Interview: Stevie Turner

Our latest Koobug interview is with Koobug 'top author' Stevie Turner.

Stevie, a warm welcome to you from everyone here at Koobug.

Born in the fifties, a child of the sixties, finding your feet in the seventies and a mother in the eighties, which decade best defines you?

Definitely the Seventies I think.  I blossomed from a shy teenager into the disco queen of my local area in South East London.  I left school and started work, discovered boys, learned to drive, shared a flat with another girl from work, and generally partied as often as it was possible to do so.

You are an only child, and lost your father when you were 19, how have those aspects of your life informed your choices?

I chose not to have just one child myself, because I can testify that only children can feel rather isolated.  As a child I yearned for the companionship of a brother or sister, but then discovered in later life from others that sometimes having siblings brings different problems.  My husband for instance is one of 5, and when we married he only wanted one child so that he could give it everything he never had (we compromised on two)!

My father was a very practical man and could fix most broken household items, was good in a crisis, and had loads of common sense.  It only occurred to me while writing these answers that my husband is a very practical man, fixes anything that’s broken, is very good in a crisis, and has loads of common sense!  Hmm…. make of that what you will (however, he’s several inches taller and looks nothing like Dad at all).

Was your childhood freedom in the East End of London an echo of a lost world? You describe yourself as “a proper little street urchin”. How would you describe that to a contemporary child fuelled by sugar and the Internet?

I was lucky; I had total freedom, and it stood me in good stead for life.  I feel sorry for the children of today, growing huge thumbs in their bedrooms and supervised from sun-up to sun-down. I was not one for having hordes of friends, just a few good ones as I remember.  I loved reading, and read voraciously; otherwise we played outside for the rest of the time.  There was no Internet, no computers, and no TV (only in the evenings was it switched on for a couple of hours).  We didn’t even have a phone, and of course mobile phones were unheard of.  I had unfettered freedom to roam wherever I pleased all over the East End of London; exploring condemned houses being pulled down to make way for the motorway approach to the Blackwall Tunnel, playing in the local park or on old bomb sites, playing Knock Down Ginger, or climbing over railings to skate in the local secondary school playground in the evenings with my friends.  

While my parents were at work there was no babysitter; my mother decreed I was sensible enough to be left on my own from the age of 8 in the school holidays, and I revelled in it.  If I made mistakes then I sorted them out on my own; being an only child has the one advantage of making you very self-reliant.  I was told to use the public phone box around the corner if I needed to phone my parents in an emergency.  There was only one problem I found when I had to do this one time when I fell over while skating and cut my hand; I didn’t have enough strength to push two pennies into the slot to make the call!

What was the first piece you can remember writing? Was that your primary school competition piece? 

I kept a diary from about 1968 through to about 1979, so I was always writing or reading, but yes, I think the first piece I remember writing was the essay for the inter-schools’ competition.  I wrote about the effect my budgerigar had on my grandmother. The poor woman was always scared stiff when I let it out of its cage, and I can still see her flapping her arms about in horror as the bird flew backwards and forwards over her head.  I won first prize and a certificate, and poor Nan acquired a few more grey hairs.

Your secondary school contained 2000 girls, were you lost in that ocean of oestrogen? 

I was 13 when I moved across the Thames from a very small grammar school to a huge secondary modern girls’ school. It took me a year or so to find my feet, but fortunately I made a couple of good friends on my first day that I still see now.  In fact the three of us are all going on holiday together in September, and I’m looking forward to catching up on what’s been happening in their lives.

Eventually though, I realised the secondary modern suited me better.  The grammar school was geared to academia and I was hopeless at Maths and Physics, but excelled at English and Music.  There were no music facilities at the grammar school, but at the secondary school I joined the orchestra, choir, madrigal group, and generally anything else that was even remotely connected to music.

Your mother has just turned 90, what’s the best lesson she ever taught you?

I can still hear her voice in my head when she says it again for the umpteenth time; ‘Everything in moderation’, ‘Don’t get old and fat’, ‘Always have something green on your plate’, ‘Take your cod liver oil capsule’, and ‘What have you done to your hair?’

Aside from these wise snippets, she taught me a love of words, reading, and music.  Fortunately though I never inherited her tendency towards depression; I have my father’s sunny nature instead.

Did she ever think you would be a writer? Has she read your work, is she a critic or a fan?

Although I have never told her I write fiction, she definitely knows through some sort of extrasensory gift.  She has read my first memoir regarding my cancer journey, and I must say for all her faults she always encouraged my writing as a child, and for that I am thankful.

You have enjoyed a long, close and loving marriage. Does security and support make for a better writer?

My husband knows I am a loner.  He knows I need my own space to write, and he moves heaven and earth to give me that space.  I have known him for 35 years, and we have come through some terrible times and out the other side.  I cannot imagine my house without him in it.  When he rides off on his 600cc bike I write my novels, and we both have smiles on our faces at the end of the day.  He’s my companion at the festivals we both love, and there is an ocean of shared memories.  Sometimes we even speak the same words at the same time.  How weird is that!

First a laboratory assistant, then a librarian and now a medical secretary, how has each influenced the subjects of your writing?

The laboratory assistant was after I left school, and I hated it.  I stuck it for four years due to the presence of an extremely handsome technician a few doors along the corridor with white-blond hair (I wonder what he looks like now?) who played havoc with my heartstrings.  Being a library assistant helped when writing about Thelma in ‘The Pilates Class’.  Although it was many moons ago I still remember standing at the counter and stamping all the outgoing books, shelving the incoming ones, and showing the local pervert the door when he was caught doing something dastardly behind the 620’s.  

Having worked for 12 years in several departments in our hospital, I have reams of raw material just aching to get out.  I could write a book about the start of my career there as a Ward Clerk.  Some of the stories would crease you up…..

Your mother “still tinkles the ivories” and your son is a musician, do you have any musical talents? Does music help you write?

Mum taught herself to play the piano when she was a child.  My son had guitar lessons when a teenager, and both of them mastered their instruments with ease.  The ‘playing a musical instrument’ gene skipped a generation, as I just dabbled a bit with the guitar, can only play a few tunes on the piano, and studied the violin at school to no great acclaim.  Nevertheless, I love music and look forward to attending the Isle of Wight festival and the Sonisphere festival this year and drinking in the music and the atmosphere, along with several glasses of Pimms. 

Music would not help me write at all.  I have to have perfect peace and quiet so that I can think.  I love listening to music, but not when I’m trying to write.  If I hear music playing when I’m trying to write I end up listening to the song and singing along if I know it.

You have often spoken of your cancer. What was the single most important lesson you learned from it? Did this experience compel you to write?

What I learned is that having cancer does not always mean a death sentence.  If it is caught in time, then you have just as much chance of surviving as anybody else.  

My cancer was diagnosed in 2005, but I am still here, still healthy (if a bit battered around the edges), and still ready to rock.  I’ve also had a skin cancer taken off as well, so I can proudly say that I’ve beaten cancer twice.  If I was diagnosed yet again, it would not fill me with the horror that it filled me with the first time.

However, I am a realist.  We will all die in the end, but what I do is try to look after my middle-aged body as best I can so that it lets me work and earn a living, and lets me walk around the festivals for a few days without pain, and without a care in the world.

Why Stevie Turner as your nom de plume? Why did you choose a pen name when you are published using your own name?

I use my real name for my non-fiction books about cancer, but I prefer the anonymity of a pen name for my novels.  My family do not know (well….I think my mum has probably guessed) I write fiction, and due to the sensitive subject of my debut novel that’s the way I prefer it.  Who knows, one day I might do away with Stevie, but I’m kind of used to her now.  Even my husband calls me Stevie sometimes!

“The Porn Detective” has at its heart a man’s secret obsession with pornography, and “A House without Windows” explores the behaviour of a stalker who then kidnaps and imprisons his victim. At first blush quite different subjects, but, upon analysis, they both revolve around dark secrets and forbidden obsessions. What attracts you to this subject matter? 

I’ve always been interested in what makes people tick.  Perhaps I should have studied psychology at college instead of leaving school and working in a laboratory.  It’s too late now, but I’m fascinated by why people do things rather than by the things they do.  I tend to analyse everyone, and always enjoy reading psychological thrillers.  If you come a bit closer I’ll start analysing you, so look out!

What is your view of pornography? Should we censor our unfettered access to it, the better to protect our young, and so preserve respect as the foundation of a happy and balanced relationship?

Pornography is an insidious cancer that has spread its poisoned tentacles into all walks of life.  It’s everywhere you look, and a terrible trap for those with addictive personalities.  Unrealistic expectations through watching porn damages a man’s attitude towards women. Thankfully my own marriage survived, but millions of other relationships do not.  I’m not sure the young can be protected from it; they’ll find a way to view it to satisfy their curiosity, but it’s the parent’s duty to set a good example and teach their children the joys and rewards they can find in a loving relationship.

Your popular Kooblogs often have a light hearted tone and “the Pilates Class”, has a frothy theme? Would you class it as “chick lit”?

I would class ‘The Pilates Class’ as humorous fiction.  I think for Chick-Lit there has to be one strong female character throughout the book?  There’s nothing I like better than a good laugh, and my latest book (as yet unpublished) I hope will give the reader even more of a laugh than ‘The Pilates Class’.

How important is humour to you? What makes you laugh loudest and longest?

Without the ability to laugh, we are nothing.  I am an EastEnder, and we Londoners have a sense of humour all our own.   I love anything with a modicum of wit.  I laugh at Stephen Fry, Julian Clary, Noel Coward and the like.  I laugh at some of the things my mum comes out with.  For instance, when she was in hospital recovering from cancer about 20 years ago, she had several visitors who brought her flowers.  When she woke up one morning on the ward and was half asleep lying on her back, she saw all the vases of flowers around her and wondered for a fleeting moment if she had died and had been laid out in the Chapel of Rest!

You started writing poetry as a teenager, some of it you have shared on Koobug. How important is poetry to you? Who is your favourite poet?

I find poetry is a quick way for me to jot down my thoughts and feelings at a particular moment.  It’s not as important as writing my novels, and I don’t write as much poetry now as I used to.  My favourite poets are Wordsworth and Tennyson.  

Which authors had the biggest impact upon you and why?

When I was a child, Enid Blyton had the ability to transport me from the grimy East End of London into an exciting world of secret passages, smugglers, public schools, mysteries, and child detectives.  

As a teenager I loved A.J Cronin’s books, particularly ‘The Keys of the Kingdom’.  As an adult I love to read books by D.H Lawrence, R.F Delderfield, L.P Hartley, and also autobiographies of musicians.  I have also started to read and review other Indie authors’ works, and am enjoying this immensely.

Your newspaper of choice?

I don’t have time to read newspapers, but if I bought one on holiday it would be The Daily Mail or The Times.

Your favourite film and you favourite TV show?

I don’t watch much TV. A lot of it is rubbish, especially soaps and reality shows with so-called ‘celebrities’ I have never heard of.  I like documentaries, but nothing in particular.  I prefer to write in silence, read, listen to music, or walk about outside.

My favourite film is either ‘The Godfather part 1’ or ‘The Go-Between’; two very different films, but I can’t decide which one is my favourite!

Are you political and are you religious?

No I am not political at all, but I believe in an afterlife.  There is definitely a Spirit world, as I have received ‘messages’ via a Medium that only my deceased aunt could have imparted.  I have seen ghosts of animals as a child.  

I don’t know if there is a God.  There may be, but who knows for certain?  I don’t believe parents should brainwash their children into accepting their own religious beliefs; the child should make up its own mind. I believe we are put upon this earth to grow spiritually and learn from our past mistakes.  I live a good life, have a clear conscience, and have no fear of meeting a God (if he exists) in the next world.  

Are you really a soccer widow, living in a motorbike-obsessed household? If so how do you balance all that testosterone with the creative life?

Yes, my husband loves his football and his bike.  I hate football with a passion I never knew I had, but one day I’m definitely going to buy a skid lid and get on the back of his bike.  I let him ride out into his man cave, and he lets me sit at my desk and write.  It suits us both. Sometimes we even speak to each other!

How did your Chicago book club experience prove? Have you been to the “Windy City”. Many consider it the heart of the American literary community? 

Hmm… beware of people saying they are from a Chicago book club and promising to make your book their reading book of the month.  Sadly this never happened after all.  I have yet to visit Chicago, but perhaps one day I will……

Tell us about your upcoming TV appearance? How did it come about?

It’s an Internet appearance rather than a TV appearance.  A cameraman from a small film company came to my house and filmed me talking about the cancer treatment I received, and how I feel now, 9 years on from being diagnosed.  I also got the chance to promote the two books I wrote regarding my cancer journey.  My part in the film, along with 9 other people’s journeys, will be going to make an Internet film about surviving cancer that hopefully will help others who have just been diagnosed.

How did you discover

Looking back, I think it was Sarah Lynch who told me about it.  Thanks for that Sarah; it opened up a whole new world for me……

What does Koobug mean to you?

It means the chance to connect with fellow writers and the opportunity it gives me to read some of their work.  I also learn from them by asking questions.  I’ve felt rather silly asking some of the questions I’ve asked, but in particular Sarah Lynch, Chris Harrison, and Queen of Spades have been very helpful in the past, and have answered my queries with patience and good humour.

Tell us about your reaction when “The Porn Detective” became our latest Koobug top book?

I wasn’t aware that it was a top book until James Ahearne congratulated me.  Of course I was absolutely delighted when I skipped to the Home page and saw it, so thanks James, and thanks to everyone who helped to put it there.

How would you tell the world about

I’ve sent a daily tweet for some time now that mentions the Koobug site.  I’m very eager to spread the word about such an excellent site any way I can.

What’s next for you?

Waiting to hear back from 4 agents who have asked to read chapters of my fifth novel, as yet unpublished.  I have the tentative plot of my sixth novel partly formed in my head, and often find myself thinking about that when I should be working (tut, tut).

When you pen your best seller, where will you lay your head?

On my Edwardian desk and cry with relief I expect!

On a desert island

- your one book?  

The Go-Between by L.P Hartley; a tale of times gone past, set in the Norfolk countryside I love.

- your one piece of music? 

That’s a tough one; Handel’s ‘Zadok the Priest’ has got to be up at the top there.  It sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it……

- your one luxury?  

My lip salve.

How would you cope with the solitude?

Very well….remember that I’m an only child!  I’ll read my book, look on the bright side, and store up a multitude of memories to turn into a novel when I’m rescued and can get my hands on a computer.

Thanks to Ian at Koobug for posing such thought-provoking questions.

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