Saturday, October 24, 2009
Alicia Mortlock of Willo sometimes picks her needles up first thing in the morning and puts them up the last thing at night. Travel is a passion, and she considers writing her first love. You can link to her shop by clicking on the title Etsy Knitters and Crocheters on Parade.
Your bio says you love to travel, where have you traveled and where would be your next destination? Tell us the most fascinating place that you have either visited or would like to visit.
When I was young, I always knew that I could fly if I really wanted to. While Life has consequently clipped my wings, I still love to escape the confines of day-to-day routine whenever I can. To paraphrase JFK, ich bin ein europäischer, I am a European, and love Western Europe. I especially enjoyed eating honeyed meringues in a coffee shop in Belgium and comparing notes with the village women in Gozo (an island off Malta) as they crochet outside their houses. Closer to home, I’m not sure that the British coastline can be bettered. I love Cornwall and Northumbria, Norfolk and Suffolk. One of my favourite places is Dunwich, just an hour’s drive away. The fish and chips are delicious and the history of the place wonderful, especially for a writer. It was once an important medieval town, a prosperous seaport and centre for the wool trade, which has fallen, bit by bit into the ocean. Local legend has it that at certain tides, church bells can still be heard under the sea.
I’d love to go back to Italy. I went skiing there in my early twenties and fell in love with the country, if not with my skis. But rather than give you a next destination, can I cheat and tell you where I’d like to travel? Into the past. To meet up with a few relatives and give my son, Edward another hug. My granddad was a Marxist; a real working class hero back in the early 1900’s when it wasn’t such a term of abuse. He lived with us during the last few years of his life but I was only eleven when he died and didn’t quite appreciate what he was trying to tell me. He predicted the recent collapse of the banks and tried to explain to me how we are all part of one collective energy. Now that I properly understand how one starving, homeless or disadvantaged person lessens all of us, I’d love to talk to him again. Then I’d go visit my other granddad, one of the most influential people in my life. He was a gardener as well as a teller of tales and I need to ask him exactly what is wrong with my rambling roses at the moment.
What do you do in between the times that you pick your needles up in the morning and the time you lay them down at night?
My day always starts with breakfast and making sandwiches for Charlie, my seventeen year old daughter. As a feminist, I believe equality should be about choice. For everyone. In the past, I’ve had some pretty responsible (and relatively well-paid) jobs in Youth and Community Development. However, since my divorce, I’ve chosen to live in what I call ‘posh poverty’ in order to be there, physically as well as emotionally for Charlie, No one asks to be the daughter of divorced parents.
When the school bus picks her up at eight, I have my morning walk, although some days my back prevents me from walking any further than the end of the garden. Ten years ago, I injured my spine at work. After months of moaning, I went to see my GP and was whisked into the same hospital where my son Edward had much of his treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. I had slipped a disc, causing some permanent neurological damage (cauda equine syndrome). Thanks to our marvellous NHS, I had an emergency op which saved my legs, bladder and bowel although they’ve never made any promises as to what might happen in the future and I’ve since slipped two further discs on which they can’t operate for fear of further damage to my spinal cord. The doctors called it a miracle that I could walk. To be honest, that was when I fell out with God. I think that miracles should be reserved for mothers praying for their dying sons and it always seems a bit of a sick joke to me that my son died but I kept my legs.
Anyway, back to answering your question... Although my one and only book (for adults) was published back in 2004, I still tend to think of myself, primarily as a writer. In 2005, I was ‘discovered’ by a well-known literary agent, Maggie Noach who also discovered David Almond and Anthony Horowitz. Although she didn’t feel strongly enough about my first children’s novel, ‘Dead Black’ to represent me, she was very encouraging about my work for older children and young adults and asked that she might have the first read of further books. My second novel, ‘Monsters’ was nearing completion when Ms Noach died during a routine back operation and since then, I’ve struggled to find someone who’s prepared to take a risk with a very raw talent. Even so, my head is filled with the life stories of so many characters who want to be heard and I try to listen to at least one of them every day. Even when I don’t write, I try to plan something (or someone) in my head, inspiration usually coming first thing in the morning, somewhere between answering emails, reading Mette’s Morning Message and trawling the internet for inspiration for my knitting.
Some days I work for my ex sister-in-law Kate as a virtual assistant. It’s great for a flibbertigibbet like me, sitting in the comfort of my own home and ‘pretending’ to be a dental receptionist in Cambridge or the secretary to an IT consultant in Hertfordshire. VA work aside, I try spend the rest of the day knitting or designing until Charlie comes home from school. I can’t stand silence, I guess because I worry too much about what might fill it, so I tend to get through a couple of films every day. In the summer, I spend my evenings floating round the garden, pretending I’m the reincarnation of garden designer and my hero, Gertrude Jekyll as I ineffectually prune the roses. In the winter, I usually get back to my knitting.
Tell us how and when you came to knit?
Like many of us, I had a talented grandma (Nana) who taught me much of what I know and an equally clever mum who filled in any blanks. I used to be hypnotised by the way Nana’s finger wound the yarn around the needle and she did lots of cable work which completely had me hooked. By the time my brother was born (when I was seven) I was knitting him booties and matinee coats and I’ve knitted for family and friends since. First thing I knitted with leaves and flowers was a bedspread, unfortunately unfinished, when I was about eight or nine and had the measles.
From these two amazing women, I also learned how to ‘Make do and Mend’. Without wanting to sound like a fossil, I was born in 1960, just six years after the end of rationing and you learned not to waste anything. I swear that every gym bag my sister and I had in primary school was made from the same blue maternity dress, with our names chain stitched on the front. I admit to rebelling against ‘making do’ in my twenties and thirties, but with changing economic circumstances, I’m actually enjoying a return to recycling and charity shop clothes.
What outlets do you find for your talent in the U.K.?
Er... very few, I’m ashamed to say. I only started selling on Etsy to make some money to help finance the writing. I have a shop on Folksy but I don’t look after it properly and deserve the resulting lack of sales. This week, I’ve finally started developing my own website, one of those basic packages, and I hope to have www.knitwillo.com up and running by the end of next week with a view to using it to help promote my work over here. This year I’ve had to turn down a couple of invites to craft fairs and farmers’ markets because of other work commitments. But after muddling through the past year in a rather pedestrian fashion, I’m beginning to see where this particular journey’s taking me. I love my life. I love my work. And I’m going to flap my wings as hard as I can.
LOL, if Alicia knew how many of us were born before 1960, she would feel like a spring chicken.