Mar 13

Q & A with Andrew Kaufman

Andrew Kaufman was born in Wingham, Ontario in Canada. His first published novella, All My Friends Are Superheroes, was released in 2003, to international critical acclaim. Since then, Andrew has a host of impressive works to his name including The Waterproof Bible, The Tiny Wife and his latest offering, Born Weird. Incorporating the fantastical and magical into witty, quirky and heartwarming reads that can be devoured in one sitting, Andrew’s work is sweetly spellbinding. Taking time out of his hectic schedule to, the Canadian has spoken to HELLO! about his career as a wordsmith, his love of the Silver Surfer and why even bags of garbage have their charms…





When did you realise that you wanted to become a fiction writer?

I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I’m either cursed or blessed that way.

Although your stories encompass different locations, Toronto is the backdrop for all of your published books. Why did you settle on that particular location?

Because I write stories that feature a lot of imaginative stuff, talking frogs driving cars, people with magic abilities, metaphoric plotlines, I really need to convince a reader to suspend their disbelief and just trust me. That’s a lot easier for a reader to do when I get the details right. Since I live in Toronto it’s easier for me to get these details right when I set the story here. But on top of that, Toronto doesn’t come with the mythic baggage that a city like New York or London does. There have been so many stories set in those cities, and so few set here. So I don’t have to worry about working against a pre-existing mythology. It’s a blank slate in this town. I can put anything I want on top of it.

Your books are filled with refreshing moral tales. If you could only choose one moral lesson that you explore in your writing, what would it be?

I’m a big fan of redemption. It has to be earned and it doesn’t come without a lot of sacrifice, painful growth, and setting down what you believe to see someone else’s side. The path to achieving it is such a great story. If I could only explore one theme, it would definitely be redemption. It’s kinda what I’m already doing…

Your sense of magic realism seems to draw on the much-loved tradition of comic book-esque characters. Are you a superhero fan? Who is your favourite superhero?

Comic books were the first books that were mine. That I picked out for myself and purchased with my own money. So they have a special place in my heart. Comic books, superhero comic books at least, really only have one story that gets told over and over again—that you have a secret power inside, waiting to be discovered. That’s a pretty powerful idea. My favourite superhero is the Silver Surfer.

As a writer for radio and TV, you must constantly have a pen in hand. How do you find time to write books, and if you are lacking the motivation to write, how do you find it again?

I usually have three or four projects that I’m working on at the same time, in various stages of competition. So if one story isn’t working, I just put my efforts into something else for a while. It isn’t motivation that’s usually lacking for me, but time.

You list David Mitchell as one of your literary inspirations. What do you enjoy about his writing? Besides other authors, what else are you inspired by?

David Mitchell is just so bloody smart. He has this amazing ability to create page-turning plots that are at the same time really thick and deep and insightful. You don’t realize how deep it goes until you’re already done. I get inspired a lot by things I just see around the city, teenagers giving their bus seats to old ladies, Mom’s playing with their kids, an alleyway that’s full of garbage but weirdly beautiful—pretty cliché stuff, but I love it.

What book have you enjoyed writing the most so far?

Definitely All My Friends Are Superheroes. I had no idea what I was doing or that anybody would want to read it. I was just a kid with a Trans-Am in the garage that I was trying to fix up, just to see if I could get it on the road. Way more fun than walking around calling myself a mechanic.

I was particularly struck by Kent’s description of the modern obsession to document life through photographs. I notice your website is particularly image led, so would you say you are at odds with Kent’s opinion? With this in mind, what do you think about the new social networking generation?

I think Kent’s hatred of photography is generated by a healthy dose of sibling rivalry as much as anything else, but I do think he has a point. The fact that we’re so willing to stop what we’re doing, stop having a significant moment just to document it, is very troubling. But I love photographs, I love images in general—I write in images. They’re powerful and that’s why we love them but I still think personal experience trumps any documentation of it. As for social networking, I’d say the same is true. It’s great to chat on-line, but it’s inferior to having the same chat in person, seeing someone’s facial expressions, what they’re doing with their hands. Even the most wired teenager would have a hard time debating that.

Your stories have an air of sensitivity that is heartwarmingly compelling. Would you consider yourself to be a softie? If so, where did your soft side come from?

I think it takes a lot of strength to be a softie, to be sensitive and openhearted. I think it’s very hard to do. It’s definitely easier to achieve it with fiction than it is in the real world. My stories are tender and warm-hearted because that’s how I wish I could be. I wish I were half the person in real life that I can be as a storyteller on the page.

If you could pick one line from your work that epitomises your writing, what would it be?

“…the only difference between a happy ending and a sad ending is where you decide the story ends.”

Feb 13

The SOS Valentine’s literature guide

We may refer to ourselves as Bridget Jones’, but as Elizabeth Bennett knows, romance can have a happy ending. Whether you’re curling up to Mark Darcy or cuddling a tub of Haagen Dazs this Valentine’s Day, there will always be one faithful companion whom you will love implicitly- that special book. Be it a gift for a loved one, a gift for your window cleaner, or a gift for yourself- take a look at the definitive three lovable books I have to offer…

For the unique person in your life: Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman

Weird by (sur)name and weird by nature, the five Weird children have each had to carry around a burden since their birth. Turning the “blessing in disguise” proverb on its head, the Weird’s grandmother instead provides the children with a curse in disguise which plagues their life. These special powers- which include never losing hope, never getting lost and the ability to always forgive- will be removed if Angie Weird can assemble all of her brothers and sisters in their grandmother’s hospital room before her death. Touching, witty, and with downright addictive prose, Toronto writer Andrew’s latest provides a perfect zing of magical realism, offering a refreshing and insightful look into family bonds that led me to read the entire novel in a single night.

RRP £12.99. Available from Amazon and Waterstones and all major book retailers

For the supermarket buyer: How Rude! Modern Manners Defined by Waitrose

Most of us can sniff out a Valentine’s quickie purchase from a supermarket in a heartbeat, but for those who are up for a ready slice of wit from some of the best writers in Britain, look no further. Food critic Giles Coren, The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency writer Alexander McCall and comedienne Sue Perkins are just a few of the famous pensmiths who have joined together to write about a very British trademark- the essence of good manners. Note to the purchaser: do warn your loved one beforehand that this isn’t a suggestive tip for altering their etiquette. Black eyes are not considered an en vogue Valentine’s treat.

RRP £8.99. Available from Waitrose and Amazon

For the poetic partner: By Heart: 101 Poems to Remember

For those who want to expirate Tennyson, Donne and W.H Auden at a touch, 101 Poems to Remember offers a perfect romantic gift with method. If your loved one desires to learn poetry from the best, they can take heed from the anthology’s introduction by former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, who offers unforgettable tips on trilling your favourite Shakespearean sonnets as well as a definitive collection of the best poetry to date.

RRP £7.99, available from http://www.culturelabel.com

For the die hard romantic: The First Last Kiss by Ali Harris

Molly and Ryan’s journey begins with a kiss. Thousands of kisses later and six years on, the couple’s world is torn apart, sending them on a journey with unpredictable consequences. Far from your average chick lit, former journalist Ali puts her writing prowess to the test as she tests the couple’s romantic boundaries. For a romantic novel with a difference, pick up a slice of tear-jerking, catharsis for your special someone and send them into a romantic frenzy.

RRP  £6.99. Available from Waterstones and Amazon and all major book retailers

Dec 12

2012 Christmas Gift Guide: Books

It’s official- Christmas panic around the globe has set in. With many websites highlighting their final shipping dates in an aggressive neon and sold out signs lighting up shop windows, plenty of people are seeing red, and not in festive sentiment. What does one get for the person who has everything? How does one appear to be thoughtful whilst sticking to a stern budget? What is heavy enough to take up some heady room in a stocking? Take a breather, and read this word for an overwhelming sense of calm: books. With a genre and format to suit everyone, literature has never been more accessible- be it a swift click of an Amazon button, a Waterstones dash, a find in your local charity shop or a mess-free Kindle read, provide your loved ones with some literary wealth this year and be patted on the back for your efforts. In a family and partner paradigm, I have tried to condense the multi-million mass market into the good, the great, and the downright brilliant.

DISCURSIVE SHOCKER: Many of these works are so good because they appeal to a reader regardless of age range and gender. Please feel free to experiment with the recipients mentioned below and delight in the satisfaction on their faces.

What to get for Grandma…

Poetry: King Wenceslas by Carol Ann Duffy

Carol Ann Duffy is Britain’s current poet laureate who never fails to pack a punch. Her breadth of work boasts reworked Greek legends, tales of love, loss, madness, and the feminist perspective behind the coveted icons of Elvis and Shakespeare. Although I readily implore you to check out her work, in particular her exalted sonnet Anne Hathaway, there is not a better time of year to take heed of King Wenceslas. In true Duffy fashion, the adaptation fleshes out the original narrative in such a vigorous manner that it is hard to imagine that the poet was not the originator of the story itself.

RRP £5.99

Fiction: Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

It would be a crime to leave this year’s Booker Prize winner out of the gift guide list now, never mind back in Tudor England, where the tale is set. Following the life of Thomas Cromwell, the book resumes where prequel Wolf Hall left off, with Henry VIII’s secretary at the height of his power. Following the pursuits of Thomas with force and fury, the historical perspective is brought together in a convincing autobiographical novel that it, ironically, takes no prisoners. On a more debased note, the tome is absolutely massive, so Grandma will definitely be getting some worth for her money.

RRP £20.00

Non-fiction: A Day In The World by Daphné Anglès et al

They say you cannot teach an old woman how to suck eggs, so improving an elder’s cultural knowledge has to be done with sensitivity. This is where A Day In The World comes in. As the title suggests, this picture-encyclopedia documents one day in the universe with just a snapshot. The book allows you to ogle at base jumping in Utah, huskies flagging in the immeasurable white of Greenland’s snow and to observe the busy streets of Mumbai in the comfort of your own home. And if broadening a stubborn individual’s horizons is not satisfactory enough, perhaps you’ll be won over by Richard Branson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words on the topic.

RRP  £30.00

What to get for Grandad…

Poetry: Collective Poems by Sean O’Brien

Sean O’Brien offers the perfect marriage between gritty Northern sentiment and the ethereal realm of literary valour. As a fellow Hullian, I would argue that my poetic appreciation is somewhat biased, but his EM Forster and Forward Prizes argue otherwise. Currently teaching Creative Writing at the University of Sheffield, the scholar’s “best of” collection will offer dystopia, dramatics, underworlds aplenty in an impressive mastery of tone and landscape.

RRP  £20.00

Fiction: A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks (Hardcover)

In his latest, Sebastian Faulks comprehends how a sense of self is created through history, and how a sense of memory comes into communal purpose. Meandering through a Victorian work house, concentration camp in the Second World War and the 1970’s music scene, Faulks ponders the human memory in the not-too-distant future.

RRP £18.99

Non-fiction: Brazil by Michael Palin

In a world far beyond his current court case troubles, Michael Palin had a passport gap to reconcile. In his 25 years as a travel expert, the comedian-turned-writer realized that Brazil had remained an unsolved enigma for the BBC. Ranked as the sixth biggest economy and fifth largest country in the world, the Olympic 2016 host has plenty to boast about. Offering intriguing insight into the ever-constant development of the South American paradise, Michael recounts his successful TV show on the country in an appealing literary format.

What to get for your son…

Poetry: The Language of Cat by Rachel Rooney

CLPE poetry award winner Rachel Rooney divides her time between writing heavily crafted poetry and teaching in Brighton. In a game of word play and riddles, this engaging collection will reward the most reluctant poetry reader.

Fiction: The Works of David Walliams by David Walliams

Roald Dahl Funny Prize and Red House award nominee David Walliams has put pen to paper and churned out a series of children’s books that boost his comedic reputation. Gangsta Granny, The Boy In The Dress, Mr Stink and Billionaire Boy have been united in one appealing, present-handy format for the childish rebel within.

Non-fiction: Ripley’s Believe It Or Not !

In a (possibly even weirder) take on the Guinness World Records, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! annual is one for curious minds. The creators of the Believe It Or Not and Guinness World Records museums have compiled a list of the most bizarre facts of the year into one annual for eyeball popping fervour. Warning: do not combine with sugar or anticipate hyperactive explosion.

What to get for your daughter…

Poetry: Julie Andrews’s Treasury For All Seasons

Celebrating the year in poetry, this collection of poems celebrates an American literary history in verse form, but naturally, is never too far removed from its English cousins. With a foreward by our very own Julie Andrews, this one is a top pick for an introductory sample of what the world of poetry has to offer, without Dick Van Dyke’s questionable cockney accent.

Fiction: Hogwarts Box Set by JK Rowling

And, for the present that needs no introduction, but will have to be given one for the sake of format. For a collection that transcends genre, gender, age group and the world itself, look no further than JK Rowling’s Harry Potter collection. An absolute must for book lovers, experience the magic for yourself as the child before you enters a realm of silent contentment over the Christmas period.

Non-fiction: Children Around The World by UNICEF

As a huge fan of its previous publication of the same vein, I present Children Around the world as one of the best Christmas gifts a child could possibly receive. Learn about other children from Bangladesh to China as they share their life stories in a (far more touching) Encyclopedic format- and the proceeds go to a great cause, too.

For the Dad of the family…

Poetry: Walking Home by Simon Armitage

Okay, so Simon’s latest may not fall into the poetry category, but as a memoir so heavily based around his art it would be impossible to place it anywhere else. The Yorkshire-born poet’s latest records his journey through the Pennine Way, leading him to encounter Marsden, the village where he was born. In commemoration of the layman landscape that surrounds him, the poet considers the remote land he travels through, stopping for poetry readings along the way.

Fiction: Toby’s Room by Pat Barker

In a follow up from Life Class, First World War period drama Toby’s Room seeks to uncover what exactly happened to Toby, resulting in a compelling drama that unravels the pain behind identity, memory and loss. Not one to disappoint, the fascinating weave of fact and fiction makes for an irresistible read.

Non-fiction: The John Lennon Letters

John Lennon biographer Hunter Davies has compiled one of the most intimate collections of Lennon’s work to date. The musician, artist and writer has been encapsulated in the letters that he wrote throughout his life, giving the reader insight into a genius’s mind at work. Praised by Jarvis Cocker and Simon Mayo, the work is an apt dedication to one of, if not the biggest musician of the 20th century.

And for Mum…

Poetry: Ice by Gillian Clarke

The National Poet of Wales’s latest effort meditates on the extreme winters of 2009 and 2010. Arguing that the winter season and the path of nature paves way for creative renewal, Gillian’s regenerative force soars in her latest collection, leading her to ponder ecological concepts from folklore, her childhood and the present day.

Fiction: Oh Dear Silvia by Dawn French

Comedienne-turned-novelist Dawn French certainly knows her way around a piece of paper. Her latest tour de force follows the story of coma patient Silvia Shute, who has left her life of hedonism behind for a prolonged stay in a hospital bed.  As her secrets unravel through the people who surround her, the interesting take on her life story echoes tones of Nick Hornby.

Non-fiction: Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart

Comedienne of the hour Miranda Hart has invited her chums to take part in her spiral of humiliation from childhood to the present day. In a humorous confessional, Miranda transforms into the adult-friendly equivalent of Louise Rennison.

For the boyfriend…

Poetry: Poems on the Underground

Oh, the underground. Small, dank, and rife with perspiration, it is a wonder how it became Britain’s most-loved transportational device can be a possible cartel for London’s book lovers. In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the underground, Penguin have released an attractive hardback edition of the collection, which boasts works inspired by British life, including that of Wendy Cope, Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott.

Fiction: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Not one to disappoint, Ian McEwan’s mystery Sweet Tooth examines the 1970’s through the eyes of a spy. Full of romantic sentiment, Serena Frome falls victim to the literary abandon of Tom Haley, leading her to blur the boundaries between her love of literature and the love of the man. Pondering on betrayal and the invented self, Ian’s witty latest lives up to critical acclaim.

Non-fiction: My Time by Bradley Wiggins

Hailed as the Olympian of all Olympians, Bradley Wiggins’s autobiography is hard to pass up in such a year of patriotic fervour. Determined to celebrate his victories without becoming another cog in the celebrity machine, Bradley’s honest confessional is a heartwarming tale that celebrates 2012’s national hero.

And for the girlfriend…

Fiction: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

Proving that Harry Potter was not just a lucky whim, JK Rowling sets the country idyll of Pagford to rights as she uses the microcosm to examine grim themes that are affected by the dislocation of social class and the self. Full of metaphorical tropes and scenes that demand thought, attention and a very sugary cup of tea, her adult offering seems to be a logical extension of the murky depths that surrounded Harry’s Hogwarts adventures.

Non-fiction: Moranthology by Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran is the envy of most British journalists. Staking out her career as a hack at the age of 16, Caitlin stopped off at Melody Maker, NME, presented her own television show and became a columnist at The Times in lightning speed. Her feminist-inspired memoir How To Be A Woman unsurprisingly turned out to be a bestseller, and her latest views on a plethora of topics from Boris Johnson’s hair to party bags are topping the book charts too.

Poetry: Deep Thoughts And Wise Words by The Sixth Form Poet

Arguably the pinnacle of any Twitter user’s timeline, the rhetorical mastery of The Sixth Form Poet, aka Matt Be, is sickeningly impressive. Capturing life in a series of quotable and witty snapshots, The Sixth Form Poet’s work is full of laugh out loud moments that capture the ironic mundanity of urban Britain.

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