Wednesday, 21 November 2007

I Lick My Cheese and Other Notes: From the Frontline of Flatsharing

Face it, house sharing can be a right pain, queues for the bathroom, that rotten bugger pinching your milk, arguing over whose turn it is to do the cleaning and don’t even get me started on the washing up. For some people house or flat sharing can be a fate worse than death. So how do you deal with this? You shout and scream abuse or maybe resort to violence or you could take the other route of leaving notes. Designer and fashion lecturer, Oonagh O’Hagan’s book, I Lick My Cheese and other notes from the frontline of flatsharing, depicts the trauma that goes with sharing a home with friends or strangers. Over the years she has collected notes from numerous house sharers and they are all on show in this witty and hilarious book. I caught up with her to discuss whether she licks her cheese.

As a designer and former alumni of St Martin's - you are a bit of a fashionista, what were the reasons for writing this book.
I never really think of myself as a fashionista and if you saw me on most days you would agree. The book might seem an odd outcome from my background but I have always been very interested in people, how we live and what we desire and want out of life. I love photography, drawing and having ideas, so fashion was a natural progression for studying. Though latterly after my MA I got more interested in trends and social dynamics. Thus the book was just an extension of my research and interests.

Who is the book aimed at?
Everyone! The most obvious reader is the student but nowadays people are renting for much longer (I think the average age for a first time buyer in London is 33) so the book works well on lots of levels and would appeal to lots of people. Why? Well everyone has to communicate with other human beings. At some time in your life you will have or have already had to share your personal space so hopefully everyone will relate to and laugh at this book.

Tell me about your strangest or funniest house sharing experience.
I have an awful lot as I have lived in many flats. Some are too disgusting, I have several poo/vomit cleaning up stories but I will miss them out. One of my own stories was I used to have to dry my clothes by hanging them out the window (poor students, no tumble driers) I had lost a bra and a couple of weeks later while one of my flatmates was walking past the rear of my flat that looked up at my 3rd floor window to see my bra hanging from a tree. Thankfully they let me know. I also had a flatmate who never ever did his washing up, I always did it and it use to make me very angry. Then one day he came in and mentioned I had done the washing up. I naively thought he was going to say thank you but alas he told me I had stacked it too high on the draining board as he had knocked a glass and smashed it. That was weird as it seemed as though he genuinely thought I was his maid.

The title of the book is very quirky, who came up with it and what was the concept?
It is actually a note in the book, the strangest thing about it is it has appeared more than once. Apparently licking your food is a common trick to stop food thieves doing their stealing. I wish someone had told me some of these clever tricks when I was sharing.

What was the idea of launching the website?
Initially I collected the notes through friends and word of mouth (I am a Lecturer so see lots of students etc) I started collecting in 2002 but recently wanted to see if I would get notes from other places so set up the website. The website also had the function that you can film your own advert to advertise your room or for a flat mate which should be really fun. I have just added this facility, it should make flat hunting a bit more fun.

How did you land your book deal?
It took a very long time and a lot of people saying what a weird idea. I eventually got a fantastic agent which was such a relief to have someone say, “I think this could be great.”

How does writing compare to designing?
It is strange as my first language is a visual language. I would often paint images of the people in my mind and talk out loud about them as I typed. The book has all the notes photographed though as I thought it was important not just to read them but see the handwriting and the weird things they were written on.

Which authors do you admire and why?
Martin Amis. His books always evoke such clear images and characters. He taps into the parts of your brain that you never talk about or realised that everyone has. Frighteningly good and frighteningly clever. Never a light read.

What advice would you give to budding authors out there?
Only listen to the people who you know, know what they are talking about. Lots of people simply didn’t get what I was talking about but then it might not have been their field. For instance, friends and family might not be the people to take advice from. I eventually realised that talking to some people was totally destructive to my confidence because they couldn’t think conceptually. Interestingly when these people have seen the finished book they often say “Aaaah, I see what you mean. Oh it’s really good.”

The life of an author must be a busy one; can you describe a typical day?
No day is typical and that is a difficult thing to get used to. The one bit of continuity in my life is lecturing, which I do at St Martins and UCCA. If I am not teaching I am working on future ideas such as Flatmates Anonymous which is now a whole brand with future projects. I also do a bit of consulting, trend watching and art direction. I have a major amount of ‘To do lists.’

Where do you do most of your writing? Desk, garden, coffee shop?
I have my ideas when I am out and about at shops, exhibitions and talking to people. I write always in my flat with the TV on. If I am struggling I will book a train journey to see friends or family and take my computer with so I have a few hours where I can’t escape getting on with writing.

Do you have any more books in the pipeline?
Hopefully there will be a follow up to I Lick My Cheese, I would love to give people the opportunity through the website to have their notes published. I am also working on some more ‘straight’ design books. One on photography and portraiture and one on contemporary jewellery. Fingers, toes and eyes crossed.

You can check out Oonagh's website here.
I Lick My Cheese is out now!

1 cool comments:

Pix gremlin said...

Hah! "I lick my cheese!" Remind me to share my experience with you when I used to flat share... mwuahahahahahah