Sunday, May 06, 2007

PBHP interviews Chris Killen

Chris Killen, an exquisite, talented young man, is currently writing a novel "about a twelve year old boy whose uncle spontaneously combusts. " in between sessions of "till monkeying". So at least we gather from informed sources.

Chris Killen was born in 1981. He is currently living in Manchester. Recently his short stories have appeared online at 3am and Pulp Net, and in issue four of Parameter magazine.

Though he doesn't get out much, we managed to corner him and force him to answer the following, urgent questions.

Once, or even before you have read the following interview, be sure to read his story "My Wife and the Moustache", on this very blog. Check out Chris's blog too. It's not strictly about moustaches. And thank you, Chris, for playing the game. We beat that spam filte together.


Why do you do what you do?

I write to amuse myself. I work in a bookshop because I need to pay the rent and buy pairs of shoes and orange juice and things. I have no idea why I lose things or mess things up or occasionally say inappropriate things.

Because you’re human? You’re human, aren’t you? Just a sudden atrocious doubt.

Yes, I am a human.

What else could you have done that wouldn't have made you feel too bad about yourself?

I honestly can’t think of anything. The first thing I thought of was ‘start a museum’ but I wouldn’t know what to put in it. Maybe I could start a cat/bird/moustache museum. It would chronicle the history and development of those three things and try to find tenuous connections between them. There would be lots of stuffed animal displays in there, I think. One would be of a cat and a bird sitting in human positions in a miniature living room, wearing fake moustaches and watching the TV. On the TV is footage of cats and birds and moustaches.

I can already picture the range of souvenirs on offer at the museum shop. That’s where museums make their money, you know. Cat and bird porn for instance? It would have to have an edge somehow.

I would like the museum to be ‘an experience for the whole family’. The porn would have to be really well done. You know, tasteful, inoffensive. Soft lighting and tenderness.

Are you a filmmaker?

Not really. I have only made a couple of short films. I don’t own a camera, and at the moment I don’t know anyone I could borrow one off. I would like to make more films at some point. I am still surprised that there has never yet been a full-length ‘feature film’ made on a digital camcorder for absolutely no money. Technology has improved enough for this to happen now. Someone just needs to have a good enough idea. If I ever do, that would be the film I’d make.

Are you a writer?

Yes. I write quite a lot.

Do you prefer to read or to be read? Say, if you had to choose?

To read. There are books I love a million times more than anything I have written (Pan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, Sombrero Fallout). I don’t think I have written anything very good yet. I don’t like the idea of never being able to read those books again. I feel kind of scared now at the idea of not being able to read those books again.

We didn’t mean to frighten you. It was, you know, just theoretical. For conversation’s sake.

Too late. I’m scared.

Where do you buy your fake moustaches?

I have not bought many fake moustaches. My first ‘proper’ fake moustache was done on photoshop. I like photoshop ones the best, I think. Then maybe the drawn-on ones, and after that the regular joke shop kind. I bought a ‘poseable’ one in a shop in Stratford once. And a friend of mine gave me a whole set called ‘Moustaches for Every Day of the Week’. I haven’t dared to take those out of the packet. But if I did, today (Saturday) I would be wearing ‘The Grandpa’ which curls up at the ends and is like a silver version of Sunday’s ‘The Hollywood’.

I do like moustaches quite a lot, but I am worrying now about being known as ‘the moustache guy’. I think my continuing ‘public’ obsession with moustaches is possibly some kind of self-sabotage.

We at PBHP know that the moustache is merely a window onto your universe, or, if I may venture the comparison, a dash between the reader’s mind and yours (boy, are we clever or what?) Note to our readers, don’t expect any moustaches in Chris’s short story to appear in PBHP 4. At most some pilosity.

Thanks. (I just googled ‘pilosity’.) I feel comforted now. The moustache-to-no-moustache ratio in my stories is, at present, about one to four. It used to be much higher. I am slowly getting it out of my system. I think my fascination stems from the fact that I can’t grow a very good real moustache.

Is this interview irrelevant?

I don’t know. I think I would find this interview interesting if I didn’t already know me. But then I quite like poking around on the internet and wasting time reading little interviews with people I haven’t heard of.

Please define "relevant", or any other vague term of your own choice.

I would like to define the term “novel”: a novel can be anything at all. I don’t even think it has to be a book if you don’t want it to be. A novel could be an apple standing on a windowsill. I did a creative writing MA, and spent all my time asking the tutors and the visiting authors and agents and other members of the class what they thought a novel should be, and especially how long it should be. One tutor told me a novel was something 80,000 words +. At that point I was writing my first novel (‘The Bird Room’) and I knew it was only going to be 30,000 words at most (I recently re-drafted it and it is now 19,000), and so I spent a lot of time on this MA nodding and agreeing with everyone and secretly panicking. Now I don’t give a shit anymore. I wrote a novel the other day which was eight words long. I will reproduce it for you below, in full:

The Man in the Road

We were watching the man in the road.

I like the idea of getting ‘The Man in the Road’ hard-bound somewhere, with blurbs and an ISBN and title page, etc.

Amazing. I’ll write the blurb if you’ll let me. How about “Chris Killen delivers yet another gripping tale of out-of-order traffic lights and excited, voyeuristic gangs of blue-haired grannies stuck in a second floor retirement house lounge with a broken telly” ? I can even think of a possible sequel: “And then Came the Lurching Lorry.”

That sounds great. Thank you for the blurb. Maybe I could spin out a whole series of these. I think I could write about a thousand novels a year this way. I have already sent Penguin a copy of the manuscript. I know they don’t normally accept unsolicited manuscripts, but I figure this one is so small it might just slip under the door somehow. I am aiming for the top. I will keep you posted on its progress.

Please do. Was your creative writing MA valuable to you as a writer? French people (and that includes writers and literature teachers) are usually convinced that writing can’t be taught.

It was beneficial to me at the time. I didn’t learn anything about how to write, but I learnt that if I wanted to write a novel, I needed to just keep writing it, and not give up after the initial ‘honeymoon’ period was over. I needed, at that point, deadlines. And it was good to meet other people who wrote, too, and to talk to them about writing. I really needed to do that at the time. I met a lot of really smart, helpful people and I am still in touch with some of them. I am sharing a flat with one of them.

Name three things that lift you up.

Reading. Writing. Receiving long emails from my friend Charlene in the Philippines. (She is another of the smart, helpful people I met on the MA.)

Name three things that bring you down.

The ‘state of British publishing’. Having to work all the time. The mild, panicked feeling that there is always ‘something I have to do’ but never knowing quite what it is.

Imagine you could say one sentence, to the whole world, with their undivided attention focused on you alone. What would you wear?

I would wear a t-shirt with ‘The Paris Bitter Hearts Pit’ written on the front of it. (I’m such a suck-up.)

I never even thought of that, but somehow I’m immensely satisfied by your answer. I predict a dazzling future to you. Thank you Chris.

1 comment:

Tao Lin said...

this was good. thank you.

nice novel.