Carrie Marshall — writer, broadcaster, songwriter — talks overpriced confectionery, sausage guns and rodent assassination

Mars Bar: Smaller than a toddler’s pinkie and costing more than a car.

For me, the best thing about this website is that I’ve met some really amazing, interesting and funny individuals through my interactions here. The other day I put out a tweet looking for volunteers to take part in my Sprout Questionnaire. In my book, if you volunteer for the Sprout Questionnaire, you are, by default, slightly peculiar. And slightly peculiar is exactly the type of person I know I’ll get along with.

Carrie Marshall is one such volunteer. She is a writer and broadcaster and, in her own words, a spectacularly unsuccessful songwriter, although I think that summary vastly underemphasises an incredibly diverse and accomplished CV (which I’ve been checking out on her blog). She’s trans, lives in Partick and has just bought a drum kit to delight her neighbours. She posts thoughts at bigmouthstrikesagain.com, tunes at soundcloud.com/dmgm and tweets as @carrieinglasgow. Why not check out her words and sounds for yourself?

Carrie Marshall

We had such a laugh compiling this. I thought my questions were funny (I’m pretty much the only person who finds me funny) but Carrie’s answers were way funnier. It was a total treat for me. Thanks for taking the time, Carrie, and for properly getting into the spirit of the Sprout.

OK, here we go…

  1. You are a superhero? What’s your name and what can you do?

I would be The Baseball Bat of Justice, because all the short superhero names are taken. I’d have the power of administering swift, summary justice to correct bad opinions: “I’m not a racist, but -” THWOCK! “Yes, but not all men -” BLAM! “It’s political correctness gone -” SPANG!

  1. In a failed prank to make a cast out of polyfilla, YouTuber Jay Swingler recently cemented his head inside a microwave. It took firefighters an hour to free him. What’s your worst ever fail and was it life-threatening?

I’ve managed to turn DIY into an extreme health hazard. A couple of Christmases ago I went to fit a magnetic knife rack in the kitchen and blew the mains electricity up with my first squeeze of the drill. We called out Emergency Panic Man — like a superhero, but a lot grumpier and much more expensive — and he was clearly using all of his powers to not call me the dick he obviously thought I was.

  1. What item of clothing do you covet?

I bought it. When I was little, Suzi Quatro made me feel all kinds of funny with her bass guitar and leather trousers. I’ve had basses for years and quickly discovered that they weren’t what had made me feel funny. So I recently acquired a pair of leather trousers. Can I breathe in them, let alone move? No. But do I look sexy? Also, no.

  1. To the outrage of many, Barrs recently changed the classic recipe of Irn Bru to reduce the sugar content. What similar changes have got you fizzing?

It has to be the ever shrinking size of treats such as crisps and chocolate. Have you seen a Mars Bar lately? It’s smaller than a toddler’s pinky and costs more than a car. You’re not going to get a day’s work, rest and play out of that.

  1. You’re a musician. You have a choice: to be a one hit wonder (with immediate riches and a secure future playing cruise ships) or to have poverty-stricken critical acclaim. Which one will it be?

Poverty. Has to be. The thought of playing a song I’ve grown to loathe every night to the kind of people who’d happily tie bricks to my feet and throw me overboard is a pretty good illustration of what Hell is probably like. You can’t eat acclaim, but you can often use it to persuade people to buy you drinks. Better to be Aidan Moffat than Barry Manilow, I think.

  1. Who is your (living, dead or invented) spiritual twin?

I’d like to think it’s Jodie Foster, with whom I share a birthday. But sadly it’s probably Mr Blobby, with whom I share a figure.

  1. Life lessons: despite the consequences, I have obstinately refused to learn the lesson that cutting my hair in the mirror is a bad idea. Which life lesson do you consistently fail to heed, and with what consequences?

I’m going to plagiarise the late, great Douglas Adams here:

I wish I’d listened to my father.

– what did he say?

I don’t know. I wasn’t listening.

  1. To my regret, I sing like a tortured cat. (Even I can’t stand to listen to myself). What skill are you lacking that you’d like to have?

I wish I had social skills. I can never get it right, I’m either laughing too loud at things that really aren’t funny or staring blankly at someone who thinks they’ve just said the funniest thing of all time. I wish I was the person who says the really excellent things I think of at 4am when I’ve gone home in disgrace. Or I’d like to be really good at fighting.

  1. A butcher in Totnes recently saved himself from an icy death after being trapped in a walk-in freezer by using a block of black pudding to prise open the door. In your opinion, which breakfast item is most likely to save your life?

It has to be sausages, hasn’t it? Links, not square. You could quickly fashion a sausage gun by bending one and pointing it in a determined shooty kind of way, or squeeze the meat into the gaps between a door and its frame to protect you from floods, smoke, sarin attacks and killer bees (also, I’d love to get somebody angry enough that they’d unleash all four of those things against me. That’s going to involve some serious criminal mastermind shit). You could roll a bunch of them into a sausage-based decoy that the bad guys shoot at, giving you time to escape. And you could make two into a cross to fend off Vegan Dracula. And then afterwards you could entertain the local urchins by making sausage animals.

  1. Thanks to talks between the two neighbouring countries, two North Korean figure skates will attend the coming winter Olympics in South Korea. What is the biggest concession you’ve made to a neighbour for the sake of an easy life (or to avoid nuclear annihilation)?

I watched my former neighbours raise their garden so high the top of their fence was 20 feet above mine. I hadn’t spotted it in the planning application they tried to hide from us. All it needed was watchtowers and spotlights, and to my great shame I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want conflict. The best I could do was park really close to their driveway and throw tons of dogshit over their fence for the next few years. And my former wife killed their hamster, although I don’t think that was deliberate.

[HMT] Sorry, incapable of writing much more. I really hope your neighbours aren’t reading this. I know dead hamsters shouldn’t be funny but…

 

The Sprout Questionnaire: A Weird Take on the Proust Questionnaire

You may have seen this post in a different form but, after only a year (I don’t like to brag but I’m sure you can tell that I’m a speedy learner) I’m finally getting the hang of this website lark and I’m pretty sure my menus are now more or less in order. More or less. This should be the first one in the Sprout Questionnaire series but I haven’t worked out how to sort that bit. Professionalism abounds here. Anyhow, just before I corner my next victim for this series, I thought I should get a wee bit of explanation out there. Explanation, yes, but no guarantee it will make sense.

What, you may ask, is a Sprout questionnaire? Good question. It wasn’t always a Sprout questionnaire. In it’s former guise on this blog, it was a Glasgow Take on the Proust Questionnaire.

But back to the beginning. The Proust Questionnaire started life as a parlour game. Confession albums or confidence albums were the Victorian equivalent of the personality and psychology tests that are all over the internet these days. It was thought to give a measure of the sensibilities, tastes and aspirations if the person who answered. When he was still a teenager, Marcel Proust answered a version of it and his candid handwritten answers were discovered after his death. Later, it was popularised in magazines and television and its origins misattributed to the writer but the name has stuck.

I tinkered with the questions, added one or two dubious refinements and found some victims. My original version was a Glasgow take on it only in so much as I was looking for willing Glaswegians to answer it as part of my series of posts about the city.

But nothing is sacred here. Recently, Proust went into the mixer and came out as Sprout. No relationship at all to small cabbage like vegetables, simply an anagram that made me smile. And while the questions no longer bare any resemblance to the Victorian parlour game, the answers are funny and revealing, and probably say more about the victim’s personality than the original.

Photo of Marcel Proust from  Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 bekijk toegang 2.24.01.04 Bestanddeelnummer 919-9566. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Netherlands licence.

The Sexy Test

‘Do you know what the lady is going to do, Harry?’

‘Yes, mummy. She’s going to do the test to see if I’m sexy.’

‘Almost, sweetie. It’s to see if you are dyslexic.’

True story. Oh how we giggled. But it isn’t a laughing matter for the kids and adults affected.

Even in this world of alternative technologies, the written word is still central to how the world functions (or how the world ends given the current battle of juvenile tweets between power-crazed despots). It has certainly Continue reading “The Sexy Test”

2017: A year of reading and writing

There is no more valuable a gift than a book that makes you laugh, cry or think 

It has been an interesting year of books. For (almost) the first time, I’ve read several novels by people I know. Either in person or virtually (although some of those virtual relationships are as strong as friendships in real life). I find it nerve-racking, those first few moment with the first few pages, sussing out whether it is going to be a book I’ll love or one that will do nothing for me. I feel a responsibility to enjoy the work of the people I like. Which doesn’t always happen. But when it does, it is wonderful.

Like Maria Donovan’s Chicken Soup Murders. Aside from the fabulous title, it was obvious from the opening that it was beautifully written. I read it immediately after Joanna Cannon’s fabulous The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and it compares very well. Or Chris McQueer’s Hings which had me laughing, cringing and spurting my tea out of my nose (often at the same time). Continue reading “2017: A year of reading and writing”

#amwriting? #amthinking

Thinking, scribbling, planning. But is it really writing?

You: When is the book coming out? Are you writing your next one yet? What are you doing for Christmas?

Me: Sometime in 2018; sort of; flip, how can it be the middle of November already?

This is how my conversation rolls at the moment. I’m twitchy to say the least.

Sort of. What kind of answer is that? I’m sort of writing my next novel. You’d have thought it was a binary question. Are you writing your novel or not? It depends, I guess, on Continue reading “#amwriting? #amthinking”

We can’t help but judge a book by its cover

The old saying says we shouldn’t but we do it all the time. Judge a book by its cover, that is. Publishers and marketing departments rely on it. That first impression that piques your interest or puts you off completely. The distinctive hallmarks of different genres. A certain style that brackets a debut novel with the latest bestseller. I’m talking fiction (and creative non-fiction) here although no doubt there are similar criteria that dictate the covers of non-fiction and academic books even if the specifics are different.

Picture the scene. You’re browsing in a bookshop, pennies burning a hole in your pocket, on the look out for something murderous or challenging, or perhaps you’re in the mood for a few laughs, or maybe you want a fast and furious thrill, or to chill with a light, easy read, and there’s a table of new fiction laid out before you. What do you do? Continue reading “We can’t help but judge a book by its cover”

Talking Crowdfunding Howlers at the Brontë Festival of Women’s Writing

 

Photo of the signatures of the Brontë women using their pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell

I’m very excited to be taking part in the opening event of this year’s Brontë Festival of Women’s Writing on Friday 22nd September at 7 pm. Yes, that’s tomorrow. Between house moves and dodgy phone lines, I haven’t had a chance to mention it here before now. If you are in the area, please come along. There will be a panel of us discussing self-promotion and marketing for writers. Useful for writers of all types, whether you have a traditional publishing contract or are going along the non-trad route. Writer and academic Laurie Garrison will be sharing her digital marketing expertise, novelist Sarah Dunnakey will be talking about her experience in a traditional setting and, instead of passing myself off as a crowdfunding expert, I’ll be confessing to my worst mistakes that I made during my campaign to fund The Backstreets of Purgatory.

The venue is Cobbles and Clay Café in the main street in Haworth. Other events in and around the Parsonage over the weekend include YA author Liz Flanagan running a writing workshop for girls, Adapting the Brontës with novelist Rachel Joyce and playwright Deborah McAndrew who will also be running a Writing for Stage event. The headline event on Saturday evening is Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent which was Waterstones Book of the Year 2016.

I can’t wait to meet the other participants and attendees. And you, if you can make it. Directions below.

 

 

Chris McQueer answers my Sprout questionnaire

Surviving on the run with his granda, turning invisible, signing up for NASA and reinventing the diary, meet Chris ‘say aye to everything’ McQueer, a man with some very valuable secrets.

Sprout questionnaire? Yes, for once this isn’t bad spelling on my part. My Proust questionnaire has been put through the mincer and this is the result. A Sprout Questionnaire. Nothing at all to do with leafy green vegetables or European capitals, but hey, that’s probably a good thing.

[Actually I got the idea for the title from a game I’m playing by myself (I repeat, by myself) on Twitter #authoranagrams. The clue is in the hashtag. You can join me if you like @TaylorHelen_M.]

The first willing (I think he was willing) victim of the revamped questionnaire is Chris McQueer.

Chris is a 25 year old writer and sales assistant from the east end of Glasgow whose debut collection of short stories ‘Hings’ has been published by 404Ink and is out now. His work has also appeared in Gutter magazine, The Skinny and The National and he has performed at Glasgow’s Aye Write book festival, Belladrum Festival and on BBC Radio Scotland. His stories are riotously, brilliantly funny and more than a touch surreal, and show Glasgow in all its irreverent glory but, (and maybe I should whisper this bit) beneath the spurt-your-drink-out-your-nose laughs and the don’t-let-your-granny-read-it swearing, they address serious issues like class division. Everyone should buy a copy if you haven’t already.

I’m really chuffed that he agreed to take part in this piece of ridiculousness.

Over to Chris…

1. You are a superhero. Who are you and what can you do? Continue reading “Chris McQueer answers my Sprout questionnaire”

Simone Veil

Squint a little and perhaps you can see a young Simone Jacob there with her fellow students.

Simone Veil, grande dame of French and European politics, Holocaust survivor and champion of women’s rights, died 30 June 2017. At her funeral at Les Invalides on July 5th, President Macron announced she would be interred in the Panthéon, one of only five women thus far to be granted this rare distinction.

Simone Veil, French politician, women's rights activist and Holocaust survivor

Veil was originally from Nice which is not far from where I live. When she died, I realised I knew only the headline facts about her, despite the fact she is probably the most celebrated and revered women from this city. To correct this lack on my part, I read as much as I could find about her. And what I discovered was both inspiring and terrible, and fed several of my obsessions as a writer.  Continue reading “Simone Veil”