C. J. Skuse is a UK tenner, whose debut novel Pretty Bad Things was published in March. If you like quirky YA, it's definitely worth reading!
Pretty Bad Things is quite an unusual YA novel. What inspired it?
I wrote two short stories on my BA course, one about six-year-old twins who ran away from home when they overheard their parents arguing about money, and another story about two teenagers, a boy and a girl, caught up in a motel room shoot out. Neither story had a satisfactory ending, so for my MA I was intrigued enough by both to fuse the two together, imagining that the two runaway little kids grew up to be these criminal teenagers.
The Las Vegas setting fascinated me, as I've never visited the city myself. Did you take a research trip over there and, if so, is it just as glamorous in real life?
My sister and I had a holiday booked to LA, Las Vegas and Vancouver when my story was in its very beginnings. I knew I wanted the kids to start their life in New Jersey, but after that I didn’t really know where to put them, so I used my holiday to inspire events. We visited our cousins in California and I used their house as the Skank’s house, then when we went to Vegas, the twins went to Vegas too. While I was there, I just wrote absolutely everything down that I saw or did and the twins did the same. But I didn’t find it very glamorous. At first, what you see is awe-inspiring. The lights, the hotels etc. The hotels are amazing inside too and some of the malls are so opulent it’s almost unreal, but just outside there would be a homeless person led in a bus shelter or a guy handing out strip show tickets. It kept bringing me right back down to earth. I had no idea the twins’ father was going to be homeless until I saw this guy in a red check shirt rummaging through a bin outside Caesars Palace, where I’d just been in and eaten half of the biggest ice cream I’ve ever seen. I threw the other half away. When I saw this guy, I just felt terrible.
I really enjoyed Paisley's no-nonsense attitude and snarky lingo. Is she loosely based on anyone, real or fictional?
Paisley is the physical embodiment of my own anger. She’s the voice of my PMT, the unsaid sarcastic comment when someone has annoyed me, the silent barbed retort when some customer services operative has just been really rude to me in Primark and I have just walked away and gone ‘No, it doesn’t matter, thanks anyway.’ There’s a thousand instances every year when I find myself biting my tongue and not saying anything back because I’m too afraid of the consequences or of going red in the face. She’s also the kind of girl I longed to be at school whenever a teacher told me off or a fellow pupil put me down. She doesn’t go red, she says what she feels, if she doesn’t like you she’ll tell you to go away and she’s so self contained, she doesn’t need to impress anybody or have friends to get by.
I know, like me, you're a big fan of music and TV. Which shows and bands should we check out?
I’m really no judge of taste! I just watch the kinds of programmes and movies and listen to the kinds of bands that inspire me. I’m not watching that much TV at the moment, but when I do it’s usually crap that my brain can just melt over like Britain’s Got Talent or I’m a Celebrity. I do like Glee, Skins, Being Human and Supernatural, but even they lost my interest towards the ends of their seasons. That’s not necessarily their fault though. I have a really rubbish attention span. I love films too but as I’ve got older, it’s rare that I’ll sit through a new film that’ll hold my attention until the very end, unless I’m in a cinema and forced to.
My Chemical Romance have been my favourite band since 2006 and I don’t think that’s going to change now so I would urge anyone who has a soul screaming out for inspiration to check them out if they haven’t already done so. Likewise, much of the music I listen to these days feeds into my writing, so if it doesn’t give me ideas for characters or stories, I don’t listen to it. Slipknot, Hadouken or Linkin Park are always good for moments of hating the world and everyone in it (the proof is in Paisley). For quieter moments of gentle reflection, I’m currently enjoying Allie Moss and Laura Marling. I love Blind Melon too. I’ve always been into grungey kind of music like Foo Fighters, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Nirvana so I’ll listen to any of these bands whenever. I also love Kings of Leon, Biffy Clyro, 30 Seconds to Mars, Paramore and Green Day. I’m re-discovering Cypress Hill at the moment too. There’s just so many!
If Pretty Bad Things was ever optioned for a movie, who would be your ideal cast?
Dakota Fanning as Paisley; Emile Hirsch (minus 10 years) as Beau, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Buddy, Frances Barber as Skank. Apart from Dakota, this is pretty much the cast I had in mind when I was writing it. Dakota was suggested to me after I’d finished, as throughout writing it Paisley was completely faceless.
Like you, there seems to be quite a few published UK authors that have studied at Bath Spa Uni, including fellow Chicken House writer Lucy Christopher. Is their creative writing MA a course you'd recommend to aspiring writers?
I cannot recommend this course enough if you want to be a published writer and you are prepared to put 100% into it. I know I wouldn’t be published now without the skills I learned and I loved every single second of it, probably because for the first time in my life I knew what I wanted to be and I was with people who felt exactly the same.
What's next for you? Will we be seeing more from Paisley and Beau? *fingers crossed*
Well, here’s the thing, if Pretty Bad Things is a massive success or if a movie ever gets made or anything, then a sequel is plotted out and ready to write. I know what I want to happen and I have the final scene in my head too. But I have lots of other ideas I would like to try first, starting with Rockoholic, my second book for Chicken House which is being released next March. It’s different to Pretty Bad Things, inasmuch as it’s set in England this time so it’s a lot closer to my own life, and it’s the same kind of humour and absurd plotline so I’m pretty sure if you like Pretty Bad Things you won’t be too disappointed. I hope not anyway.