So did you hear about the author who proposed to his girlfriend in the acknowledgements page of his debut novel? You did? Well you should enjoy this interview...
Brisbane writer and bookseller Christopher Currie's debut novel The Ottoman Motel by TEXT Publishing is available now!
What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?
I was fortunate to grow up in a book-loving household, so I couldn't actually tell you when I first discovered books; they were always there. Whenever I go back to my parents' house, there is a shelf of my favourite books as a child. Enid Blyton was an early favourite (my collection of hardback Noddy books is still formidable). Roald Dahl was my favourite author next (I even went to school dressed as Mr Twit for Book Week), and then I moved on to C.S. Lewis, becoming deeply obsessed with the Narnia series for a long time. As well, I probably read more British mystery stories than a young person should, as my parents were both big readers of people like Ruth Rendell and PD James (and they are not the type of people who throw out books). By the time I had a library card, the list had become too long and diverse to mention!
When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?
My journey to being "a writer" is a bit of an upside-down one. I had always enjoyed writing stories is school, first as a bunch of sentences put together as an excuse to draw pictures above them (grades 1-3), then the starts of many epic planned fantasy trilogies copied into exercise books (grades 4-7), then surreal Douglas Adams-inspired musings on a typewriter (grades 8-10), but had never really considered it anything more than fun. I took a lot of science subjects through high school, with a vague plan of becoming someone who travelled to remote islands off South America to tag albatross colonies (I was a little obsessed with nature documentaries), but as I progressed through my studies, it made me realise that a scientific life wasn't for me. I changed tack at the last minute, enrolled in a creative writing course, and it was the best decision of my life.
As to what I want readers to "take away" from my book, I'm not quite sure. While it's true that any writer who tells you they don't write for an audience is seriously misguided (if you don't expect to be read, then what are you writing for?), I just want people to enjoy reading what I've written. I want them to feel the mood I'm trying to evoke, take pleasure in something I've explained or obscured, but most importantly engage their own imagination.
Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?
I think the only types of books that come under my writerly microscope are the truly bad ones. That is why I'll never be a good editor. Working as a bookseller, I read a lot, good and bad, but can safely say that if I'm reading a really good book I'm not thinking "How did they do that?" because far apart from being a writer, I am a reader who really appreciates the act of reading. By the same token, I know a lot of writers say that one of the best exercises you can do is find a passage of writing you love and copy it out, to see how the author did it. Maybe I'll try that one day!
Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?
When I was in the middle of my first (virtually complete) rewrite of The Ottoman Motel last year, I certainly did have to avoid reading. I have a short attention span at the best of times, but having to control the lives and trajectories of my major characters while letting in more who weren't involved in the narrative I was building was too much to ask. More than that, I guess, I do tend to be influenced stylistically by other authors. As I mentioned about the types of writing I did during school, you can really draw a direct line between what I was reading and what I was writing. And while you'd hope that by the time your first novel came out, you had your "writing voice" down pat, this is far from the case. Some of my favourite authors (George Saunders, David Foster Wallace, Cormac McCarthy) are heavily stylists, and I definitely have to avoid them when I'm writing, as I start to (consciously or unconsciously) ape their styles and themes.
Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar - Roald Dahl (showed me how short stories could be just as good as novels).
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families - Philip Gourevitch (let me realise just how powerful and important writing can be).
Brighton Rock - Graham Greene (taught me how to write dialogue)
Of A Boy - Sonya Hartnett (inspired me to write The Ottoman Motel)
What's Eating Gilbert Grape - Peter Hedges (the book that has meant the most to me)
If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?
There are only two books I re-read regularly: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, and The Secret History by Donna Tartt, so probably one of those. Running a close third would be the best book I've ever read while travelling: The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.
What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?
If I knew that, I'd already be on a royalty-funded yacht sipping champagne with Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer. It's one of those true intangibles that I don't think anyone is truly able to explain. Even the words "too good" to put down may be misleading, thinking about those names I just mentioned (zing!). From my experience, books that I couldn't put down can mean anything from sublime poetic prose (Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter), to that "just one more page and then I'll go to bed" syndrome (Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply) to "if I finish this in one sitting I won't have to leave the world I'm in" (Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone).
What makes you put down a book without finishing it?
Describing the character's appearance in detail on the first page. Needing to use a new verb every time you attribute dialogue. Showing off. Sterotyping. Being unoriginal. Not thinking about the importance of every sentence. Underestimating your reader.
Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?
I've probably mentioned a lot of my favourite authors already. But favourite as in someone who I read everything and anything they write: Graham Greene, Ian McEwan, Donna Tartt, David Mitchell, George Saunders. And many more.
What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?
Don't ask a bookseller that! I can hardly remember the book I'm reading at the moment! I can remember that the last book I read in 2010, just before Christmas, was Lev Grossman's incredibly clever and addictive fantasy novel The Magicians. I also read In Cold Blood for the first time in 2010. Wow.
What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?
As in the debate between "Literature" and "Popular Fiction", I think pitting non-traditional and traditional publishing against each other is not only wrong but detrimental to both. Whatever way you can find that lets people enjoy books and reading is fine by me. Even as the popularity and take-up of ebooks increases, there will always be a market for print books. The book industry (authors, publishers, agents and booksellers) will just have to find the best way to adjust their practices to adapt to the new idea of what a book is. Let's face it, as long as we're talking about books, they're still relevant.
Chris's 'novel' proposal has gotten worldwide attention. See the CBS News interview here.