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My dog ate my vomit and other tales from Kat Sumner-Ailes

Katherine's work space

Kat says: I wrote basically the whole book on post it notes, so it looks a bit like a serial killer’s lair 😬

When did you first hear about the CWIP Prize?

Will I get in trouble if I say one month before the deadline? Not gonna lie, it was a race to the finish…

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

The temptation to invent a more exciting fictional persona is strong… I am… quite normal? I am exactly average height. I have very average hair. I quite like dogs and gardening. My greatest achievement was walking a really really long way (from Mexico to Canada) – something that depends on stubbornness rather than skill. That probably says it all.

As a child I wrote a lot of stories about moles, for reasons I can’t quite remember now. I think some of them were quite intense. As an adult I’ve focused more on humans but have genre dabbled. I tried writing something literary (nope!), then I tried writing a kids/middle-grade book which I enjoyed and would like to revisit. Then I wrote some non-fiction about my very long walk, which I’m still working on.

Talk to me about teenage angst: Was it manifested in poetry or diary form?

Well, my greatest literary achievement to date was winning a poetry prize in primary school for a haiku I wrote about climate change. Which sounds extremely pretentious but I’m 90% sure my mum wrote it for me, because no way did my 7-year-old self, know what a haiku was.

I think that was the last time I attempted a poem, thankfully. I was a prolific diary writer, but fortunately my teenage diaries have all been long since recycled. I can only hope they were reincarnated as five thousand rolls of loo paper. That would be an upgrade.

Can you describe what your novel, THE NCT MURDERS, is about in two sentences?

Its vibe is pretty much pregnant women do Midsomer Murders. Alice moves to a semi-rural idyll in the Mendips, but when her NCT class is disrupted by first, an unexpected birthing, and second, a (more) unexpected murder, she, and a couple of her NCT pals-to-be end up investigating to clear their names. Throw in a hippy commune, a decades-old mysterious death, and a long-lost child, and you have The NCT Murders.

Did you set out to write a funny book?

Broadly, yes? Throughout lockdown I kept a sort of comedy diary for my son, for when he’s older, to document the extremely strange first year of his life. That diary eventually morphed into this book when I heard about the competition.

How did you find the heightened emotions of pregnancy lend themselves to comedy?

There are a lot of adjectives that crop up like weeds when you’re pregnant – glowing, joyful, mystical etc. etc. Personally, I found it a ridiculous and extremely difficult time in my life. Both my body and brain teamed up to put me in the most embarrassing situations possible. I was acting weird. I fell over a lot. I cried at Halifax adverts. And all the while people were constantly telling me what a beautiful time pregnancy is — as I vomited in a bush and wept while my dog ate it. (True story.) I did not enjoy pregnancy (can you tell?) and I didn’t know how to tell people that — and when I did, I got mixed reactions. Like so many people, I find it easiest to talk about things that I found difficult by veiling it in comedy. So I wrote a comedy novel about pregnancy and murder.

And what inspired you to add murder into the mix?

You should meet my NCT class… Only joking, they’re great, love you guys! (No really, they’re the best.) I just love cosy crime — specifically the golden era. I think the Edmund Crispin novels are pure joy — ‘the only solution is liquid soap!’ — so the decision to insert a semi-farcical murder seemed something of a given…

Also, if I was ever going to murder someone, it was while I was pregnant. Those pregnancy hormones are for real — then take away my coffee and wine and… bad times. The dog came that close to becoming a rug. As did my husband.

Who do you enjoy reading?

I used to work for a literary publisher, and if asked ten years ago would have probably said something deeply worthy (and untrue) like Proust (never read it, never will). But actually, as I reach the incredibly mature years of my early thirties, I find I really like middle grade/young adult adventure stories. I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Terry Pratchett. And I love funny women. The three books that got me through three lockdowns (which included birthing a child, starting a new job over Zoom, and moving house twice — it was extremely stressful) were Samantha Irby’s We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, Allie Brosh’s Solutions and Other Problems and Georgia Pritchett’s My Mess is a Bit of a Life. Highly recommend all three.

And of course, cosy crime – as mentioned!

What’s your favourite type of humour?

I love an extended riff that goes on for slightly too long. I’m currently obsessed with the Three Bean Salad podcast — they really know how to overextend a joke. And I like humour that doesn’t really make sense and probably isn’t actually even funny. (Again, see the Three Beans.)

I like comedy that points out how utterly absurd life is. Everyday life is actually ridiculous — the mundane and the surreal hand in hand. I want to laugh at someone talking about umbrellas. Or toast. Or elbows.

And, of course, I also like a bit of gently rude humour — I will never grow out of that. I still chuckle every time a recipe calls for a ‘knob of butter’.

What’s your most cringe moment in the last five years if you’d care to share for our delight?

Having birthed a child in that time, the options are pretty much limitless. On balance it is probably when I got mastitis. I needed to get that milk out so bad — I read that you could use an electric toothbrush to help get things moving. I’m an old-fashioned manual brusher, so after trying and failing to use an electric milk frother I went all out and used a vibrator. It was extremely efficient.

Is there a funny line, scene, or book that you wish you’d written?

Anything by the three funny lady writers I mentioned above!

Where does your writing magic happen, and can you tell us about your writing routine?

Well. We keep moving house… (I feel like this sounds like we’re on the run. Actually, we’re just quite indecisive.) So, at the moment, anywhere I can wedge myself in amongst boxes and fend off the attentions of my loving family.

I would say my routine is broadly: deadline = panic = write all the words.

Helen Lederer ‘So many gems here, vibrator, liquid soap and the dog’s enthusiasm for vomit…keep panicking - it works!'

2021 Unpublished Longlist
‘The NCT Murders’ by our Kat Sumner-Ailes is fifth from the right

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