Interview by David McDonald.
Chris is an Australian writer of science fiction and fantasy. His work has appeared in Aurealis and ASIM, and in anthologies published by Ticonderoga Publications, Dark Prints Press and CSFG Publishing. He has received mentions in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series, and
Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction from Twelfth Planet Press.
You’ve been working with Aurealis magazine as their interviewer extraordinaire. How did that role come about and what have been some of the highlights? Has it had an influence on your own writing?
Aurealis published one of my first stories, The Red House, back in 2013. When the issue was released their web-wrangler, Dan Allan, interviewed me and we kept in touch after that. I think it was 2014 when I sent Dan a non-fiction piece about stormtrooper hit/miss ratios based on my kids and I spending a wintry Hobart afternoon counting shots fired vs hits scored in A New Hope. It was a lot of fun and they put the article up on Aurealis Xpress. Not long after that Terry Wood, the magazine’s non-fiction editor, asked if I would do some more non-fiction writing and I jumped at the chance.
The decision to do author interviews was a no-brainer. Living down here in Tassie I don’t get much interaction with speculative fiction writers. I wanted to talk to other people who were writing the same stuff as me, and were good at it. In the beginning I contacted writers I’d idolized and who’d won awards because I wanted to burrow into their brains to see what made them so bloody amazing at what they were doing. People like John Scalzi and Ann Leckie were among the first I hunted down. Later, I realised awards don’t mean as much as simply finding a really interesting person and having a conversation with them. People like Jenny Fallon and Francesca Haig were great in that respect.
You’ve worked extensively overseas, and are now back in Australia. Have the different cultural experiences informed your fiction, or changed the way you write?
I lived in Botswana for four years, also spending significant time in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Tanzania. I didn’t start writing until I returned to Australia but I would definitely say that living in a third world environment sharpened my appreciation of the bizarre. The sight of a young man returning from work on his BMW motorcycle, parking it outside his mud hut, then going in to watch satellite TV isn’t one you’d get in Australia. Having said that, I’ve also worked alongside Walpiri people in the Northern Territory, where the standard of living in the Aboriginal communities is far below that of the majority of Botswana.
I was an expatriate while living in Africa, earning a very good, tax-free, expatriate wage. The disparity between the opportunities open to me, and the standard wage of a local Motswana and their opportunities, was significant. In no way do I believe the extra money and greater opportunity made me a happier person. It certainly made me grateful and more aware of my privilege. Hopefully my time in Southern Africa informs my writing by lending it a certain humanity, but I couldn’t say if that is actually the case – and even if it is, it’s probably stolen.
What are some of things we can expect to see from you in the future?
I’ve been pressed for time over the past year and haven’t achieved much in terms of fiction. I had three stories out last year. I probably only wrote four or five so the hit/miss ratio is good. The output is woeful however. What I did achieve over the 2015-16 summer break was to write a middle-grade supernatural adventure and I’m touching that up as we speak. I’ve found that my writing leans toward a YA, or even a middle-grade sensibility, so I’m going to play to my strength and go for broke.
Funnily enough, while the story is set in a coastal Australian town, it features both Aboriginal and African protagonists. It also features our convict past and a whole bunch of ghosts. I love the story. I write partly to amuse myself. I figure if I can’t amuse myself while writing a story, there’s no way anyone else will find it entertaining. I laughed a lot while writing this manuscript. Hopefully someone else will too.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
There is so much great writing coming out of Australia right now, but even so there’s one author who’s doing things I haven’t seen done before. Francesca Haig’s first two novels: The Fire Sermon and Map of Bones totally blew me away – in every sense. Harper Voyager sent me the books with a view to me interviewing Francesca. I didn’t know her from a bar of soap but was hopeful of a good read purely based on the fact her bio said she’d grown up in Tassie – surely a good sign for any artistic type.
Oh my god, I literally cannot describe how much I love those books. It’s been decades since I’ve felt like this about an author – so excited to find out what happens next, both for her, and the books. Francesca’s writing is dark, exciting and sensitive. Her story is set in the far future but reads like something from a bygone era. After reading her work I just wanted to drop everything and do exactly what she was doing – which would have been ridiculous of course, but that’s the hallmark of a fantastic writer, they can turn you about and make you want to try crazy new things.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
I think either Paul Jennings or Andy Griffiths… Or perhaps J. K. Rowling… Or Fritz Leiber… No, let’s settle on my first choice, Paul Jennings. His writing inspires me in so many ways. His first book wasn’t published until he was 42, which gives me tons of hope as a guy also in his forties. I was a bit old for his ghost and beastie tales when they first came out, but my kids loved them later on. I first came across his work when I bought the audio book versions of his Unreal! Unmentionable! and Uncanny! books read by Max Gillies. What a combination!
The kids and I loved listening to those stories in the car on long road-trips across the NT or WA. Paul has a way of evoking a cozy Australian wonderland of weird and wonderful tales that really can be wickedly funny. It’s no wonder he achieved the popularity he did back in the eighties and nineties. The only shame is it hasn’t lasted. I went looking for some of his books in the local stores recently and couldn’t find any. Not a single one, which is an absolute tragedy! Paul’s version of Australian childhood may never have existed. It may have been a made-up fantasy-land, but it was one that my kids and I enjoyed living in.