looking for a quick shag, and getting themselves into all sorts of trouble while they do it. The perfect representatives for top honours on a world without humans, I do believe. Oh, and they have fingers too. Very handy those.
Q: Did Hamster-Britain evolve, or did you plan it all out first?
TN: I’m a great believer in evolution. Things – ideas and developments – must happen as they will. The only thing that I ever planned was my family’s move to Spain (which went unbelievably smoothly, I must add). But that was an aberration: Normally I just trust my instincts, rely upon nothing but a self-perceived élan, and hope for the best. All that existed of Hamster-Britain at the beginning were two hamsters – Horatio and Molly Horseblanket – waiting at a bus stop (in a story called Horatio’s Horrid Holiday, which didn’t make the cut into either of the Horatio Horseblanket Chronicles, but was reprised in The Psychic Historian). Then slowly it grew – involving more and more characters and locations – eventually moving the stories into other countries – and ultimately to alternate realities, where I could really let my imagination run riot. But no matter what happens in any of the books – they always come back to Hamster-Britain at the end. It’s the anchor that holds the series together. (Might I recommend you see Dinner with the Schmucks?)
Q: Were you sober during all this?
TN: Absolutely. I’m not tee-total, the consumption of alcohol is a rare event. I have the tastes of a child when it comes to the demon drink. (me too) It has to be sweet and bubbly. So don’t let me anywhere near a bottle of Martini Asti Spumante: I’ll get all giggly, and then go to sleep. Oh-no – to create a world with an internal logic that remains honest a writer must remain sober. And I have enough problems with short-term memory loss as it is.
Q: What is your daily routine? Do you write every day? Do you have rituals and/or quirks?
TN: My writing can be best described as sporadic. When the juices flow, so-to-speak, I can barely keep my fingers from the keypad: But getting started is another thing. Time is seldom my own, and there are always pressures to do something other than write. My wife and I both work, which means that I feel that we spend too much time apart – especially noticeable since her battle with cancer during 2007/8, so when the opportunity to be together presents itself I feel that it’s wrong to cloister myself away in the corner of the dining room, and disappear into another realm. And sometimes the thought of the sheer effort of looking at a blank screen, and then conjuring up some vivid tale is too much for me to attempt. For example – in November 2010 I put on my Clive Thunderbolt head, and finally (after years of promising myself to) I began work upon the sequel to Captive Echo. Then the build up to Christmas kind of got in the way, and after twenty-five pages I paused – not for dramatic effect, or because I didn’t know where the story was going (for once I actually had it all planned out: Not my usual style I assure you), but because I had real doubts that it was any good. With Christmas out of the way, I went back and re-wrote those twenty-five pages – at one sitting – and was quite pleased with the result. I’d proved to myself that I could write more than just rude comedy/fantasy. But having dotted the last I and crossed the last T, I put it aside once more – all interest lost in both the story and the characters. The passion to write a sci-fi-ish mystery/thriller, it seemed, didn’t burn right then. I will return to it, of course; but I can’t help thinking that there’s another Hamster-Britain story screaming to be written first.
Q: How long have you been writing for publication?
TN: The first Horatio Horseblanket short story was written during a particularly hot spell of the Spanish summer of 2004. I wrote it because I was bored with lounging around by the pool or at the beach, (you poor thing) and I had a computer sitting there doing nothing. Previously I’d only ever written television scripts, and one of the reasons that I’d taken the (what turned into a fifteen month) sabbatical in Spain was my frustration with the British television industry, and it’s ever-changing mind. So trying my hand at ‘proper’ writing was actually quite an undertaking. The first-draft Captive Echo and Silent Apocalypse (both based upon my TV scripts) followed. I thought, “Cor, I aint too bad as this writing lark”, and duly ran off a few more Horatio Horseblanket tales before returning to the UK. Once home I continued, and I’d written the first four books before I actually tested them out upon the general public on my Windows Live blog ‘Tooty’s Purple Pencil’. Anyone remember that? The responses were great. “Why aren’t you publishing?” seemed to be the general consensus. But I wasn’t sure even then. So I began my first WordPress site (the name of which eludes me right now, but it probably had the word Tooty in it somewhere), and the public mood remained much the same. But let’s be honest – The Hamster-Britain stories aren’t really mainstream: (Tao Lin would agree) I was NEVER going to find a publisher who was willing to take a risk with it. But then someone introduced me to Lulu.com. I think it was the brilliant American horror/fantasy writer, James Viscosi. And in late 2009 I published the four books, plus my (then) newbie – The Psychic Historian – using the on-line POD format. Since then I’ve released both sci-fi books, and a further two Hamster-Britain stories using that company. Nobody will ever have a best-seller using this medium, (never say never) but it does mean that people with unusual tastes or a discerning nature, can read books that they would otherwise have been unable to – and for that I’m grateful. I just don’t understand why the incredibly cheap downloads don’t sell more.
Q: What do you read? Favorite author? Genre?
TN: As a young man I used read all the time – including whilst visiting the toilet (guaranteed no interruptions there) – almost exclusively science fiction, but a few biographies and factual books thrown in too. But as I’ve grown older I find I have less time, so now it’s usually relegated to the occasional biography before bed (usually too tired to read), or whilst flying (David Brin’s The River of Time was my last read at Thirty-seven thousand feet). I grew up on Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, etc, and would have loved to be able to emulate any one of them. But alas I’ll never be in their class. Who is?
Q: Coffee or tea?
TN: Tea at work. Coffee at home – out of a Philips Senseo machine. Both decaffeinated: (I suddenly don’t understand you. Did you say decaf?) Good for tinnitus apparently. Café con leche when in Spain, naturally. Not decaffeinated. (Okay, we’re on again) The rules are out the window when I’m taking it easy.
Q: Anything you wished I would have asked?
TN: Well I’d have liked to answer the question – ‘Who is your favourite character from Hamster-Britain?’- which, of course, would have been Horatio Horseblanket. Once I’d completed the thirty-something stories that make up The Horatio Horseblanket Chronicles Vols 1&2, I thought that I’d finished with him – even if he did receive a mention in The Where House. But a cameo in Fanfare for the Common Hamster was an absolute joy to write, and so he had to make appearances in both The Psychic Historian and Danglydong Dell. And he even had a chapter in Deep Threat named after him!
Also which of the HB books is my favourite? Undoubtedly The Psychic Historian (even if some people think that Deep Threat is better): Some of the stories in that are just so outrageous, even I blush. The thought of Lady Millicent Carport-Minge out jogging naked, and poking herself in the eye with her nipples…It makes me want to make a start on the next book right now. In fact I think I will!
Thanks Tooty for entertaining visiting us today. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was in favor of the statue until we got to the last paragraph. Be still, the white coats will be at your door shortly. Cooperate. They can get mean with the straight jacket. Not that I would know.
Oh, and dear readers, in case you haven’t guessed by now, Tooty’s hamster books are not for children. I bought one for my husband (I haven’t read it yet, but will when he is finished). We don’t keep it lying around for young eyes. Although, if I really want to keep her from reading it, all I have to do is tell her she has to read it. For sure it will go ignored.