The View From Here Interview: Chris Killen
Part 1 of this interview can be found here.
Chris Killen was born in 1981. He currently lives in Manchester. The Bird Room published by Canongate is his first novel.
As you move through the book the two main male characters and the female characters seem to merge into just one Will and one female ( Alice and Helen ). Helen "becomes" Alice but you are also left thinking they were always the same character anyway. Was it your intention to blur the readers perception of the characters and what was the reason you took this approach?
I already mentioned the film Persona ... Yes, I did intend to sort of 'blur' the perceptions of the characters, to a degree, but I also think that the characters stay 'separate', if that makes any sense.
I'm finding it hard to put into words why I decided to do this. I just stared at the screen for about five minutes. There are reasons: I liked the shift from 'realist' into 'not so realist'; I wanted to 'mirror' the characters -- there's lots of stuff about looking/being seen in there, if you want to find it.
I'm going to stop explaining myself now though. I like it in interviews with David Lynch when he just sort of says, 'The art should stand alone. I will destroy it if I try to explain it.'
What has it been like during the book launch?
Really, really fun. I got to meet some nice people, I had some free drinks and dinners. That whole week -- the launch in Manchester / reading in London / my birthday / starting as writing fellow at the University of Manchester -- was a bit of a blur. I was drunk for a lot of it.
Can you tell us what a writing fellow at the University involves and about some of the other things you are involved in like the 3:AM magazine and the readings at the Deaf Institute on Oxford Road.
The writing fellowship is great. I've been given an office, and a computer to use. I can come in every day to work on my own writing and things. I'm also on hand to give feedback on work by the current MA students, I'm teaching one undergraduate creative writing class, and running some 'informal writing workshops'.
For 3:AM I just occasionally read stories sent in, suggest edits (if needed), and then forward them to the editors to be posted.
There's No Point In Not Being Friends With Someone If You Want To Be Friends With Them is a monthly 'reading night' I help organise, with my friend Sally. The idea was to put on a night in Manchester to showcase prose as well as poetry, and for it to be quite eclectic and not too formal or reverent. We've also had stand up comedy and things, and there's always a 'video reading' by someone not from Manchester. In the past, for that, we've had Tao Lin, Blake Butler, Sam Pink ... lots of good people. And there's a bar and music and breaks between the readings and things. It's a good way to meet other people interested in writing. It's been going really well ...
I also like making short films and things. I recently made a silly animated video with my friend Socrates: http://dayofmoustaches.blogspot.com/2009/02/i-am-david-grand-premiere.html
How have your friends reacted to you becoming a published author?
My friends haven't treated me any different, I don't think. They bought me drinks when I got the deal, and said, 'Well done' and things. That was about it. I don't really like saying, 'I am a published author' or anything, like if I'm at a party or somewhere. If someone asks me what i 'do' I will usually just make a face and mutter something about 'writing' and feel awkward.
Maybe my friends slag me off a bit behind my back, I don't know. I realise that I'm very lucky -- I have a lot of talented friends who are still working on first novels and things -- and it sort of feels like I can 'no longer complain about anything ever' to anyone. Which is fine, I guess.
What writing experience did you have before The Bird Room?
I wrote a lot of bad short stories, tried out different styles, and tried to write like my 'heroes' -- first Charles Bukowski, then maybe Richard Brautigan. I also tried (and failed) to write a novel maybe 4 or 5 times.
I think I was just about beginning to get better at writing short stories when I started (and carried on with) The Bird Room.
I've been writing 'seriously' since I was 18, so 10 years writing experience, I guess.
What advice would you give to writers trying to get a publishing deal?
I'm quite passionate about 'internet writing' -- flash fiction, blogging, things like that. I think there are lots of other ways now for a person to get there stuff read, and to 'make a name for themselves', whilst simultaneously following the more traditional route of, you know, sending to agents, entering prizes, sending stories to big scary literary magazines, etc.
Also, something I didn't really realise at the time I was sending my stuff out, was that to get a book deal or an agent, you just need to find one person who likes your work. The 'world of publishing' is just different people's opinions. And once you find one person willing to stand behind your work, then they will know other people who might like it, etc. etc. So I wouldn't be too disheartened if you get lots of rejections at first -- they are just individual opinions. Keep sending it places to try and find the one person willing to take a risk on it.
And general advice about writing?
I think the only way to improve is to keep writing. It's strange, sometimes it feels like you might never get any better, but then you look at a thing you saved from a year ago and see a lot of differences. As far as I know, there's no 'quick, easy way' to improve. But if it's something you enjoy doing anyway, then writing and carrying on writing shouldn't feel like work.
Can you tell us something about your next book?
I made a 'calendar' of 1993 this afternoon. Not the whole year, just from July 23rd until September 6th, which is the school holidays. That six week period is when the novel is set. I have lots of blank squares on the calendar still to fill in.
Is that Indoor Fireworks and any clues as to the premise of the book?
Yes it is. It is about two awkward teenage cousins living in a house together. There will be lots of 'small explosions' and moments of 'miniature awkwardness'. Some really horrible things happen to the characters. There is a seven foot man in it, too, called 'the long man'. That's all I want to say about it, I think.
Would you answer any of these questions differently on another day of the week?
Usually I will look at an interview, once it's posted, days or weeks after, and think, 'Oh dear'.
Read TVFH review of The Bird Room here.
Go to the bird room's site here.And read Chris' blog here.
Photo credit (modified): Sarah Lee