Friday, January 24, 2020

Matt Killeen

Matt Killeen was born in Birmingham, in the UK, back in the war-mad seventies–a hometown largely demolished and rebuilt in his lengthy absence. People tend to dismiss what comes more easily to them as unworthy, so it took him far too long to realize he was a writer. He worked as an advertising copywriter and largely ignored music and sports journalist in the noughties, before fulfilling a childhood dream to join the LEGO® Group in 2010. He left after eight years, and an unconscionable amount of money spent in the staff store, to become a full-time author. A lover of costume parties, he is an avid gamer, soccer fan, toddler wrangler, and warrior for truth and social justice. Although a devout urbanite, he has somehow ended up surrounded by fields in a house full of LEGO® bricks and musical instruments, with his two diversely aged children, Nuyorican soul mate, and neurotic, fluffy dog. Orphan Monster Spy was his debut novel, and he has still not learned to touch-type.

Killeen's new novel is Devil Darling Spy.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
As a writer of historical YA, I just don’t get to read as much fiction as I’d like. It’s the nature of the beast. Every time I think I’m going to get a book for the love of it, I have a mini-panic that I should be ploughing through some research, or worse, reading something again if I'm going to use it in the next book. Part of that is a generalised paranoia that I’m going to get something wrong, or that I just don’t “get” something and who do I think I am authoring on subjects of great weight and import with a dilettante’s grasp of events. I’m also working on multiple projects so that is, at time of writing, three different time periods, countries and conflicts. Then, of course, I have to go into schools and talk about it, so the revision is never done.

Some of this stuff can be very dry, but Svetlana Alexievich’s oral histories, The Unwomanly Face of War and Last Witnesses, are pretty amazing. In purely research terms, for fiction, it’s the motherlode. The words from a witness or participant’s own mouth are worth a dozen lengthy and well-constructed treatises. But hearing their experience of war was harrowing in places, because it was there in what they said, how they said it, what they chose not to say. It’s raw. Painful.

I’m also working through Anna Funder’s Stasiland, about East Germany during the Cold War. It’s excellent but there’s a lot of her in it, rather than letting the stories speak for themselves and I wonder if it’s diluting the “data” at all. I knew what the GDR was and what the Stasi did, but in terms of scale and profundity of it all, I hadn’t previously understood really. It was a bit like the work I did for Devil Darling Spy revealing the depths and ubiquity of the horror of colonial rule. I knew, but I didn’t really get it until then.

I have managed to read some awesome fiction this last year, like Sarah Maria Griffin’s unique Other Words For Smoke, Anna Mainwaring’s Tulip Taylor and some trademark Kathryn Evans creepy, fridge horror, Beauty Sleep. I was also lucky enough to get an advanced copy of Sherri L. Smith’s The Blossom & the Firefly which is a heart-rending tale of a young tokkōtai (kamikaze) pilot and one of the schoolgirls tasked with waving him off to die.

Talking of planes, Elizabeth Wein’s White Eagles is…well it’s Elizabeth Wein, isn’t it? I’d make time for her stuff if she was copying out an old phone book, and it would take me to somewhere new and insistent. I like the “super readable” stuff that Barrington Stoke publishes – designed for reluctant and underconfident readers and those with dyslexia etc on yellowed, thicker paper using special fonts – and they are a vital and important resource…but, I did want more of both White Eagles and Firebird because I loved them so. I suppose I should just be happy they exist.

In search of some great sci-fi to replace the Iain M Banks shaped hole in my life, someone pressed Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet into my hands, and yet it remains virtually unopened by my bedside. Good first chapter or two, but frankly too early to tell if it’s all that’s been promised. Likewise Alastair Reynold’s sequel to The Prefect (aka Aurora Rising), Elysium Fire is sitting under it. I don’t know if it’s the danger that the story will peter out – Reynolds has a bit of previous in that regard, it’s practically endemic amongst sci-fi writers – but I almost don’t dare start it. A new book by a writer I love (returning to universe I adored) is a valuable thing, when it’s gone it’s gone. I guess the shattering loss of Iain Banks taught me that in heart-breaking fashion. I’m not saying that’s a particularly sane way to consume books but, hey, that’s the least of my psychological challenges.
Follow Matt Killeen on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Orphan Monster Spy.

The Page 69 Test: Devil Darling Spy.

--Marshal Zeringue