Tamar Cohen is a freelance journalist who has written for The Times, The Guardian, Marie Claire, Cosmospolitan and many other publications. She has written nine non-fiction titles under a different name. The Mistress’s Revenge is her first novel.
The Mistress’s Revenge is a very contemporary novel about a woman scorned, which places the age-old themes of love, obsession, desire and revenge firmly in a modern context of Facebook stalking, email relationships and cyber crime. Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters, called it “sharply funny, gorgeously dark, and completely gripping”, while UK Marie Claire said: “Deftly plotted and bleakly funny, with a devious twist of an ending, this is a dark tale of love gone wrong.”
Links: “For someone who boasts of having written a very modern book, I’m still stuck in the dark ages as far as a web presence goes, although I’m working on it, really I am! In the meantime please get in touch via Twitter (@MsTamarCohen) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/mistressrevenge).”
Do you have any phobias?
You promise not to laugh? Okay. I have a phobia of buttons.
Hey, you promised not to laugh! I’m not talking about the metal things we in the UK call badges, with cute little slogans and pins on the back. Who could have a phobia about badges? That would just be ridiculous. No, I have a phobia of those little plastic things that you use to fasten up shirts. Ugh, writing that sentence just made me think about them which has made me feel a little bit sick and now I’m making the kind of face at my desk that makes me very glad I’m stuck in a room on my own well away from other people. Or mirrors. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, buttons (interestingly while writing the word is bad, saying it out loud is almost impossible).
Well, the long and short of it is I hate them. They are evil, sinister things, and the fact that most people in the world don’t share my opinion doesn’t mean I’m wrong, it just means that most people in the world are dangerously deluded.
And guess what, I’m far from alone. Fear of buttons is right up there on the list of top phobias. In fact, so common is it that it even has its own name. Koumpounophobia. Catchy, isn’t it? It’s estimated that one in 75,000 people have koumpounophobia. And I’m one of them.
As far as I know there isn’t one single event that triggered my phobia. I’ve always had it. In primary school while the rest of the girls wore the uniform cardigan (ugh, even that word bothers me, with its obvious connotations), I was the one in the boy’s v-necked jumper. I hated wearing the uniform shirts and would pull them over my head rather than have to handle those monstrous little round things. One of my earliest memories is watching a girl in my class sitting chewing on one of those things that was attached to her shirt cuff and feeling as if I was about to vomit. Can you imagine? She had it in her mouth!
The funny thing about koumpounophobia (see how it trips off the tongue) is that the more I read about other sufferers, the more I realise that there is a shared general hierarchy of horror as far as buttons are concerned. Metal ones on jeans, for instance, aren’t a problem. They’re metal, they’re securely attached and not likely to come off in your hand. Easy peasy. Large coat ones are tricky, but not impossible, as long as they stay just where they’re supposed to – on your coat, rather than, say, on the floor (ew, gross). Where we start to run into problems is with the small, plastic buttons. Now, I’ve come a long way here since the revulsion of childhood. As long as they’re attached to a shirt, and I’m not wearing it, I can gloss over them, pretending I don’t see them. But there are exceptions. Ones that have been reattached with a different coloured thread to the others, for instance, can bring on immediate panic. Worse still are ones which have come off and been replaced by other not quite matching ones. OMG, what are those people thinking? Have they no shame, walking around subjecting innocent passers by to that?
By far the worst offender in the entire cornucopia of horrors that is buttondom, are the single loose ones that you come across quite accidentally in places where you least expect to find one. In a pocket, for instance, or under the sofa cushions or on the carpet in the middle of the living room. My children are very used to hearing me shriek after happening upon one of the monstrous little things, and finding me cowering in the furthest point of the house, refusing to go back in until it is removed. Luckily my daughter and sons haven’t inherited my phobia, but of course that also makes me worry for them – how will they cope in the world if they can’t spot the inherent evil of these supposedly benign everyday objects?
The interesting thing about suffering from any phobia is that, even though you know other people find it bizarre, you secretly believe that they’re the ones who are wrong. The other interesting thing is that, even though you might expect it to make you more tolerant towards other people’s phobias, it really doesn’t. Because you’re so convinced your phobia is actually real, you actually don’t count it as one, which leaves you perfectly free to mock other peoples’. While looking up the exact spelling of koumpounophobia, for example, I came across someone with a fear of gravy. Gravy, for heaven’s sake! Have you ever heard anything more ridiculous?
What are the hardest/easiest parts of your job?
As a freelance journalist/writer, I work almost entirely from home, which accounts for both the best and the worst aspects of my working life:
Hardest: Delineating between work and home so that when I’m in ‘work’ mode I don’t see the piles of washing up, or feel compelled to pay bills online or fumigate my son’s room, and when I’m at home I don’t keep wandering over to my computer just to have a ‘quick email check’ (ie, still there three hours later as the kids’ dinner burns to a crisp).
Easiest: Writing this at 11 o’clock on a Monday morning in my dressing gown and slippers. What’s not to like?
Share something that’s always guaranteed to make you laugh:
I don’t know whether I just read Catch 22 at a very formative age (it was one of the few vaguely comprehensible books my very academic parents possessed) but at the time I didn’t think I’d ever read anything quite so funny, and I still think pretty much the same thing. The fact is that sometimes life heaps problem upon problem on your head, stress upon stress, until you feel you’re drowning in your own woes. On those occasions you need something that takes you out of the present day, and gives you a totally fresh perspective, reminding you of the inherent absurdity of all our lives, and the insignificance in the general scheme of things of that colossal tax demand, or your disastrous haircut. Joseph Heller knew there’s no point in trying to work out a logical reason for everything that goes wrong in life, because the world doesn’t run on logic, and in the end the best we can do is laugh. There was only one catch and that was Catch-22. Genius.
Where do you love to be?
At the risk of sounding like the Biggest Nerd on the Block, there are few places that make me feel more at peace than my local library – or any library for that matter. Partly this is a throwback to suburban teenagerhood where the only alternative to being at home on a cold winter day (and what self-respecting teenager wants to be at home?) was the library. There’s something magical about knowing there’s somewhere (Hemingway’s ‘clean, well-lighted place’?) that’s warm and welcoming and, best of all, where no one bothers you. You can sit and read the papers, or browse through a book or, these days, plug in your laptop and be around people and yet gloriously alone. Last week I spent a day working in the library as my home internet connection was down and was reminded all over again what a wonderful melting pot it is. There was an electric keyboard behind the chair where I sat and a succession of people arrived with headphones and sheet music and sat and lost themselves in notes only they could hear. The sound of the muffled thudding of pedals and keys was surprisingly soothing. As the recession in the UK continues to bite, our public libraries are increasingly under threat of closure and the thought that my children’s generation might lose this incredible privilege and pleasure makes me both angry and sad.
What talent would you most like to have?
I have a friend who can talk to anyone. In the queue at the post office, on the underground, begging in the street (them, not her, I should add) or simply strolling through the park. “Nice hat!” she might say. Or “Beautiful day!” or “What do you call that big fat bird in the tree with the tiny little head?” Me, I spend so much time worrying about whether the other person wishes to be spoken to, or whether they might think I’m a) deranged or b) coming onto them if I begin randomly chatting, that I remain resolutely tight-lipped. But, you know, on the whole people actually like being talked to. It makes them feel good. Not only that, but you get to meet some fabulously interesting folk that you otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s what you’d call win-win, and I dearly wish I could work out how it’s done!
Thank you so much for being with us today, Tammy — it’s been a real pleasure to get to know you better.
Tammy has kindly agreed to give a free copy of The Mistress’s Revenge to a lucky Deb Ball reader — just leave a comment to enter.