Thursday, June 3, 2021

K.A. Masson Interview - Alter Ego

Photo Content from K.A. Masson

K.A. Masson lives in London with her teenage son, and has worked for over twenty years in design, bringing to life the words of others. Alter Ego is her first novel.


Greatest thing you learned at school?
That education is incredibly powerful – with it, you can do whatever you want. Without education, our world and experiences can be very limited

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Humans have been telling stories for thousands of years. I really believe stories help us understand the human condition, other people and ourselves.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
I think it’s receiving lovely reviews from total strangers. Of course there are the odd one or two rubbish ones, but the response to Alter Ego has been overwhelmingly positive. I had one the other day – the person said s/he couldn’t put it down, and that it was highly worth forgoing sleep for. That made me smile so much!

Tell us your latest news.
Firstly, I have written a 10,000-word epilogue to Alter Ego, written from the perspective of the antagonist. I won’t say any more as I’d hate to give away any spoilers, but it will be available for free from my website and I’m also printing a 100 copies to give away to readers on Instagram.

I’m also starting book number two! I have planned the beats (the main events in each chapter), and have written the first few chapters. Very exciting! My working title is ‘303’.

Can you tell us when you started ALTER EGO, how that came about?
I hadn’t written anything longer than an email since my college dissertation, and not since school had I produced anything that was entirely fictional. But when my relationship began to seriously fall apart as a result of my partner’s serious depression, and with a young baby to look after and having to keep working as I was the only breadwinner, I turned to writing down my thoughts as a way to cope with the stress.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I’d really love readers to empathise with my protagonist, Alex, though I don’t think everybody will like her. She makes some bizarre choices, but I think she makes them for the right reasons!

For those who are unfamiliar with Alex, how would you introduce her?
As a single mum in her early forties, living with her young son in London. She’s a freelance photographer and works hard, but she has a wild, impetuous side that can (and does) get her into trouble.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Wow, what a brilliant question! I think Alex would have a lot in common with Yvonne Carmichael, the protagonist in Louise Doughty’s ‘Apple Tree Yard’. I think they’d chat over a glass or three of wine, about the female condition and how men and women really are from different planets!

Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?
Yes, I think reviews have helped me understand that everyone will interpret a book differently, depending on their own perspective. There have been some reviews that were very scathing of Alex, and I did question whether I’d portrayed her as too extreme. However, I think if she’d been happy to sit at home on her own every night it would have been a very different book!

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Fall in love.

Best date you've ever had?
Sometimes the best dates don’t necessarily result in the best relationships. The first date with my soulmate was very low-key, and we spent most of it talking about our failed marriages!

What is the first job you have had?
I picked dandelions for my grandfather one sunny afternoon, when I was about ten. He paid me £1

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
Another brilliant question! I was a teenager in the 80s which at the time seemed exciting – there was so much fantastic music for a start. Looking back, the fashion was appalling. Can I go back to the 50s but with a Sony Walkman?

What was a time in your life when you were really scared?
When I became a single mum, when my son was around three-and-a-half, for the first time I had to retrieve the Christmas decorations form the loft. Previously my partner had done it every year. I found everything and had placed the boxes next to the hatch. I leaned over the open space to turn off the light and lost my balance. I was teetering and could easily have fallen the eight or nine feet to the landing below. I managed to grab a beam above me but I was so angry for putting myself in danger, and more importantly, potentially leaving my son motherless. Ever since I have been much more careful!

What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
Time travelling into the future – 2121!

First Heartbreak?
I can’t say – the internet is a big place and I’m not spilling the beans after so many years!

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
I think becoming a parent. Suddenly your perspective changes completely.

  • Klara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Wife – Shalini Boland
  • The Wych Elm – Tana French
  • How to Disappear – Gillian McAllister
  • Khan – Heath Gunn
  • Call Me Mummy – Tina Baker
  • Conviction – Denise Mina
  • Wakeless – Lisa Johnston
  • The Couple Next Door – Shari Lapena
  • An Inspector Call – JB Priestley (my son is studying this!)
Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from ALTER EGO
This scene is from the beginning of Part Two where Mal gets back in touch with Alex. It’s a really pivotal moment – she is desperately unhappy with Adrian but she feels trapped. She’s uprooted her young son Ned from his home to go and live with Adrian, but Ned has begun to make new friends and she’s reluctant to cause any further pain. Is Mal her knight in shining armour?

July had started cold and grey, but by the beginning of the second week it turned unusually hot. At night we lay under a single sheet, the windows wide open. Adrian and I had been living together for almost a year. I still wasn’t used to sleeping in the same bed as someone else. I used to swap sides in the middle of the night, moving over to a plump, cool pillow. Now Adrian occupied that territory, and I resented him for it.

The bed always smelt of male skin, male sweat. I changed the sheets once a week, sometimes more. He slept on his back. At first I’d found his rhythmic, if not exactly quiet, snoring reassuring. In the first months I would rest my head on his chest as we fell asleep. Inevitably I would still be awake as he descended into unconsciousness and I would extricate myself from him, and move over to my own side.

Every morning around five he would get up to use the bathroom; find me a middle-aged man who doesn’t. He would come back to bed and spoon my body, a drop or two of pee caught between his skin and mine. He’d listen for my breathing and fall into line with it. After being woken at 5am I rarely managed to go back to sleep. I would lie awake, pretending, breathing gently and evenly so that he could follow. But more than that; to avoid a conversation with him, or, heaven forbid, to have sex.

It was one of those mornings. Penny whined downstairs, so I slipped away from him when I could tell from his breathing he'd gone back to sleep.

I padded downstairs, wearing a thin cotton dress; my attire for taking Penny out into the garden. It was the first full summer we’d lived with Adrian and, as the mornings started ever earlier, the first bright rays of light reached corners of the kitchen that for most of the day were in deep shadow. The house was positioned in more or less the same direction as the Gipsy Hill one, with the kitchen facing east. I couldn’t tell whether the similarity was comforting or the exact opposite. I fed the cats and Penny, then opened the patio doors, taking my laptop with me. I liked to make the most of that time, before anyone else was awake, before I had to make breakfast and organise Ned and Adrian.

I sat on the top step of the decking and, as the laptop glowed into life, I took in the garden, all bluish, viridian shades in the early morning light. There was a gentle breeze that bent the wall of young bamboo stalks along the right side of the garden. I felt a thrill up my spine and down my arms as the cold pricked my skin, giving me goose pimples.

I’d been cleaning up fifteen or so shots of a gorgeous open-plan studio in Spitalfields. I was given the job by an architect friend of a friend who in turn had been commissioned by a sculptor. She wanted to turn two floors of a former warehouse into a live-work space.

A wonderful job that had turned into a nightmare, with the woman changing her mind every five minutes, not agreeing the budget, not paying... John the architect was ready to throw the towel in, but somehow managed to get it finished. Though the relationship between him and his client had all but broken down.

The sculptor refused to let him have the place photographed.

‘Fuck that,’ John said, in a protracted text conversation we’d had about the job. ‘I’m sorry to ask, Alex, but can we go and do the shoot really early one morning before she gets there? And before she remembers I’ve still got keys and demands them back?’

I’d agreed, with a disclaimer. ‘That’s fine, John, but I’ve had quite enough conflict in my life over the last few years. She’s not going to barge in and throw all my camera equipment out the window, is she? Maybe me too?’

The enormous windows should have afforded us plenty of natural light, but a 5am shoot, even in July, relied heavily on it being a bright, sunny morning. It was cloudy and, on top of that, the windows faced west, so I had to use flash. By seven the cloud had thinned, allowing moments of bright sunshine to bounce off the windows of the building opposite and filling the studio with sharp, almost eerie, silver-white light and dark grey geometric shadows. It worked brilliantly, but I was in constant fear that Scary Sculptor, as she’d become known, would turn up and go nuts.

I liked working quickly – it forced me to make decisions based on instinct. In addition, the light was constantly changing. I said to John I might need to do quite a bit of work afterwards to balance the colour and light. We needed to make sure we got all the shots done as it was highly unlikely we’d get another chance. I couldn’t guarantee I’d managed to take the perfect exposure for each shot, but I knew from looking at the screen on the back of the Canon they were going to make a very nice set – not just for the architect but for my portfolio too. It was just after eight when John agreed to do one last shot; half past, and I was running down the street to my car, tripod and lights weighing me down, hoping I’d reach it before the traffic warden.

The retouching had been time-consuming. Not difficult work, but tedious and repetitive, and it was difficult to stop my mind wandering. I wanted to get it all finished though. John wasn’t paying me a huge amount, and I was probably spending more time on the Photoshop work than the job warranted, but I wanted them to be perfect, as much for me as the client. And it gave me an excuse not to spend the evenings with Adrian. Once Ned was in bed I went back to my studio in the basement and sat with a glass of red wine, making tiny adjustments to the curves, cleaning up reflections of my lens in shiny metal surfaces. I’d save four or five versions. To the casual observer they looked exactly the same; some were slightly warmer, some with a tiny amount of noise added for texture. I’d sent John a set of low-res JPEGs the night before and I was keen to see if he’d replied. I really wanted him to like them.

I searched through my emails down to ones sent the night before, not long after I’d sent the files. He might just have sent a ‘thanks, Alex, will look in the morning’ reply. But before I spotted his name, my eyes focused on another. MALCOLM RUSSELL. In caps. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. My eyes were tired after five hours’ sleep. I rubbed them and looked back at the screen.

How many times had I willed that name to appear? How many times had I hoped he’d email, or call, or text? Sometimes I’d found myself picking out the letters that made up his name from others, as if stringing them all together was some kind of subliminal message from him.

A few months before, on a cold, grey February afternoon, I’d typed in the name of a client whose surname was Mallinson and Mal’s email address had come up as a suggestion. It had crossed my mind then, that I could send him an email pretending I was sending it to Karen Mallinson. My mouse hovered over his name for twenty seconds before I realised how pathetic that would be, how sad he would think I was, seeing through me immediately. I dismissed the thought and it never surfaced again.

Sitting in the garden of Adrian’s huge stuccoed villa in west London at six in the morning, my life didn’t resemble the one I’d had the last time I’d seen Mal. My heartbeat had increased so much that I could feel blood vessels pounding in my ears. What if I clicked and deleted it, or clicked and somehow sent a blank reply? He’d think I was an idiot. I could hardly bear to see what he’d written. My hand trembled as I clicked on the email.

Hi Alex, I’ve just noticed a message you sent me on Facebook, ages ago! I’m so sorry not to reply earlier. I hope things are still going well for you and that the move to west London you mentioned has worked out as well as hoped – you deserve to be happy. Best wishes, Malcolm.

PS You may not remember but we met for coffee at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton and we both loved Nick Cave. His new album is fantastic... but of course you’ll already know that!

My eyes filled with tears, so that the whole laptop screen blurred. I hadn’t noticed Penny coming to sit next to me, but I was slowly aware of the familiar warmth of her body against my thigh. I looked down at her, wiping the tears away, and she looked up quizzically, whining gently. I tickled her under the chin, working down her throat to the rough little whirls of fur on her breastbone. I bent my head down to her so that we touched noses, and she flopped down on the decking next to me, resting her chin on my lap, folding her elegant limbs to the side.

I felt numb. There’d been no great declaration in his message, just an acknowledgment that he’d received mine. Did I believe Mal? That he hadn’t seen it at the time? Not really. I had sent the message to him a year or so after meeting Adrian, when we’d first started talking about living together. I’d been so excited and had skipped home to south east London, full of ideas about how I’d make the house feel like home, how Ned would love having the huge bedroom in the converted loft near his two new step sisters’ rooms.

I’d gone onto Facebook and near the top of the newsfeed there was a panel entitled ‘People you may know’ – Mal was the first. At the time, seeing the tiny profile photo of him, I’d felt a sharp stab in my chest. I’ll send him a message. Just a ‘hi, how are you? So funny, you came up as ‘somebody I might know’ on here. I’m really happy, met somebody new, hope you and Louise still blissfully happy too’. That kind of thing. Did I hope he’d be happy with her? Not really. If I’m honest, looking back, a part of me hoped he’d get in touch straight away and tell me how thoroughly miserable he was, how it was all totally over with Louise, how they now hated each other. But I hadn’t got anything back. A couple of days later I was absolutely sure I’d never hear back from him and I forgot about it. The cheery message I’d sent could be remembered as just that, not a cry for help.

I walked aimlessly round the lounge, catching my reflection in the mirror above the fireplace. My face looked simultaneously pinched and saggy from lack of sleep, my eyes red and puffy. I read the email twenty times, perhaps more, searching for something positive to hold on to. If a tiny flicker of acknowledgment of the closeness we’d had formed in my thoughts, it was extinguished by reading it again.

Penny looked at me expectantly; I grabbed her lead and left a post-it note on the kitchen table. Just gone for a run, back at seven. Taken Penny.

We took our usual early morning route – three miles, through Holland Park -- but afterwards I couldn’t remember any of the details. Instead, playing over in my head, the words Mal had written in his postscript. You may not remember but we met for coffee at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton. How the fuck could he think I had forgotten?

Pounding on the door. My seven-year-old son shaking me awake. My head fuzzy with sleeping pills. The hallway flashing with blue light. This morning my life will change forever.

Alex Kendrew is juggling single parenthood, work and dating; with a wild, impetuous streak that’s hard to keep in check, she struggles to find a balance and feels perpetually guilty for the choices she makes.

In K.A. Masson’s domestic noir thriller, Alex begins a passionate affair when an old flame gets in touch. But one morning, the police arrest her for his attempted murder. Someone is framing her; can she prove her innocence as the evidence mounts against her?
You can purchase Alter Ego at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you K.A. MASSON for making this giveaway possible.
3 Winner will receive a Copy of Alter Ego by K.A. Masson.