Twitter is a beautiful thing! Not only can you keep on top of what is happening right here and right now, but you discover all sorts of interesting people, music and books! Here is an interview with my new favourite modern author, Chris Hill…
Thanks for agreeing to this blog interview, Chris! It is most kind of you. As of today (June 19, 2013), I noticed on Amazon that there was only one of your books left in stock (more on the way). How good must THAT feel!
Hi Ann, thanks very much for interviewing me – it’s always a great pleasure to talk to another writer about writing and books!
I’ve been learning a bit about you though your blog and other interviews and was interested to learn that your book “Song of the Sea God” was formally called “The Longing”. What made you change the name? My publisher made me change the name! Well, ok, ‘made me’ is a bit strong. They advised me and I think if professional people give you good advice you should take it. Their point was that there were a number of dodgy ‘romance’ novels out there already called The Longing and they wanted mine to have a unique name. It was shortlisted for both the Daily Telegraph Novel in a Year competition and the Yeovil Literature Prize under its earlier name of The Longing.
Surely this isn’t some fly-by-night bestseller; It sounds like this book will be seen as a great work that will be read and (perhaps) studied. Do you feel the book will be relevant in 25 years? 50 years? 100 years? And Why?
Wow – I really don’t know on that one. What author could ever know? I’m just happy if people like it now. I did a blog recently on famous writers whose work was unknown or disregarded in their time, and, equally, there are many authors whose work is very famous in their lifetimes and almost immediately forgotten when they’re gone. So who knows what the future holds? We just do our best to write a good book don’t we? If I had to make a case for it lasting I suppose I would say that the themes in the book are fairly timeless – so they should still be relevant in the future.
What do you hope the message of the book will relate to civilisation in 100 years’ time?
Well, the book is about a man who washes up on a small island off the coast of England and tries to convince the local people he is a god. I think I wanted to write about the nature of god and religion in people’s lives – what faith means to them. I’m not particularly religious myself and I guess I’d describe myself as agnostic – but saying that I don’t know the mysteries of the universe is not the same thing as saying I think there are no mysteries. So I wanted to write a book about the god shaped hole in people’s lives – with jokes. I think it’s a look at that issue, thinking out loud about it. I don’t think there is a message as such – but people can take all sorts of messages from it – and they are doing!
“All speed and flurry, going nowhere. That’s how we feel Barbara. Used and once was.” This quoted from your book. Do you find this is a common feeling of our own western culture, or do you think it is meant to be more of an individualised sentiment?
I suppose I was trying to make a general point there. But also, in the book it’s necessary that some of the characters have unsatisfactory lives before their ‘saviour’ John Love turns up – otherwise he wouldn’t have anything to save them from. So at various times I did try to convey a sense of general dissatisfaction with the way people’s lives had turned out – their feeling of emptiness and disappointment. And sadly, I think that is how many people sometimes feel today.
There is a lot of symbolism in your book. Can you give us insights to some of your favourite symbols that most people you have talked to might have missed to get them to go back and look again?
Well, I did a lot of reading around ancient religions and so on. There were lots of books but The Golden Bough was a particular favourite text – when things get really strange in Sea God it often owes a debt to The Golden Bough. It struck me that book could be used as a kind of ‘how to be a god’ manual – which is how John Love uses it. The island itself is a symbol I would say – I had a rule that once everyone was on it nobody could arrive and nobody could leave. There was a bridge to the mainland and people talked about leaving but never did. I suppose I was thinking the island represented life, or the individual person – and the bridge lead to ‘the other side’. Oh – here’s a little one for you. Bes, the narrator, who is mute and dwarfish and very central to the book, is named after the Egyptian god Bes, who was also a dwarf, and was god of the hearth and home, keeping snakes away from the fire. See – I don’t just throw these things together!
What is your favourite bit? I suppose I like that the first line and the last line mirror each other – that’s quite neat, makes it look like I’ve made an effort. Oh I don’t know Ann, It’s hard to say. What’s yours?
(Aside to Chris) Well, I don’t want to give much away but I loved the momentum of the part where they met the tip rats… John love gained their fellowship and how they brought them back to the caravan park. The “get-to-know-your-neighbour party that turned into some surreal-festival-nightmare that followed was a great bit!!!)
What did you edit out of the book?
Quite a lot of adjectives for a start. I do edit and rewrite quite fiercely. I consider that is half the job of a writer. As Ernest Hemingway said ‘The first draft of anything is shit’ so my job when editing is to make it not shit.
Who helped you edit the book and how did you deal with their input? My publisher, and in particular two people there – Daniel and Rebsie, one who took an overview and the other who copy-edited. They didn’t change much really (apart from the title!) but at the copy-editing stage they did find a couple of real howlers. I think I’d rewritten it so much by that stage I was actually writing mistakes in! For example, they found a character who changed his name half way through – and another pair who were talking about something which didn’t happen for another 30 pages. Overall their editing was very sympathetic and careful – and I was very grateful for it. There are some heavy Faith vs. non-faith issues in this book. It calls on characters to put their faith in a man as opposed to some childhood traditional faith in an invisible god and thus lassoing the reader into believing that a whole community would fall to a man’s charisma etc.
Does this come from trends in fiction or in world news? Well, it comes from religion I think. Religions often have a man, or woman, at their centre, even if that person is held, either at the time or later, to be divine rather than human. I certainly didn’t intend the book to be some kind of argument against religion and definitely not against any one religion in particular. But there are themes running through all faith systems I think and this book draws on some of those themes.
You have a lot of really nice reviews on your book. But what kind of negative feedback have you had and how do you deal with that? I honestly don’t think I’ve had any significant negative feedback on this book – yet! The hardest thing to get past is people’s indifference. I don’t blame them for it – there’s so many books out there, and so much other competition for people’s attention and time. Plus my book is on a small press with no marketing or advertising and so on. So the real challenge is to let people hear about it. Once they do read it they tend to like it I think, so far anyway.
I’ve had work rejected by agents and publishers countless times over the years though and, though that sometimes stings, I’ve learned to bounce back from it pretty quickly – take from it what I can in terms of advice, and keep on keeping on.
How many hours do you work on your fiction? Do you have a get-ready-to-write-ritual or do you just sit down and go for it hell-for-glory? It varies depending on what part of the process I’m in. I tend to start off slowly and muck about a lot at the start when I’m getting an idea for a book together – then I speed up over time once there’s actual work to be done, planning, words to be written, rewriting.
Where and when do you write? Round the day. I’ve got a day job working in communications, for a children’s charity called WellChild who do great work for seriously ill children. I’ve also got a growing family. But, you know, you can always find an hour in the evening, half an hour on the bus home from work and so on. You make time.
“How do you keep from resenting your duties and every human’s sleeping requirement when you have to stop writing to take care of them?” Ha! I refer you to my last answer – somehow I fit things in. I remember after I’d finished my first book my wife asked me ‘when did you write that?’ so I must be ok at cramming it in without people noticing!
You come from a traditional newspaper journalism background: a reporter, news editor and editor. And you have won a number of short story prizes including the Bridport Prize. In the interview with the Writer’s Digest you said “I’m thrilled to be able to say I finally have a novel in print after years of trying.” How many years did it take you to get a novel published and at what point did you openly and without hesitation call yourself a writer (in the novelist sense of the word). Well – It took me from when I started writing fiction as a teenager until when my book came out in my forties – so quite a while! I did write short stories for a few years first, then books which didn’t get published. I didn’t think I could really call myself a novelist until I had a book published, by a proper publisher – so I was willing to wait for that.
Are you working on another novel? I have one written I’m happy with which is lighter and more gentle than Sea God. It’s called the Pick Up Artist and it’s about a young man’s attempts to use psychological techniques to attract women, in the hope he can get them to sleep with him. Because it’s such a different book I need to find a publisher whose list it will fit – so it’s back to square one hawking it round and picking up rejection slips! I’m also starting on a new book, but it’s early days on that one.
When you write, do you write to a target audience? Not really – I write first to please myself, in the hope that will also please others. I know there are very smart genre writers out there who have their audience demographics all worked out – but I can’t be that calculating, I write first for pleasure.
Which writers have influenced your work and do you feel you write in a similar style? I suppose I was influenced first by the generation of American novelists now recently departed – Heller, Bellow, Updike, Vonnegut and the rest. One of the things they had was great narrative voices – and that’s something I treasure too. Sea God’s been compared to so many different books that I’ve lost count! Everything from Lord of the Flies and The Magus to The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Tin Drum. But here’s one I like – Shakespeare’s The Tempest. This is my story about a magician on an island – I have a Prospero and a Caliban. I’m thinking of telling people I based Sea God on The Tempest, in the hope it might make my book sound more posh.
What do you like to read when you are not writing? I read loads of fiction – always have. Literary novels mostly. I’ve always got one on the go – subject to my weird reading rules, which I outline on my blog. I also read non-fiction, particularly when I’m researching a book. And I read poetry too, and loads of newspapers, magazines, online articles. I think a writer who doesn’t read a lot is doomed to failure.
And last of all, (this one is just for me) how does a writer keep from being afraid of feelings of inferiority, of being a talentless hack or stupid and just keep at it despite it all?
I think if you write for yourself then you don’t really have to worry about any of that – you just do the best you can for the story you are writing. Couple that with working hard and being serious about it – putting in the time, being tough on yourself, taking as much effort with the rewriting as with any part of the process. I always say I don’t really enjoy writing – I just feel compelled to do it. And if something doesn’t work out – nobody want to publish it or whatever, then be prepared to work just as hard on the next thing. That focus and dedication puts you in charge – and then you don’t have to be afraid of what anyone else thinks!
Thanks again, Chris! I look forward to reading more of your work!
Thanks again for having me Ann. If people want to link up with me they can find me here: Twitter: @ChilledCH Blog: http://songoftheseagod.wordpress.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chris.hill.3726?ref=tn_tnmn And Song of the Sea God is available on Amazon in the USA here and you can read the first few pages to get a feel for it – see if it draws you in!http://www.amazon.com/Song-Sea-God-Chris-Hill/dp/1908011556/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1362594264&sr=1-1&keywords=song+of+the+sea+god