Hi all, today in the ongoing series of questionnaire-style interviews (I must have snatched the idea from distant memories of Shoot! and Look-In! magazines from my childhood, when football players and TV personalities/pop stars respectively would get quizzed in a similar manner about their likes and interests) is Erica Buist, whose book This Party's Dead is currently being crowdfunded via Unbound Publishing.
Here's Erica to explain more:
1. Who are you and what’s your book about?
I’m Erica Buist and I’m a freelance journalist, mostly for the Guardian. My book, This Party’s Dead, is about the world’s death festivals. It starts with the sudden and unexpected death of my father-in-law (which I wrote about in the Guardian), after which I decided to travel to seven countries to see how various cultures deal more joyfully with death.
2. Why should folk read your book?
It tackles something we will all go through (though I hope your experience with a losing a loved one is less graphic than mine). It’s full of fascinating people, rituals and facts – and editors who have read extracts have informed me they literally both laughed and cried.
3. What’s the appeal of your book?
It should appeal to those fascinated by how death affects us in our day-to-day lives, and also travel buffs. I’m visiting death festivals in Mexico, Nepal, Sicily, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, and Madagascar. There’s also a quick stop off in San Francisco and New Orleans. Come with me!
4. Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy?
The book is available on Unbound (as I’m writing it, because that’s how fast the modern world moves). It’ll be a little while yet as my final death festival is next September, but subscribers get updates as I go. You can grab a hardback or digital version, and there are even a few cooler options – would you like a bag of traditional Sicilian ‘bones of the dead’ biscotti with your book? Personalised video updates from the death festivals? A Spanish lesson from the author? A couple of people have even pledged for the option to have me call them at a random moment in the next year and rap Alphabet Aerobics.
5. Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it:
I would LOVE to be the sort of writer with a typical writing day. It’s tricky because I juggle book-writing with pay-the-bills writing, and you never know which will demand more of your time week to week. I write in my basement office (cosy in winter but pains me when it’s sunny outside), where I have two armchairs, a bunch of floating bookshelves with blankets, a desk and a £40 Nespresso machine. My dog sits on the armchair, sleeping or watching me work, until it’s time to go for a walk. If inspiration strikes when I’m away from my desk, I type it all into my phone. I have nearly had several treadmill accidents this way.
6. Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?
It’s not strictly about writing, but I like Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey because it dispels those myths that “good writers always write in the morning” or “successful writers write every day” and what have you. Artists over the centuries have had vastly different routines and it’s really fine to pick one that works for you instead of trying to emulate what worked for Sartre (I could never handle that much amphetamine anyway).
7. Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer:
The first book that made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and it was then that I started understanding the world pretty much entirely through comedy. I also loved the way Jonathan Tropper explored bereavement in How to Be a Widower, moving and heartbreaking and frequently hilarious. And I only got round to reading The Glass Castle this year; it’s a memoir I love for the incredible level of detail she recalls, and the essential ones that made us feel like we know her infuriating parents.
8. Pick three desert island books - works you couldn’t live without:
Three is SO STINGY. Surely there’s space on this damn island for more than three?! Ugh, fine; I’ll go with The Secret Garden for nostalgia, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin because it’s great and really long (I assume I’ll have a lot of time to kill on this island?) and a book of short stories, so I can feel like I have more books. Maybe One More Thing by BJ Novak.
9. Any words of writing wisdom?
Writing nonfiction takes a lot of research, so write the parts you know first, the story on which to paint the rest. Then as you research, start to expand and colour it all in.
Don’t forget character, even though it’s nonfiction. The reader needs to know the characters just as much as they do in fiction. I would go so far as to say write nonfiction as if it’s fiction, with all the colour that entails – just make sure it’s true. The book Nine Lives: Life and Death in New Orleans by Dan Baum does this wonderfully.
Interview as many people as you can, and always ask, “Who else should I speak to?”
As I write, I snack on 100% cacao chocolate. Don’t do that. It’s disgusting.
10. Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch:
Woman is surprisingly devastated at the death of her father-in-law, goes on a quest to see death in a more positive, joyful light. Look, it pains me to say it, but I know the snappy, time-is-money film pitch would be, “Eat, Pray, Love, but funny, atheist, and with dead people”.
Social media contacts:
@ericabuist (Twitter and Instagram)
@thedeathtivals (Twitter specifically about my book)
Unbound URL: https://unbound.com/books/deathtivals/
Huge thanks to Erica for answering my questions. I've supported This Party's Dead and hopefully you will too, so that the book becomes a reality sooner rather than later!