OBS reviewer Lee is back with a new interview featuring Mitzi Szereto & Teddy Tedaloo author of ‘Normal for Norfolk‘. They chat about the inspiration behind the story, characters, upcoming projects and more. Enjoy!
Read OBS review for Normal for Norfolk (The Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles, Book #1) here.
Visit author Mitzi Szereto:
- Normal for Norfolk (The Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles)
- Mitzi Szereto website
- Mitzi Szereto on Twitter
- Teddy Tedaloo on Twitter
- Mitzi Szereto Facebook fan page
- Teddy Tedaloo Facebook fan page
- Errant Ramblings: Mitzi Szereto’s Weblog
- Mitzi TV
- Mitzi Szereto Goodreads
- Mitzi Szereto Google+ official page
- Mitzi Szereto MySpace
Lee: You’ve mostly written a lot of erotic fiction in the past, and even taught workshops on it. What made you decide to switch directions and write Normal for Norfolk?
Mitzi: It isn’t as much of a switch as you might think. There’s a misconception that I only write erotic fiction. Granted, I am known for it, but in reality, I’ve done a lot of genre blending and crossing over in my writing career, even within the erotic fiction area. I did a crime anthology called Getting Even: Revenge Stories, and my anthology Dying For It: Tales of Sex and Death was a mix of many genres of fiction, including literary, crime, romance and horror. Plus my upcoming anthology, Thrones of Desire: Erotic Tales of Swords, Mist and Fire is very much fantasy oriented. As a writer, I don’t want to be typecast or stuck in a rut. I want to keep doing new things and keep readers guessing as to what I’ll come up with next. Normal for Norfolk (The Thelonious T. Bear Chronicles) is adding something else to my portfolio, expanding on genres I’ve already taken a pen to, i.e. crime, mystery, fantasy and humour.
Lee: Your co-author is Teddy Tedaloo, a bear character that features on your website. What led to Teddy’s creation?
Mitzi: He isn’t a creation. He’s a bear with his own mind—and he isn’t afraid to speak it either! We met about 14 years ago in Seattle, Washington. It’s a long story as to how he ended up on my doorstep, but we became inseparable from that moment on. He’s quite a character and a personality in his own right. I know for a fact that Normal for Norfolk’s ursine protagonist Thelonious T. Bear would never have existed were it not for Teddy. He’s got a lot of fans and admirers, so I’m really chuffed that he agreed to allow me to write this book with him.
Lee: What I liked most about Thelonious T. Bear is that, apart from the quite obvious fact that he is a teddy bear, he could also pass for any uptight, proper Englishman with a love of nice clothes and a good pint. What led you to write the story about a bear rather than just an average Englishman?
Mitzi: Who wants to read about the average uptight proper Englishman? There’s nothing new in that! Our entire concept was to write a novel featuring an ursine protagonist, so Thelonious T. Bear became the key component before anything else in the book was developed. Thelonious took on a life of his own, more so than I’d ever envisioned. He does have his share of bad luck—things just keep happening to him beyond his control, which is something we can all identify with. He can speak for many people, in that he’s fed up with the nonsense of urban life and just wants a peaceful existence without stress and hassle. He’s also fed up with being made to feel as if there’s something wrong with him because he’s different. The story can even be seen as an allegory for those who don’t fit into society because of how they look or perhaps due to a disability or some form of physical limitation. The book is intended to be good fun, but there are things going on beneath the surface that will make you step back a bit and think.
Lee: The gangster characters seem like they walked straight out of a Guy Ritchie movie like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, while various plot devices reminded me strongly of Raymond Chandler. What were your literary and cultural influences when writing the story?
Mitzi: Teddy and I didn’t have any specific literary influences when writing the book, or any we were aware of. It was pretty much all cultural, stemming from living in Britain and seeing and experiencing the various elements of British society for ourselves. I’ve spent time in London’s East End, living only a stone’s throw away by train, plus I’ve known many people from East London as well as from Essex (innit!), so you tend to pick up a few things. If you can believe it, Grant and Phil Mitchell from the BBC television series EastEnders initially inspired the characters of Vinnie and Desmond Clark. Mind you, the Clark brothers take things a lot further than the Mitchells. The Clarks, and Vinnie in particular, fancy themselves as the contemporary Kray Brothers—the famous gangster twins in 1950s and 60s East London. They also see themselves as members of the disenfranchised white working-class England—the kind of blokes who support the old-school British National Party and accuse every foreigner of taking away their livelihoods and mooching off the system. Ironically, it’s the Clark brothers who are mooching off the system. And unless you consider activities of an illegal nature to be a proper livelihood, they don’t have one of those either. The character of Detective Chief Inspector Horatio Sidebottom of Norfolk Constabulary CID came from outside the UK. There are many references from Thelonious comparing him to the American TV detective Columbo—and that’s who we patterned him on, except Lieutenant Columbo actually did possess skills in crime solving, unlike the annoying DCI Sidebottom, whose experience with crime seems limited to the apprehending of sheep-rustling Gypsies.
Lee: As a die-hard Arsenal supporter myself, I enjoyed the football references in the novel. Are you a West Ham supporter in real life, like Vinnie and Desmond Clark?
Mitzi: I actually don’t like sports and never have, so I’d have to say no. However, East London and Essex tend to be diehard West Ham supporters, therefore the Clark brothers, living in Bow, East London, would support the team. What amuses me (and this is referenced in the novel) was how everyone kissed the ground Carlos Tévez walked on when he joined West Ham—until he ran off to Manchester when more money was dangled in front of his nose. In fact, Vinnie goes berserk every time the man’s name is mentioned; he considers Tévez a traitor of the worst kind!
Lee: The Drowned Duck pub seemed very real to life, as did all of the characters who populated it regularly. Is any of that based off of a real life pub that you know?
Mitzi: It wasn’t based on any one specific pub, no. But I did pick up some bits and pieces from my stay in Norfolk. The pub’s creation was triggered by a Welsh vicar from a parish in Essex whom we met in a Norfolk village pub. You’ve got to admit that’s quirky in and of itself. That encounter pretty much set things in motion for us. The idea for the character of Fag-stain Man came about when I ran into one of the neighbours at my friend’s rural Norfolk farmhouse. He was apparently some ex-rock music personage from the Sixties—and so the idea of Fag-stain Man was born. Surely you must have guessed who he’s based on? We made it as obvious as possible without setting ourselves up for a lawsuit! Lord Nelson, the publican’s dog at The Drowned Duck, came about while we were having pints and dinner in a pub near the Norfolk coast. There was a small dog at the bar, and it was apparent that he’d taken an interest in my friend’s dog, who just so happened to be in season. I don’t think I need to say anything further on the subject. I would love to have The Drowned Duck as my local. In fact, I’d probably be quite happy living in Little Acre with Teddy!
Lee: Norfolk is an interesting place to set a novel, particularly for American readers whose familiarity with England mostly covers just London. What was it about Norfolk that appealed to you as a setting?
Mitzi: It’s a place that’s full of surprises and oddities, not to mention having an oddball reputation when it comes to the locals, ergo things being “normal for Norfolk.” The county is set away from the rest of England, being at the complete eastern edge of the country, and there’s no motorway that takes you directly there. It’s quite conceivable Norfolk, or a sizeable chunk of it, will end up underwater at some point, since much of it was drained in the past to create farmland. In Norfolk if you don’t leave the beach by a certain time, the tide will come in and drown you—and many people have lost their lives, so it’s a precarious place in some respects. You also have a strange dichotomy in population—the unpretentious Norfolk country folk versus all these Londoners and celebrities going up on the weekends, turning the pubs and villages into mini Londons. That scene in the book where Thelonious stumbles into a gastropub and sees a humidor full of Cuban cigars is actually true. The pub exists, along with the hooting and braying Chelsea-ites in the beer garden. By contrast, you can find a house with a display box selling sprigs of freshly picked lavender via an honour system. So in many ways Norfolk is that return to the past Thelonious was seeking, minus the gastropubs, of course!
Lee: Will any of the colorful supporting characters in Normal for Norfolk return for future installments of Thelonious’s adventures?
Mitzi: That’s always a possibility and we’d love to have them back! I can’t tell you how much fun it was to create these people. We developed quite a fondness for Zimmer-frame Granny and Fag-stain Man and their whisky-drinking competitions. And let’s not forget the flatulent Lord Nelson. Who knows when and where they might reappear?
Lee: What kinds of adventures can we expect Thelonious T. Bear to get into next? Where else will his photojournalism work take him besides Norfolk?
Mitzi: We’ve already decided on a location, but it’s top-secret, I’m afraid! All I can tell you is that it won’t be in the United Kingdom. As for Thelonious’s adventures, he’ll be ending up in a right pickle again! But this time he’s going to be more pro-active. Thanks to DCI Sidebottom, he’s learned not to count on law enforcement to have any common sense, let alone do their jobs properly, so Thelonious’s trusty Sherlock Holmes-style deerstalker hat will be getting a bit more use in the next instalment.
Thanks to author Mitzi Szereto and Teddy Teladoo for a great interview!