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Ever wondered who the homeless are?

Q&A | 3 minute read
Tamsen Courtenay on earthquakes, listening to Muddy Waters for inspiration and writing a book about those who find themselves dispossessed

Where do you write?

Even though we’ve been moving a bit from pillar to post over the last year or so, because of the earthquakes here in Italy, I am lucky always to be able to write with a view. My desk is an old cupboard door balanced precariously on a tiny fold-up garden table and I look out on landscapes straight from an Italian Renaissance painting. I think I would shrivel up and die without the changing light over the rolling hills and woods.

My head is permanently a jumble of thoughts, worries, plans and promises but my desk is not. Spartan is the right word. Few objects: coffee cup, cigarettes, ashtray and the occasional cat. I listen to Muddy Waters if I need inspiration and Bach if I don’t.

What’s the last really good book you read? And the best film or theatre production?

The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen). Julius Caesar (Mr Shakespeare, Bridge Theatre). Both chart the agonies of a world changing and partly going mad and how that affects and arguably distorts the people who live through such times. One is set 55 years before Christ and the other is 1,600 years after, and yet the themes are as relevant now as they were then. How depressing is that!

What book marked you as a child or teenager?

John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos. I had a rather disturbed and damaging childhood and was drawn to, and appalled by (in equal measure), the notion that while the world was going so horrifically wrong we would not notice – until it was too late – that the menace was amongst us all along. I was enthralled by the lack of obvious drama that somehow concealed the stark horror hidden under a veil of domestic normalcy.

What book inspired you to become a writer?

There were two, actually. American Psycho and The Bonfire of the Vanities. You can observe and write about the world that is decaying before your very eyes by simply charting fairly pedestrian events around you. The book I ended up writing became – by virtue of the stories told by the people in it – a comment, a reflection of the kind of society we have allowed ours to become.

Pen and paper or laptop?

Laptop. I look more plausible. I feel more plausible. And my pens always leak. And no one knows when I’ve scratched something out. The page always looks perfect.

Do you re-read books or is life too short?

Rarely. Oddly, though, The Corrections was a re-read from fifteen years ago.

Who is the best fictional hero and villain?

Tony Soprano. A mesmerising mix of psychopath and pure charmer. I’d have let him babysit my kids. How clever to be able to pen a character that you cannot help but be drawn to – to be attracted to, even – who is fat, wears wife-beater T-shirts, buries people in the ground but cries when the ducks on his swimming pool leave.

When did you last visit your local library?

I can’t remember. My excuse is that I don’t have one here in my village!

What classic have you lied about reading?

Ulysses. I’d have to be stoned for several consecutive weeks to make sense of it.

Finally, what’s the elevator pitch for the book you’re working on/you’re publishing?

Ever wondered who the homeless are? Read Four Feet Under and find out.

Tamsen Courtenay’s book, Four Feet Under, is published by Unbound. Buy here.