Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A with novelist Polly Courtney for Let’s Be Brief

With her first novel, Golden Handcuffs, Polly Courtney turned her back on a “so-called” high-flying career in the City to expose the toxic culture of the industry she worked in.
After this early self-publishing success she won what looked like her dream contract with HarperCollins but quickly found herself part of another corporate machine. Polly very publicly walked out on the deal and has just self-published her latest book, a fictional look at the UK riots in the summer of 2011. And there’s even a movie on the cards.
Q) When did you start writing and why?
It happened by accident. I was working as an investment banker in the city, becoming more and more miserable by the day. I was so disillusioned with my so-called ‘high flying’ career that I felt compelled to write about it so that the world could see the futile work, the hierarchy, the sexism, the greed, narcissism and toxic culture. (This was back in the early 2000s and at that time there was still a perception that banking was an industry that young people should aspire to work in.) Publishers weren’t convinced that readers would want to know about this dark, dirty side, so they suggested I ‘glam it up a bit’. This was the opposite of my goal, so I decided to publish the novel myself. It went on to become one of my best-selling novels, Golden Handcuffs.
Q) Your books are on quite controversial topics – can you tell us a bit about them? And what’s the deal with your (ex) publisher? 
I love to expose some kind of injustice in society. My latest novel is written from the perspective of a disenfranchised 15-year-old and set in the build-up to the August riots, covering the various frustrations that led to so many young people taking to the streets in 2011. Poles Apart is about a Polish migrant and the unspoken prejudice she faces in everyday life. Having successfully self-published Golden Handcuffs and Poles Apart, I was thrilled to get a publishing contract with an imprint of HarperCollins. I didn’t realise at the time, but in signing this deal, I was effectively pushing my writing career in a new direction – and not a direction I wanted to go in.
Q) So what changed?
It felt as though the very thing that made my books different (their ‘social conscience’) was being swept aside as book after book came out like mass market fiction with a ‘chick lit’ title and cover. The final straw was when my fifth novel, a story of a young woman grappling with sexism and ‘lad mag culture’, was given the title It’s a Man’s World and adorned with a trashy cover featuring mainly legs that was cloned from a movie poster. I decided to publicly walk out on my publisher at the book launch and announce my return to self-publishing. When I did, lots of authors got in touch to say ‘me too’!
Q) What project have you done that you are most proud of and why?
Feral Youth, my latest book – partly because it was such a collaborative effort between me and everyone involved, but mainly because of the subject matter. It was a big step for me, writing from the perspective of an angry teenage girl from South London. I was advised against it; people told me I could never make it authentic – but I was determined to try. I think Alesha’s story is an important one that needs to be told.
Q) How important is independent thinking and doing and where do you get it from?
The idea of doing something ‘because that’s what everyone does’ makes no sense to me. Everyone wants to earn lots of money. I don’t. Everyone wants a publishing deal. I don’t. Everyone likes to read books that are just like all the other books out there. Really? Well, I don’t.
My dad had his own business, which evolved as I was growing up, so perhaps I got my aptitude for taking calculated risks from him. My parents have always instilled in me that the most important thing in life is to be happy and frankly, I’m not happy when I’m just following the herd.
Q) What is the key issue for you right now?
It’s the message I’m trying to put out with Feral Youth: that we need to think harder about young people and the stereotypes we’re shown in the press. They’re not ‘mindless criminals’ and they’re not ‘feral’. They’re people and they’re a product of their experiences – so why don’t we focus on making those experiences good?
Q) What’s next?
Feral Youth the movie. Seriously!
::
Polly Courtney’s Q&A is part of the State of Independence series
State of Independence Pop-up Island | 22-28th July 2013
Unit 17 | Boxpark Shoreditch | 2-4 Bethnal Green Rd | London | E1 6GY
Advertisements

Q&A with Jenny Theolin curator of the first Lolcat exhibition

Jenny Theolin is the director of collaborative agency Soapbox & Sons. In January she curated the world’s first lolcat exhibition and art sale, in aid of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. What started with a challenge to a friend turned into an online lolcatalogue, which the Swedish creative brought to the real world with her LOLCAT – Teh Exhibishun. 4m people shared the story on Twitter and the BBC came down with a film crew. Her community even turned Grumpy Cat on The Independent’s Tom Peck after an unfavourable review.
Q) What is Soapbox & Sons and why did you found it?
Soapbox & Sons is a very different entity.
It’s essentially a creative, collaborative network founded, organised and managed by me, Jenny Theolin.
I believe that to deliver the best work, you work with the best people. So, over the past decade, I’ve gathered together a pool of talent made up of dozens of brilliant individuals. Their skills span disciplines from design and copywriting to illustration, fine art, film-making, event management, PR and more.
Like any creative agency, Soapbox & Sons has a range of services it offers.
Some of these, such as events, PR, advertising, marketing and digital mirror those offered by traditional marketing agencies. Yet Soapbox & Sons is also happy to take a leap into the unknown. Sometimes I’ve taken on projects to earn a living. Other times, I’ve done them just for the hell of challenging convention.
And underneath these projects I’ve held a very successful career as an award-winning art director in advertising and marketing agencies.
Soapbox & Sons is designed to be portable. Literally, an agency in a box (well, suitcase).
I can run and organize projects from almost anywhere. So if you need someone on site, or working alongside you in your office, I can be there.
Modern communications, from video conferencing, mobile technology, collaborative working practices and file transfer sites enable me to manage the team picked for you with ease, from anywhere.
Which also brings to life my vision of doing interesting things, in interesting places, with interesting people.
Q) What project have you done that you are most proud of?
I think ‘LOLCAT – Teh Exhibishun’ was one of my biggest successes. This exhibition was a 4-week long group art show exploring the weird and wonderful world of this popular internet meme.
Q) Are you fur real?
Yes. I brought together an array of cool cats and witty kitties – including graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, animators, and writers. Ignoring the crudely makeshift LOLCAT aesthetic, each of these artists came up with their unique take on the theme to create a piece of beautiful, amusing and exquisitely crafted LOLCAT art. The exhibition took place at The Framers Gallery and was held in aid of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.
I am particularly proud of the results, the exhibition links were shared with over 4m Twitter users, BBC came with their film crew to cover it, and we ended up on the BBC Homepage. Plus we had amazing coverage, both national and international!
Q) How important is independent thinking and doing and where do you get it from?
Independent thinking is just important as collaborative thinking. If you manage to find like-minded individuals/businesses to partner up with; Bob’s your uncle!
My work is quite risky since one of my aims is to keep doing things I have never done before. So, my independent thinking combined with collaborator and client trust is essential.
I have a never-ending resource of enthusiasm for everything I do, it comes natural. And I definitely feed on my collaborators passion and expertise. That definitely propels me forward.
Q) What is the key issue for you right now?
My business has only been a limited company for a couple of months, so my biggest hurdles are learning all the business side of things as well as finding new clients.
Most of them come through personal recommendations from the network I have managed to build over the last decade, but because I am independent, brand new business is definitely competitive. Fortunately, my work is built on collaboration, so clients I find I share, and vice versa.
Q) What’s next? 
I have a few big projects in the pipeline; an experiential food/music event, branding and launching a couple new businesses – and am working very hard on the Soapbox & Sons launch event, ‘Beatbox & Sun’, this summer. Keep an eye on Twitter to find out more!
::
Jenny Theolin’s Q&A is part of the State of Independence series
State of Independence Pop-up Island | 22-28th July 2013
Unit 17 | Boxpark Shoreditch | 2-4 Bethnal Green Rd | London | E1 6GY

Q&A with comedian Chris Coltrane for Let’s Be Brief

Chris Coltrane is a stand-up comedian by night, a writer by day and “a thorn in politician’s arses whenever the opportunity arises”. He recently appeared in No More Page 3 and Everyday Sexism’s Stand Up to Sexism, and yes it was funny, as well as at the People’s Assembly where he talked about his activism with UK Uncut. This included setting up a library in an unscrupulous bank with a load of school children, with of course, comical results. He also runs Lolitics – a comedy night in north London.

Q) Why and how did you get involved with political activism?
I used to watch a lot of activism on TV when I was younger. You had shows like Monty Python’s Flying Neoliberalism, or Jasper Carrott’s Capitalism Smackdown, and I used to watch them on repeat, memorising all the chants. Then as I got older and moved to London, I heard about all these open-mic activist nights around town, where anyone could get on stage and protest for 5 minutes. So I made a few calls and booked some in, and of course you’d get ever so nervous before the gig, but as I did more my five minutes moved to 10, and before long I was taking an entire occupation up to the Edinburgh festival. I took over a branch of Gregg’s in the town, which Chortle gave a lovely 4-star review to. I’ve never looked back, really.

Q) Is it easy to do comedy about such serious topics?
Yeah, it is for me, because I come from a long line of satirists. My great great grandfather, Dicky “The Dick” Coltrane, was one of the old music-hall satirists in the East End. One of his sketches about Archduke Ferdinand was so powerful that he ended up stalling World War I by an entire month. Sobering to think how many lives were saved, thanks to one simple sketch about a world leader, a bag of feathers, and a giant magnet…

Q) What project have you done that you are most proud of and why?
Probably the time I temporarily changed my name to Edward Snowden, had massive facial re-constructive surgery, leaked the biggest intelligence story in history, and then had all the surgery reversed to escape detection. At the time of writing they think I’m on a plane to Bolivia. Ha! Idiots.

Q) Are there any drawbacks with being politically active?
Not really. I mean, there is the fact that the police are more likely to beat you up, or that the police are more likely to knock on your door to suggest you don’t go to a certain protest, or that the police are more likely to monitor your phone calls, or that the police are more likely to lie to try to get you in trouble. But other than that, it’s a pretty sweet life.

Q) How important is independent thinking and doing and where do you get it from?
Independent thinking is important, but sometimes I think it’s gone too far the other way. For example, did you know that there are men called Keith who are allowed to vote? I’m not sure what I think about that. Can you think of a single trustworthy Keith? Keith Chegwin, Keith Sweat, Keith Floyd… no no, it simply won’t do.

Q) What is the key issue for you right now?
A lot of my friends are very passionate about a woman’s right to chews. Can you believe that in the 21st century women aren’t even allowed to buy sweets? It’s stupid. I can see why my friends campaign so hard to fight it. As far as I’m concerned, women should be allowed whatever confectionery they want – Chewits, pancakes, even popping candy (I’m a member of the radical-left, and I make no apologies for it.)

Q) What’s next?
Bargain Hunt is coming up on BBC1, and BBC2 has Wimbledon coverage… but I expect that’ll probably be out of date by the time this goes to print, so I can’t help you with that one. Sorry.

::

Chris Coltrane’s Q&A is part of the State of Independence series
State of Independence Pop-up Island | 22-28th July 2013
Unit 17 | Boxpark Shoreditch | 2-4 Bethnal Green Rd | London | E1 6GY