Monday, 19 May 2014

Interview with Chris Morton

A warm welcome to Chris Morton, author of two novels, one novella and one non-fiction book about teaching. Chris’ latest work is Phase-Daze-Phase-Daze-Phase.

Find Chris' Blog HERE
Buy Phase-Daze-Phase-Daze-Phase HERE

What was the first thing you had published?
English Slacker is my first published work. It probably shouldn’t have been. You hear many a successful author describe how their first few manuscripts never saw the light of day. There’s a famous saying that you need to get a million words out of your system before you’re ready to be published - Raymond Chandler, Iain Banks and Bill Bryson are all quoted as having said this. But with the revolution in independent publishing, it’s much more likely that you’ll find a way of getting that first novel into print. English Slacker was published, nominated for a Guardian award and then came under scrutiny from the literary community, all in a matter of months. I look back now and see a scratchy first attempt, but that doesn’t mean to say it doesn’t have a certain charm and originality. 

Tell us a little about Phase-Daze-Phase-Daze-Phase. 
I wanted to get away from the Kerouac influenced “voice” style of my previous works. Instead I went for a hard-boiled, punchy approach with short bitter sentences and plenty of dark atmosphere. I’m a fan of early twentieth century pulp novels and my plan was to move this style into a more contemporary environment. Although I changed my style, the subject matter is still the same. Slacker-lit, slice of life, realistic scenes that shy away from the fantastical elements - inertia is once again a major theme. A wish to stray from the path but the inability to do so. Plenty of nihilism. 

Why did you decide to self publish?
The revolution is here! Complete control! Publishing at the click of a button! But anyone who tells you that they had always intended to self publish is lying. The fact is, you send out your manuscript to agents, to the big publishers, confident that your novel will be snapped up in no time. A few months later you’re scrambling around searching for any small independent who’s willing to give your work a chance. And finally, when you’ve exhausted all other options, you turn to self publishing.
Self publishing has a lot going for it though - and it’s free. Goodbye to the vanity publishers!
But I think authors should be careful too. You need to get your manuscript edited, take your time and resist the urge to upload your first draft and publish it as soon as you’ve finished. To keep a high standard you need to aim high. Believe in your work. Write something of a quality that the big publishers require. Falling back on self publishing is a fantastic option to have but it should (and almost always does) remain a last resort.
It is by no means failing, however. Publishing companies have a lot to think about. I know this because I spent some time in the publishing industry. It’s not “publish good book, reject bad one.” It’s “publish what will sell, what’s hot at the moment, something similar to what we already have,” etc. 

What are your writing strengths and weaknesses? 
My stories are very believable. So much so that most of my readers think they are true. My weakness ... well, maybe they’re too realistic. Not heavy enough on the plot element. I love stories where not much happens. Where you dip into another world and that’s enough. Often with the books I read, this world gets shattered as the plot kicks in. I like the build up but I’m hesitant to kill it all with a big explosive ending. I also play games with the reader, suggest possible outcomes rather than describing it all explicitly. Some readers get it, some don’t, but it’s my thing, my signature. 

Do you have a writing routine or any odd writing quirks? 
For Phase-Daze-Phase-Daze-Phase I wrote 250 words a day for a year. Sometimes more, but always at least 250. It was a great way to write. No pressure, enjoyable, and I can highly recommend it. I don’t agree with the whole NaNoWriMo thing (writing 50,000 words in a month), putting yourself through hell but having a manuscript at the end of it. For me that’s nuts.

How important is it to you to plot your novels? 
Well, I’ve written two novels and one novella and for all of them I made it up as I went along. Great fun to write in this way. It’s even a bit like reading a novel, sometimes deciding what will happen next, sometimes allowing the novel itself to take over and lead you in unexpected directions.
I’d like to try the other method, making notes and plotting it all out first ... but at the moment that doesn’t hold as much appeal, and if I don’t enjoy the writing process, it’s difficult to give the novel as much tender loving care as it deserves. Maybe one day. 

Are your characters ever based on people you know? 
Some are based on real people, some based on characters in other books. Usually a character of mine is a blend of two or more people. 

What qualities do you think writers should have? 
Dedication, patience, an obsessive nature, bit nuts ... 

What are you working on at the moment? 
Nothing at the moment. I don’t want to write just for the sake of it. Waiting for another idea to come ... 

Which three words best describe you? 
I’m not good with these questions. I remember one time I had this interview for a teaching job in Japan and there was a section where I had to answer a set of questions with three word answers. I think it was supposed to test how careful I could be with my language when speaking to students. The interviewer was a well dressed, slightly prim and proper young lady, eyeing me nervously over her spectacles every time I began my answer with, “Mmmm, well, you know, I think that usually I ... hang on, that’s more than three words, isn’t it?”
To be honest she never gave me much of a chance. In retrospect she should have shown a bit more humanity, calmed me down and started again. Instead she kept pushing on to the next question.
“So, Chris, how would you motivate a quiet class who seem unwilling to speak?”
“Yes, I ... mmm, I have had a few classes like that in my time and I ... wait a minute, I’ve done it again, haven’t I?”
“I can’t emphasise enough how important it is that you use only three words, Mr Morton.”
But I couldn’t stop myself. Didn’t help that I’d drank an endless amount of coffee that morning. Finally she had to go out of the room to consult her colleague. Coming back in, she stressed again the importance of using only three words; then offered a final couple of questions to which I carefully stuck to the rules.
I remember the final question being, “What do you usually do to relax?”
“I ... watch ... TV,” I said nervously. “Hold up, TV is one word, isn’t it? Television, I watch television.” There I was, counting each word on my fingers, thinking that this time I’d really nailed it.
Suffice to say, I didn’t get the job. 

Chris lives in Taiwan and works as an English teacher. On most days you'll find him either throwing a ball at little kids, wandering around the night market with his iPod and bottle of medicine wine, or fussing over his rather spoilt Persian cats. Occasionally you'll find him writing too.



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