My guest this week is author Cal Georgeson, who is probably better known for having a hugely popular TikTok account that documents amazing historical facts and conspiracies. So it comes as no surprise that Cal has published a humorous spy ” thriller” that is set within a secret agency in London that investigates fake news and conspiracies – a book jam packed with bittersweet humour and very curious characters. It certainly has many “laugh out loud “ moments! I caught up with Cal Georgeson to find out more his book and his fascination with conspiracies …
Hi Linda! My name is Cal Georgeson and I live just outside London with my partner and long-suffering muse / editor, Griff. I also have two teenaged sproglets who are both my source of motivation in life and of course my fountains of knowledge on fashion, shoes and social media!
Cal, you are a fire risk specialist .. so who or what inspired you to write “The Department Of Conspiracy”?
So I guess the inspiration lies somewhere in my distant past. I found myself on BBC Radio this weekend explaining how my Dad initially motivated me to write when I was a teenager. He was a writer himself and used to enthral me with tales of intrigue and valour, which were actually the life story of his own father (so, my grandfather) who was an absolute legend during the war having won the Victoria Cross amongst other heroic endeavours. So yes, I would say my inspiration were the stories my Dad told me about my grandfather by bringing this into a contemporary, modern-day London setting and with an underlying comedy flavour. I tried writing a serious thriller and the words just didn’t spill on the page in the same way.
“The Department Of Conspiracy ” is a humorous spy story set within a secret agency that investigates fake news and conspiracies. The characters are quite a weird bunch – the goofy Sam Juniper, cold hearted Florence, the doddery Mr & Mrs Bimble, love interest Josie, lisping Leo & the mysterious Mr Milquetoast. I had a fondest for poor Sam but I also liked the forthright Florence! She made me giggle. Did you base a lot of your characters on you and people you’ve met in life? Which character did you enjoy writing about the most? Which character was the hardest?
So I think there’s a little bit of Sam in all of us. He’s basically trying so hard to do the right thing and find his place in the world but he’s a little bit of a lost cause. He is very much based on myself as a teenager and so came quite naturally to the page.
I loved writing Agent Florence the most. The sheer audacity and abrasiveness that comes with a character like that made her a lot of fun. Its probably fair to say that Florence embodies the eruption of anger and sarcasm that we all feel internally sometimes, only she has the fearsome confidence to fire at will with some creative use of swear-words, which makes her a great counterpart to Sam. Although I think there’s a broken heart under that bravado somewhere, and of course she loves a pair of killer heels.
Were there any aspects of writing the novel that surprised you, pleasantly or otherwise?
So one aspect I hadn’t originally planned was a chapter later in the book which was a flashback to decades earlier, exploring where the Department of Conspiracy originated. By seeing the characters of Mr Milquetoast and the White Rabbit as young men, I found this added a lot of depth to the world-building, and I felt it gave the reader better context and layering.
If you could visit any country/place in the world, to base a future novel in, where would you go and why?
Well I’m quite lucky to have spent a lot of time overseas during my time in the Royal Navy (many years ago). Since I first visited the Arabian Gulf back in the nineties I’ve always been fascinated with the speed at which places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi have developed. I was recently speaking to a friend who’s working on ‘The Line’ in Saudi Arabia.
The Line is an incredible new linear building under construction which is only 200 metres wide, but its 170 kilometres long (yes, you read that right!). It will have high-speed trains running from one end to the other and people will be able to live, work, shop and play all within this single development. There will be several huge shopping centres built within it with fashions imported from all over the world.
The most amazing thing is that all is that this is in the middle of a desert, miles from the nearest city. I think this post-modernist behemoth could potentially be an amazing setting for a new story.
The Line does sound fascinating and a great base to set a novel in… I look forward to reading about it in your future book 😜
Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?
So I love stories of all kinds – books, movies, comics, musicals, Netflix – it’s all about the story. I do prefer a paperback (I’m a little old-fashioned like that) but have recently been enjoying audiobooks a lot more.
I love Douglas Adams and Tom Sharpe and since childhood I’ve grown up in the worlds of Neil Gaiman. The ethereal beauty of his Sandman series, Neverwhere and Stardust could just make me weep with joy. These to me are titans of literature that we can only aspire to, but as they say ‘standing on the shoulders of giants..” and all that!
Is “The Department of Conspiracy” available to purchase worldwide?
Yes it certainly is, but currently only on Amazon (£7.99 paperback or £3.99 for the Kindle version, and of course free if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited).
I’ll soon be recording the audiobook version, and we’re currently looking for talent to bring the characters to life so if any of your subscribers like the book and are interested, they are welcome to contact me directly via my website or social media.
Growing up had you always wanted to be an author or did you have other career aspirations?
Growing up I was much like Sam – I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to be. I left 6th Form College without a plan, pretty much got press-ganged into the Navy and then subsequently fell into becoming a firefighter, which led onto my current, more grown up, role. So it would be true to say that I always loved stories and story-telling but I certainly never planned to be on Jackanory as a child.
You have a hugely popular TikTok account that documents real life conspiracies and amazing historical facts. Have you got a “favourite” weird/almost unbelievable conspiracy/historical fact that you have uncovered?
Oh gosh, a favourite! Well, I love the story of Operation Acoustic Kitty. So in my novel you may have noted that poor Ralphy (Josie’s dog) was unfortunate enough to have a listening device inserted into an orifice where no self-respecting dog wants one inserted.
Well this may sound crazy, but this was kind of based on fact.
In 2001, the CIA declassified a lot of their secret documents from the 1960’s. One of these was Operation Acoustic Kitty, whereby cats would undergo a medical procedure so that a vet could implant a tiny microphone in its ear, a transmitter at the base of its skull and a battery in its rib-cage. Meanwhile, the tail was used as an antenna.
The idea was that cats would be able to eavesdrop on conversations from windowsills, garbage cans or from trees. The first Acoustic Kitty mission was to spy on 2 suspects in a park in Wisconsin Avenue, Washington DC, just outside the Soviet Embassy.
Legend has it that the first spy-cat was taken near to the park and released from the back of a CIA van but was then immediately run over by a passing taxi.
Estimates vary, but the whole operation cost somewhere between $10 – $20 million dollars but was ultimately cancelled in 1967 as they decided cats were too difficult to train. I love this story as it sounds like such nonsense, but is entirely true.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
So being in my early 40’s I’m determined not to turn into Jeremy Clarkson but it’s hard. My go-to outfit is always a Ralph Lauren shirt, black or grey jeans (Levi or Diesel) and a ¾ length coat (always worn open). I have a range of these coats (Luther-style grey, All Saints beige or Lock-Stock tweed) and find they go nice with a variety of styles (jeans / t-shirt, trainers or business suit).
In terms of shoes, I’m usually looking for a quality, top-end brown ankle boot (never black) and I figure this harks back to my younger days of wearing DM’s.
My other choice for trainers is a bit unusual, at least for the UK. There’s a company called Royal Elastics that make quirky but cool sneakers, although you can generally only get them from the United States. I once fell in love with their style and order 6 pairs (2 in each colour) and got them imported. Never regretted it!
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?
So I’m quite liking Stitch Fix at the moment. This is an online app where you input your style preferences and sizes initially and then pay a £10 fee in order for a stylist to pick out items that might appeal. You get to try them on in the comfort of your own home and then send back what doesn’t work.
I do prefer the in-store experience though, if given the choice. I’m quite a tactile person so I like to feel the fabrics in person, rather than just rely on the pictures. All Saints is great for nice feeling fabrics, and of course Ralph Lauren for a trusty collared shirt.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
So I’m currently investigating a classy French retailer called Sezane. It’s my partner Griff’s birthday coming up soon, and being half-French she’s entirely obsessed with this brand. Unfortunately I believe their only outlet is based in Notting Hill, so given that I’m lacking the confidence to purchase the correct size online, I’m now planning an excursion across London to view their stock in person.
In all seriousness, it looks like a great company and the fashions are reportedly inspired by Paris and the people who call it home, so I’m very sure Griff will be pleased.
Boots or Shoes?
So definitely brown or tan boots. I’m 6’ 1” and of somewhat of a sturdy physique, so when I look at my feet so far away, they always appear remarkably small in shoes. Or perhaps I just need to get my glasses checked out so my feet look bigger.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
My website can be found at DepartmentOfConspiracy.com which is a huge library of interesting historical stories and scientific wonders, and acts as a great source to follow up on some of the themes and facts hinted at in the book.
On social media, I can be found more commonly on TikTok with the handle SecretSocrates.com, where I post lots of bite-sized fun stuff with some cool soundtracks.
I can also be found on Twitter as @secretsocrates1.
Fantastic to chat to you Cal … Operation Kitty … that’s a brilliant true story! I highly recommend your book, The Department of Conspiracy, and I look forward to reading your future “thrillers”… I love the lighthearted humorous edge to your “thrillers” 😊 Thanks for sending me a copy of your book to review (and to Ben Cameron for suggesting I give your book a read! )
All photographs have been published with kind permission of Cal Georgeson (apart from the Header & Pinterest photos which were by Linda Hobden)