Interview with a Vampire (Master), by Sarah McMullan

Walking into The Museum Hotel, I wasn’t really sure what Justin Cronin would be like. We followed each other on Twitter and he seemed affable though not a digital native. I knew he had been travelling for several months already talking about The City of Mirrors – the final book in his successful Passage trilogy.
pp_justin_cronin_horiz
Experience told me that by the time most authors made it to NZ, they were often a little bit tired. Life on the road is hard and the constant stream of interviews, readings and hotel rooms wears thin, so I was a little surprised to see a shorter than expected somewhat chipper man bouncing around a snooker table asking if anyone knew the rules, and debating if he could handle a cue in both hands.

Deciding that two cues one author may not have been the safest move for the beautiful tables, we instead sat down and started talking about what life is like now for a man that just fired himself from a job he’s had for the last decade: writing about Amy and the Virals.

‘It’s not like there’s one moment and you’re suddenly finished” he said, momentarily relaxing back on the chaise lounge. “When you hit save on that last chapter, that’s one point. Then it goes to the editor. Then it comes back. When they’ve finished with it that’s another end point. Then there’s the design side of things. And the marketing and release side. Then there’s publicity. And it’s always about sales numbers. So, I haven’t really come to the end yet, but it’s starting to form off in the distance. It’s strange because I’ve sort of fired myself!”

He leans forward and places his empty cup on the table. “I feel like I should have some big exciting story about how it feels to finish the trilogy but I don’t have one.”

I can’t help myself; “Are you working on something new?”

“Yes. And I’m not telling you anything about it, other than it’s different to what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years.” He settles back into the couch, smiling. I get the feeling he’s been asked that a lot lately.

“So you needed a change?”

“Not a change exactly, just those characters ended the story I had in mind for them. It was time to leave them.”

“Was it hard to write the ending for some of those characters? I know as a reader who’s been following their journey, it was really quite emotional fare-welling some of these characters, especially some who didn’t get the endings they fought so hard for. I’m not ashamed to say I cried happy and sad tears. Were you sad writing their demise?”

He pauses, “No. I never felt sad for my characters. Just a sense of satisfaction that they were achieving what they were supposed to. Their arcs were concluding. I had created them to do this, to reach this point.”

cv_passage_trilogyIt turns out, Justin Cronin manage to secure a deal for all three novels of the trilogy up front, so right from the very start he knew what he was going to do with the story, how and when. He pitched it that way, and believe it or not over the nearly 10 years it took to write The Passage, The Twelve and The City of Mirrors, the characters never deviated off on their own journey. They stayed on the path he had planned for them right from the very start.

As an experienced author with three previous titles to his name; Cronin’s approach to writing the trilogy was no different, though perhaps his inspiration was a little unusual.

“It began with me going running with my daughter. She’d be on her bike and I’d be running, and we’d make up stories. The rules were they had to be about a girl saving the world, and she had to have red hair because my daughter did. And it went from there.”

“What about other influences? You’ve been likened a lot to Stephen King. Are you a fan?”

Shifting slightly, Cronin laughs, “Actually no. I mean, I haven’t read a lot of his work. Maybe when I was younger…” he trails off. “I read a lot. I always have and there are a lot of different influences that I think are visible in the books, Different writers, different genres, different titles… I like to think there are little Easter eggs hidden in there.”

cv_1st_onthebeachI nodded, hoping my literary knowledge wasn’t going to make me look like an idiot. “The Australian link – was that a nod to On the Beach, by Nevil Shute?” He grinned at me. I continued. “Cormac McCarthy’s The Road popped up for me, George Orwell 1984, Lila reminded of Mrs Dalloway …”.  He laughed. I’m still not sure if that’s a yes or a no but I still maintain she does.

“… and yes I get the likeness to Stephen King, but as a lifelong reader of him I’d have to say it’s really only The Stand, and it’s a superficial likeness really. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel set in a world brought low by a virus where good squares off against evil, it’s super long, it’s easy to read and while it’s horror it’s not just blood and guts and it will get in your head and scare you.”

“I’m happy with that” he says.

I see his publicist looking at her watch. Time is nearly up.

“Two quick questions” I say. “How did you come up with your signature author pose?”
He looks at me like I just sprouted an extra head. “My what?”

“Your signature author pose. This…” I say showing him photos on my phone. “Your signature author pose seems to be ¾ to front on, arms folded, seriously eyeballing the camera. Why that one?”

pp_looming-with-a-dog-jefferey-deaver

Jeffrey Deaver

He flops back looking quite perplexed. “There are other signature poses for authors?”
“Oh there are loads. Jeffrey Deaver does the side on looming thing. They make him loom everywhere. Clive Barker does the thoughtful head tilt, often with an open necked shirt; Stephen King usually get cropped at the neck and is face on, and most female authors get cropped across the shoulders or end up in some complicated leaning / arm thing designed to make them look either relaxed or powerful. There seems to be quite an art to it. I just wondered how you came up with yours?”

“Well, I’m usually the one taking photos at home, and I don’t like having my photo taken so I just do what they tell me. I never noticed that before. You’re right. I’m crossed arms guy! I’ll have to see if that’s on all my books.”

“Which brings me to my last question: do you have a copy of all yours books? All the different editions from around the world? “

“I do. But I don’t look at them. It’s a contractual thing. They arrive and they go straight to storage. God knows what we’ll do with them when I die. Congratulations, here’s 350 copies of the same book! I mean it’s not exciting to see them arrive. Most of them have the same covers – or one of two designs.

snowy-street-lamp-1474559946d34

Probably not this one.

“But I do remember when my first book came out, and it was snowing and the delivery guy couldn’t get through the snow and I wanted to see it and show everyone and I had to go out in the middle of the blizzard to get my copy and I remember standing on a street corner under a streetlamp ripping open this package, or trying to because I had mittens on, and seeing my book with my name on it for the first time, and it was just an incredible feeling. And even though I’d been researching and writing and editing and all the rest for what felt like years, that moment was when I felt like an author for the first time.”

A big thank you to Justin Cronin for giving up his time; to Sarah at Booksellers NZ who made it happen; to Gemma at Hachette NZ for letting me near her author and The Museum Hotel in Wellington for not evicting us at the first mention of two handed snooker playing.

By Sarah McMullan @sarahmcmullannz

The Passage (9780752883304) & The Twelve (9780752883335 ) are available now as paperbacks. RRP $25.99. Orion.
The City of Mirrors is available as Trade Paperback. RRP $37.99. Orion.

Having a baby? You’ll need (kiwi) books!

By books, I don’t mean books telling you what to do when you have a baby, though a couple of them might be a good idea early on in the pregnancy. Really, don’t look at them later though as it’s a sure way to convince yourself you’ll never be good at this parenting gig. I’m not going to suggest titles of pregnancy/ parenthood books, but Kaz Cooke is amazing and I keep seeing stuff around about Constance Hall’s Like a Queen, and um did you know Emily Writes has a book coming? Anyway.

What is really important, is starting your new bump’s very own library. Your first stop is going to be school fairs – think Spot, Dr Seuss, the eponymous Golden Books. And make sure you have plenty of board books – not only are they tear-proof for destructive-minded toddlers, but they are easier to hold with one hand while breastfeeding. And your second stop – bookshops, of course. Perhaps for Bookshop Day this Saturday 29 October?

All of these essential first kiwi books are available in board book format.

cv_the_noisy_book1. The Noisy Book, by Soledad Bravi (Gecko Press)
Nothing beats it. My boys have destroyed two copies of this – the only notable change in the second edition being a PC-ism of Spinach – it was just ‘Yuk’ now it goes ‘Yuk Yum’. Possibly for the American market?
2. Hairy Maclary Touch & Feel, by Lynley Dodd (Puffin)
Your baby will love touch & feel books, and be disappointed with any books that don’t have this function, right until they are around 2.5 years old. This is a favourite, with lots of fuzzy, soft and velvety dog fur.
3. ABC, 123 and Colours, by James Brown and Frances Samuel (Te Papa Press)cv_my_NZ_ABC_book
These books are gorgeous and genuinely inventive. A may be for Apples, but they are big, shiny Billy Apples – we get relevant letter-meanings, gorgeous countables and the most wonderful artwork in Colours. Just brilliant.
4. Duck’s Stuck, by Kyle Mewburn and Ali Teo (Scholastic NZ)
So you don’t believe that a tiny baby discovers their literary taste literally on the boob? Think again! This book was my bedside book while I fed my little baby to sleep, and is still now a fallback when every other book is rejected. Thank you, Kyle – this is a gift he gave me when still pregnant with number 1, and it’s still going strong.
construction_crew5. Roadworks, Demolition and Construction, by Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock (Walker Books) – available now in a box set.
These are must-haves for the machine-mad child. This was so popular with my older boy when he was 2 there were thoughts of “losing” it for awhile…
6. The Wheels on the Bus (Hachette), The Great Kiwi ABC Book (Upstart Press) and Old McDonald Had a Farm (Hachette), by Donovan Bixley
Okay, you may think once you’ve seen one version of these classics you’ve seen them all, but Bixley’s richly detailed, characterful illustrations make sure this isn’t the case with these books.
cv_the_big_book_of_words_and_pictures7. My Big Book of Words and Pictures, by Ole Konnecke (Gecko Press)
My first child, age 2, insisted that we made up stories based on the pictures on each of the pages of this book. Every Single Night. It was wonderful, most of the time. But seriously, this is a top-of-the-line word learning book, with a bit of a story on each page to help the tired parent’s mind. This could, admittedly, be a first birthday present.
8. Stomp! By Ruth Paul (Scholastic NZ)
Ruth Paul’s Stomp! is a great first dinosaur adventure, where small turns the tables on big when it’s their turn to lead the pack. Subtle, effective illustrations make sure there’s something to discover on every re-read. And there will be plenty.
9. Piggity-Wiggity Jiggity-Jig, by Diana Neild, illustrated by Phillip Webb (Scholastic NZ)
One of the best rhythmic books out there, this is the first in a series about Piggity, with the slightly awkward name. A huge favourite with no 1 kid, it didn’t really work for no 2, and fair warning it is a little long when you have a small baby; maybe one to jiggle the cot to for a night-time read.cv_kakahu_getting_dressed
10. Kākahu – Getting Dressed; Kararehe – Animals; and Kanohi – My Face, by Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson (Reo Pepi)
Essential first Te Reo titles, teaching the very young some essential first words in Te Reo to begin their understanding of New Zealand’s own language.
11. Colours, and Animals, by Donovan Bixley (Hachette NZ)
A similar concept as above, including Te Reo first words, with Bixley’s usual cast of animated characters, which will be familiar to anybody who has read his Old McDonald’s Farm or Wheels on the Bus stories.
12. Mrs Wishy-Washy, by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Elizabeth Fuller
Mrs Wishy-Washy is an enduring favourite for my youngest boy, though I will admit that sometimes when he has nightmares they appear to include Wishy-Washy and Grandma (possibly related to that one time we left him to go to sleep with Grandma: the trauma!) The words trip off the tongue, and you’ll have it memorised in no time. Joy Cowley is a national treasure.

Now, a disclaimer that will be familiar to anybody who has had the pleasure of being at The Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie when John McIntyre hosts a parents night. Before you buy your library, go to the library – with your child, if they are already born! Every child is different – my boys have very few of their preferred books in common – but all of these books are quality. Writing, production & everything: brilliant.

So here’s the sell: It’s NZ Bookshop Day on 29 October: what better chance to go out and get your little ones some quality kiwi (and translated, in the case of the Gecko Press) books! Most of the bookshops participating will be giving out books to kids who come in-store dressed up, and there are children’s authors popping up in bookshops all over New Zealand. Here’s the event calendar, so get your skates on!

by Sarah Forster

Why New Zealand literature deserves your support, by Melinda Szymanik

Children’s author Melinda Szymanik posted this on her blog this morning, and I immediately wanted to repost it. Melinda is the author of many wonderful books, most recently Fuzzy Doodle, illustrated by Donovan Bixley, which is still in my top 10 children’s books for this year.

pp_melinda_szymanikWhy New Zealand literature is necessary…

My parents were immigrants. World War 2 pushed them out of their home country Poland and brought them, via a truly circuitous route, to New Zealand. I was born here about seven years after their arrival.

My Polish heritage informed so much of my early life. The food we ate, the people we socialised with, the traditional folk dancing I learned, the national costume I owned and sometimes wore. To my regret, I didn’t learn the language. In my tender years I didn’t appreciate the value of doing so. I found it hard. And I eagerly embraced the language of my peers (I love the English language. We are always doing gymnastics together). But at school I enjoyed having this exotic Eastern European background. I was the only Polish kid in class. It felt special. So I wore it with pride.

I was a booky kid. I read a lot in school right from the beginning. I hung out at libraries all the time. The Lion,The Witch and The Wardrobe (although I started with The Silver Chair after picking up the hardback for a bargain price at a school fair), The Famous Five, Paddington Bear, The Moomintrolls, Baron Munchausen, The Moon in the Cloud, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, The Hardy Boys, The Hobbit, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Flambards, The Outsiders, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Dark is Rising, Fairy Tales, The Odyssey, Robin Hood, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and many, many, many more. Are you sensing a theme to my reading yet?

The only New Zealand literature I was exposed to as a child was what the School Journal provided. There was no Margaret Mahy or Joy Cowley, Maurice Gee, Fleur Beale or David Hill back then. I read one short story by Witi Ihimaera and didn’t understand it at all, because it was a single drop in a vast ocean of the European and US literary heritage I was consuming in vast quantities.

It became difficult to sustain the atmosphere of Polishness as we all grew up. We had to get on with our Kiwi lives. We didn’t forget but wore it more on the inside than the outside. And the pre-war Poland of my parent’s experience was unreachable, existing in memory but no longer in reality. And my empathy and understanding of people and the world learned through books filtered everything through a foreign lens. What is it to be a New Zealander? I’m still figuring it out. I can’t help always feeling a restlessness that can’t be answered, predicated as it is on a nostalgia for a lost heritage that can never be recovered, and a literary education built on cultures to which I can never belong.

If you want New Zealand children to understand their own culture, to feel it in their bones, then it must be provided to them in their literature. It helps ground them, makes them feel strong in their roots, connects them to this place and to each other. It reflects their experience back at them, reinforcing its value. We must embrace our own literature. It is a tremendous gift that must be protected and encouraged. We can’t just measure it as a product with sales, because its impact is lifelong, far reaching and life changing. It needs to be everywhere and we need to pay it way more respect then it gets now.

by Melinda Szymanik

Melinda blogs here regularly about children’s writing and other things as they arise. Some great pieces recently include her post on getting through the mid-career doldrums and how to stay sane/hydrated/not-exhausted during launch week.

National Writers Forum: The Clocks are Striking Thirteen, by Chris Cleave

Apparently Chris Cleave has been on the road promoting his new book, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, since January. On hearing this, I half expected a bedraggled Cleave to front for the keynote speech of our first National Writers Forum: crumpled notes in hand, world-weary and longingly counting down the days until home. Instead, Cleave presented the most calm, thoughtful, and compelling commentary I’ve heard on the current global socio-economic climate and the resulting challenges writers are facing, not just in their work, but also in their lives.

Cleave had obviously done his research. He started with a discussion of New Zealand literature and his experiences with a country that maintains a cultural focus while still having a healthy curiosity for the outward world. New Zealand, Cleave says, “punches well above its weight in literature”, sometimes much to his chagrin, what with all these New Zealand Man Booker Prize wins. Yet, he assures us, he doesn’t hate us.

But hate is on the rise, and the hard right is resurgent. As Cleave so aptly put it: “People are building walls again, and topping them with barbed wire.” And the problem with this hate? It’s catching – and so much more readily compressible; perfectly adapted to the digital medium. Rage has become the fuelling emotion of our era. 

So, in a world filled with viral sound bites of hate, what can writers do to be useful? Cleave detailed a list of five things that writers can do to matter in an Orwellian world of fuelled by “Two Minutes Hate” – I thoroughly recommend that you read this list, along with the full transcript of Chris’s speech, on his website (link below). They’re points that deserve thoughtful reflection, and a pause for breath.

Though I’m sure that all writers and the bookishly inclined will gain something different from Cleave’s list, the one that really stuck with me was number four: tell stories in a world no longer listening to fact. With science, reason and statistical analysis all failing to hold authority in our current political climates, storytellers have become the most powerful change makers. While this is a dangerous and somewhat scary thought, I do find something thrillingly Foucauldian about the idea. That this might be a step towards empowering subjugated knowledges – those low-ranking knowledges embodied and learned through human experience – is comforting in a way that cold, hard facts never could be.

 We live in a storied world. As Cleave puts it: “When we act like human beings we write like human beings. And when we write like human beings, people are drawn to read us.” Evil may be quick, dominating, and seductive; but appealing to humanity – something that writers have always done well – has the power to change this narrative, and to know when it has achieved its purpose.

Read the full transcript of Chris Cleave’s amazing speech here.

Event attended and reviewed by Emma Bryson

National Writers Forum: The Clocks are Striking Thirteen: Chris Cleave

NWF: Janet Frame Memorial Lecture ­– Authors, an Endangered Species: Joan Rosier-Jones.

pp_joan_rosier-jonesWhen I first saw the title of this lecture, I thought that it might turn out to be a rather grim note to prologue the National Writers Forum, which officially starts today. I couldn’t have been more wrong ­– Joan Rosier-Jones presented a very informative overview of copyright changes in New Zealand since 1987, the year she joined PEN (Now the New Zealand Society of Authors, or the NZSA); and talked passionately about how theNZSA advocates for writers, ensuring that they do not become extinct.

The session was started by Gordon McLauchlan, who introduced Joan as a practitioner ­­– and therefore a ‘professional survivor’ of the publishing industry. During her time Joan has done far much more than just survive – she’s thrived, writing around 18 novels and books about writing, and she’s been extraordinarily active in advocating and encouraging writing culture in New Zealand. Joan was the first female Chair of the Auckland branch of the NZSA, serving during the transitory period of 1993-1995, during many a heated debate about the 1994 copyright changes (she mentioned one particular ‘debate’ where fists almost became involved). She became the President of the NZSA in 1999 and served through until 2001, and she was also one of the first writer directors of Copyright Licencing NZ. Joan now holds the position of NZSA President of Honour – following Phillip Temple. Other recent Presidents of Honour include Owen Marshall, Joy Cowley, and Sir James McNeish.

Joan did a great job of outlining how copyright has changed for authors since the overhaul of New Zealand copyright legislation in 1994, covering everything from the introduction of moral rights and the establishment of Copyright Licensing NZ, to the 2011 ‘digital age’ copyright changes and potential implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (copyright term currently extends to 50 years after the death of the originator in NZ, under the TPP, this period could extend to 70 years).

Next she talked more specifically about publishing contracts and some of their potential sticking points. While translation rights, digital rights, broadcast and merchandising are reasonably standard requests by publishers (though these can be negotiated), I had no idea that publishers can ask for rights for media forms ‘yet to be invented’… definitely something for the signing author to be wary of, and to opt-out of where possible!

One of the problems with contracts is that authors can be a vulnerable lot. At the beginning of her talk, Joan mentioned that she signed her first three contracts without really reading them – something that in the heat and excitement of the moment, many signing authors may still fail to do. While the doors to publishing expand digitally and retract in print, writers are presented with a variety of new hurdles ­– and it’s great to know that organisations like the NZSA exist to prevent writers from ‘becoming extinct’.

Attended and reviewed by Emma Bryson

Emma Bryson is at the National Writers Forum reporting on behalf of Booksellers NZ all weekend.

 

 

 

The Rehearsal, directed by Alison Maclean

The Rehearsal is released nationwide on 18 September

poster_the_rehearsalThe Rehearsal is guaranteed to bring back all of your awkward teenage memories. And it is one of the best coming-of-age films I have seen in a long time.

Set in a drama school simply called ‘The Institute’, The Rehearsal tracks the life of Stanley (James Rolleston) as he becomes part of the churning-out-actors system, led by head tutor Hannah (Kerry Fox). Her focus is on getting the young actors to forget themselves, and open themselves up to being vulnerable.

Stanley meets a 15-year-old girl, then re-meets her by chance while role-playing one day, and tentatively starts a relationship with her. At the same time, we learn of a scandal at a local tennis club, where a coach has been carrying on with one of his students – as it happens, Stanley’s girlfriend’s old sister is the student. Stanley’s group has to create an end-of-year project, and as they have independently learned more than most about the scandal, they decide to create the play about this.

The script is spare, letting the young actors meet the challenge in a natural, off-the-cuff way. While I haven’t read the book (ok I admit it) I understand from the friend I attended with that the movie is different, and that this is a good thing. The use of a tennis club to open up the settings seemed an excellent way of bringing light into the movie, and contrasted well with some of the grimier spaces the movie lurks in.

The thing I enjoyed most about the movie was the humour. It wasn’t all drama students ranting and raging across the stage, and memorialising their darkest hours. From being a drama-type student at High School, mid-production things did get a little dark, and this was reflected accurately. But it was genuinely funny, though I noticed sometimes I was the only one laughing…

The final set-piece was superbly done, and served as a chance for some of the actors to look straight at the camera in farewell. I highly recommend going along and seeing this when it comes to a cinema near you  when it comes out on general release on 18 September.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Rehearsal
Directed by Alison Maclean
Script by Emily Perkins and Alison Maclean
based on the novel by Eleanor Catton (VUP 2008, ISBN 9780864735812)

WORD: Ask A Mortician, Caitlin Doughty interviewed by Marcus Elliott

Caitlin_Doughty_in_red_evergreen_background-copyDeath is an odd thing to be chipper about. LA-based mortician, ‘death positive’ advocate and YouTube star Caitlin Doughty is definitely chipper, though: she has that extreme chirpiness that I’m going to assume is compulsory for anyone living in Los Angeles. And yet she is not flippant: in amongst her ebullient humour is a serious intellectual and moral engagement with issues of death, grieving, funeral customs, end-of-life care and spirituality. I felt immediately drawn to her. If it were possible to pre-book one’s own mortician, I would consign my corpse into Doughty’s hands without a second thought.

Doughty was interviewed by local coroner Marcus Elliott, who did a good job of asking interesting questions and then giving Doughty plenty of space to answer them. (I must also give him props for his dapper blue cravat.*) Doughty entered the death industry as a young woman fresh out of her medieval history degree. “My relationship with death is the best relationship of my life.” When she was 8, she had seen a small child fall from a balcony, and “the spectre of death began to haunt me … [but] dialogue with my parents [on this topic] was not open”. She spoke about the ways in which children are curious about death, but we tell them that their interest is dirty, or weird, or wrong. This is one of the many things Doughty wants to change.

Another is the way that the professionalisation of death has distanced us from the dead body. A century ago in the Western world, the family cared for the corpse; dead bodies lay in state in the home and then were carried out for burial. Only in the 20th century have we developed a professionalised class of death workers, who come and remove the corpse from the home (or, more likely, hospital) and take it away. “Nowadays, being around a corpse causes terror and confusion … We have a weird, ‘uncanny valley’, creeped-out relationship with the dead body.”

One of the many things I learned from Doughty in this session – and I look forward to learning more from her book that I bought, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes – is the history of embalming. “Originally embalming was an American thing – you’re welcome – and was used during the civil war to keep bodies preserved long enough to transport them back to the north.” Embalmers would follow the battles and set up stalls, sometimes embellished with a heavily embalmed unclaimed corpse to serve as advertising. And then, after the war ended and the demand threatened to dry up, the embalming chemical companies invested heavily in training people as embalmers and selling their services. And so the funeral industry developed. “New Zealanders are the second most regular embalmers after Americans, you’re welcome for that as well.”

One of the most common objections to embalming that Doughty hears from mourners is that it makes the corpse look strange, which interferes with the grieving process. This is something else Doughty wants to change. “Sitting with the corpse is always difficult and beautiful … There is a sacred quality to caring for the corpses of those we love.”

One thing Doughty warned us about, which reminded me of Atul Gawande’s talk at the Auckland Writers Festival last year, is that “the good death isn’t handed to you … you have to have the conversations and do the planning.” Particularly under our current medical system, which will try and keep you alive as long as possible, even when quality of life has deteriorated horribly. Doughty worked on the campaign that led to California recently passing a law that allows for assisted dying.

Recently Doughty has opened her own business, “the only non-profit funeral home in LA”. She offers a service of coming to your home to look after the corpse, but is finding that “once you explain to people that it’s safe and legal and how to do it, they do it themselves. It turns out they didn’t need a professional at all.”

Elliott asked about alternatives to traditional burial and cremation. There’s composting: “composting bodies is really quite a beautiful process … they turn to soil in 6-8 weeks”. And aquamation, using very hot water and lye, which “flash decomposes the body down to something like ash.” Or conservation burial, whereby you have yourself buried on some land in order to prevent it being developed, “like chaining yourself to a tree, but you’re dead”.

There was the inevitable audience question about the afterlife. Doughty says she visualises her life being like a film reel, which flaps off at the end into an empty white nothingness: “that brings me comfort”. And comfort, overall, is what I took from her session.

* I think it was a cravat. The names of different kinds of clothing isn’t really my area of specialty.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Ask a Mortician: Caitlin Doughty interviewed by Marcus Elliott

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
by Caitlin Doughty
Canongate Books Ltd
ISBN 9781782111030