Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dogsbody and Scumsters: A Collaboration

Just before I went on my little holiday Faye Dayan, of Roast Books, sent me Dogsbodies and Scumsters written by Alan McCormick and illustrated by Jonny Voss. It is a collection of two sorts of stories: Dogsbodies and Scumsters. The Dogsbodies are short stories about 'characters in the underbelly of an urban landscape' and these were my favourite. They have a beguiling simplicity which really drew me in, and I found each Dogsbody an entertaining and interesting read. The Sacred Elephant, for instance, gradually builds an uncomfortable atmosphere dealing with an unusual example of immigration and acceptance, while Real Mummy is a dark tale with an effective twist. The Scumsters are surreal short shorts inspired by the illustrations by Jonny Voss. The selection, then, is wide in both variety and style.

Half of all proceeds from the sales of this book, which is published on May 26th, are donated to InterAct Reading Service, a charity dedicated to supporting stroke recovery.

I was interested in the collaboration between the two, so I sent both Alan and Jonny a set of questions which they decided to answer together, returned to me by Alan McCormick.


Alan was recently Writer in Residence for the Stroke charity, InterAct Reading Service. His short stories have won numerous prizes and have been widely published and performed.

Jonny Voss studied illustration at Brighton University and then went on to study at the RCA. He has been working in London as an illustrator since 2000.

Alan and Jonny collaborate on illustrated shorts under the name, Scumsters (see also dogsbodiesandscumsters, 3ammagazine and deaddrunkdublin)


About Dogsbodies...

CD: How did you first meet?
AM: Jonny lived in Clapton with his girl-friend along with my future wife. I was a frequent visitor from Vauxhall on my scooter.

CD: What comes first and why- the pictures or the words?
AM: For all our short adult work like Scumsters, Jonny always does the pictures first. The exception in the book is the longer piece, 'Reasons to Swim Inside theSky', where Jonny's pictures illustrated my story. We've also written the first draft of a children's book where the words have come first.

In terms of our collaboration then its pictures first 90% of the time. It helps keep things instinctive and free - Jonny draws quickly and I react with the first thing that comes into my mind when I look at his pictures.

CD: How do you communicate? How often do you contact each other?
AM: Nearly always by email. Sometimes a few times a day, sometimes once a week or fortnight.

CD: Do you ever have disagreements? How do you settle them?
AM: We started this all off for ourselves, just to draw and write. I needed the inspiration, I like reacting to things rather then always having the weight of coming up with an original idea. So we had no expectation of how it might work out, and it's been a lot of fun.

The only time I've disagreed with Jonny is when he draws me and makes me look too fat with an overly square-shaped head. In the book (see pic) he has drawn himself as a dashing Roman God and me as a crusty-mouthed senator gazing blankly at him.

We don't really disagree because we both enjoy what the other does; I think Jonny is a completely original one-off and I'm lucky to get to work with him.

CD: How is a story enhanced by an illustration?
AM: It works best when the words and illustrations fire off each other rather than describe or repeat each other, and I think we manage that at times.

CD: What is the best feature of your collaboration?
AM: The freshness and un self-conscious way we approach it. Jonny's pictures inspire and free me to write in a way I probably couldn't otherwise do.

CD: Where do you prefer to work?
AM: We started collaborating about 5 years ago. Each morning we'd go for a walk and draw or write the first thing we saw that took our eye and then send it to each other. I lived in Vauxhall and Jonny lived near the canals in Hackney. Not only is he more visual but he found more interesting things to inspire him - old mattresses, sofas, coathangers, herons, ducks, biscuits, factory debris . .. Pretty soon we found it more productive to let the words follow the pictures. So it started from an outside thing. Nowadays, Jonny works in his studio and I write on my computer at home.

General Questions.
CD: Do you have any connection with snails?
AM: I used to live in a co-op in New Cross next to a biker--Sioux--Indian-follower called Happy. He started breeding snails in his garden to sell to French restaurants. They were the wrong type though, inedible apparently and they used to end up sliding down our windows or crushed and dying on our kitchen floor.

CD: What is your proudest moment?
AM: Drink. Babies, that kind of thing.

CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
AM: Kids; they change everything.

CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
AM: Working in the early 80's in a psychiatric hospital, an old crumbling small town asylum beneath the Sussex Downs. Wonderful views from in there, very sad when you got inside.

CD: What is happiness?
AM: Surprising and indescribable. I know it's been said before but I find the (western? contemporary?) obsession with happiness, as a right and an end to single-mindedly demand in our lives troubling and superficial. That some Governments are now interested in analysing and promoting happiness is worrying.

CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?

AM: Clear my throat and have a shower.


Blogger Sue Guiney said...

Fascinating. I'm looking forward to my little chat with him next week. Very different questions....

Wed May 18, 08:56:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Look forward to seeing that, Sue.

Wed May 18, 09:02:00 am  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

A bit off topic, Clare, sorry, but have you seen this post on Random Jottings today? Rather good I thought.

Wed May 18, 09:38:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Maxine! VERY interesting!

Wed May 18, 09:57:00 am  
Anonymous marly youmans said...


Your interviews are always enjoyable... And having two subjects is amusing.

Finally got back to Cooperstown. And I loved seeing you at Powis Castle. Let's meet somewhere outrageous again!

Wed May 18, 06:19:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Marly...and yes please! Outrageous is good.

Very glad to hear you got back safely, and looking forward to doing it again some time soon!

Thu May 19, 09:42:00 am  
Blogger Nik Perring said...

Cool interview, folks!

Fri May 20, 12:09:00 am  

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