Last post I reviewed Doug MacLeod’s YA novel The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher. Today, I’m very pleased to welcome Doug to Literary Clutter for a little chat about his book.
Hi, Doug. Thanks for dropping by.
My pleasure. A very cosy corner of cyberspace you have here.
Thank you. You’re much too kind. So Doug, when did you develop an interest in body-snatching?
Very recently. I read The Resurrectionist by Australian author James Bradley, and enjoyed it — even though it was a little gruesome for my tastes. I also watched a documentary by English broadcaster Dan Cruickshank on the subject of the English medical schools of the early eighteen hundreds, and how there was a great need for freshly deceased bodies to be dissected by the students. In fact I named one of my characters in honour of Mr Cruickshank — though I’m not sure he would regard it as an honour.
In your last post you described a scene where our characters wade through human head sludge. I’m afraid that scene really does happen in the book. It makes perfect sense. It wasn’t just included for shock value. But after I’d written it, it occurred to me that I might have created something disgusting. However, the two boys are so wonderfully chipper about the horrible situation in which they find themselves, and so supportive of each other, that I think I get away with it. The book is more about the importance of friendship than digging up bodies, although quite a bit of the latter does go on. I didn’t write the book to offend people. My intention was to be funny rather than shocking. I wanted people to fall in love with my characters in much the way I did. They took me by surprise.
You probably did a lot of reading about 19th Century body-snatching in preparation for this novel. But did you have to do any practical research into resurrectionism?
I did no practical research whatever. I’m actually very squeamish. There are scenes from the last Monty Python movie that I find impossible to watch. And I find Justin Bieber chilling.
The questionable teaching methods of your character, Mr Atkins, bear a striking resemblance to those of a teacher who once ‘taught’ me back in the early 1980s. Are Mr Atkins and his methods purely the result of your demented imagination or is there some real life inspiration?
Oh my god, who was the monster who taught you? I hope you weren’t ‘the chosen one’ because you seem a gentle soul. My imagination isn’t nasty enough to invent such a hideous teaching method. In a recent biography about a prominent Australian broadcaster, it was heavily implied that during his time as a teacher of teenage boys, he used the technique described in the book.
Fear not… my teacher wasn’t as bad as Mr Atkins. And I managed to survive.
In your novel, Mrs Greenough has a weakness for alcohol whilst Mrs Timewell prefers laudanum. What’s your preference?
I’ve never tried laudanum. Since it’s basically heroin diluted with alcohol I think I am unlikely to do so. Victorian theatres used to have ‘retiring rooms’ for the ladies who wished to indulge in the stuff. It was all proper and above-board. They would go to these rooms during the interval and get retired off their faces. I, on the other hand, favour a nice drop of red. I did drink a glass of Absinthe once in the hope that it might turn me into a French impressionist painter. It didn’t.
It is pointed out in the book that each body-snatcher must choose a resurrectionist name (such as Plenitude, Tolerance and Clemency), or have a name choose them. What resurrectionist name would you choose for yourself?
The idea is that a resurrectionist’s name should be beautiful; a noun with positive connotations. I was very happy when I came up with the name ‘Plenitude’ for my main character, until I discovered it’s a brand of eye make-up. I’ll have to wait for my resurrectionist name to choose me, for I am at a loss to make the choice myself.
The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher successfully combines humour with tragedy. Not an easy task. What in the world possessed you to attempt it?
George, I really don’t know. I started writing a black comedy then realised there was a lot more to this story than I had plotted. I felt I owed it to my characters to give them compelling reasons to act the way they did — and that necessitated a certain amount of tragedy. I’m sorry, I know that sounds pretentious. It’s an odd book, so I’m very gratified that you enjoyed it, and that the CBCA decided to include it on their shortlist. Though I get the feeling that if I win, I will be torn into tiny pieces by fans of Cath Crowley and Melina Marchetta — both of whom are indeed smashing and more deserving of the honour than I. If I could cast a vote myself here, I think I’d plump for The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett.
Thank you, Doug, for stopping by and giving us an insight into your writing and into body-snatching.
To find out more about Doug MacLeod and his writing, check out his website and his blog.
Catch ya later, George
PS. Follow me on twitter… or I’ll dig up your grave!