[Editor’s note: This post is part of a continuing series on how writers craft words to express their ideas and to connect with readers. The interview was conducted by Miriam Ruff on June 27, 2019, and it is divided into two parts. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.]
MR: Welcome to the AceReader blog, we’re happy to have you here. Let’s get started with the fundamentals. Most writers started out as readers, and I assume that applies to you. How old were you when you learned to read? Did your parents get you going, did you learn in school, did you discover it on your own, or some combination thereof?
CW: I don’t remember much before about five years old but it was definitely pretty early. I never had any trouble with it. I was always one of those kids who, when sent out to practice reading with the volunteer teacher, was sent back in to the classroom pretty quick. The only thing I remember reading that early was books about dinosaurs, however!
MR: What about your reading habits growing up? Were you a casual reader? An intense one? Did you go to the library often? Book stores? Rummage sales?
CW: School library when I was little, then it became a habit to buy stacks of books out of those discount high street shops. I’d go in there and buy five or six of the thickest books I could find, then read about half of them. Many of the others I still have to this day, unread. I have most of the Wheel of Time series, for example, but I got bored halfway through number four so the rest remain unread.
MR: Which authors did you read growing up, and why? What attracted you to them? Are you attracted to different writers now that you’re a well-established author?
CW: The earliest author I remember totally loving was Terry Brooks. I read Elfstones of Shannara first and then eventually read all the others in the main series. I branched out from there into other fantasy writers and basically anyone who wrote really thick books. I didn’t have a lot of friends, and had an hour each way bus commute to school, so I got through a lot of books. I saw long books as a challenge. If I could find something over 1000 pages I was all over it. These days, I’m so busy in general that the opposite is true. I balk at anything over 250 pages because it’ll take me two months to read.
MR: Do you think your reading habits influenced your decision to become a writer? What were your stories like as you were growing up – were there particular themes or plots that attracted you? Do they still attract you?
CW: It was never a conscious decision, it was always just that I wanted to make stuff up. Early on I used to copy basic fantasy – a warrior goes on a quest – then later it became copying basic horror – something bad happens, everyone ends up dead – but it wasn’t so much a conscious decision as a reflection of what I was reading at the time. I’ve definitely grown out of that stuff now. If I could, I’d write literary fiction all day long, but no one would buy it so from a commercial point of view – and I am attempting to be a commercial writer – it’s not worth my time.
MR: You mention on your website that you won a writing competition when you were 11. How long had you been writing at that point? What was your story about? Was winning an incentive to keep writing?
CW: I don’t remember much about the story but at the time I was heavily into this monthly adventure serial magazine called Quest, and I remember shoe-horning a bunch of stuff out of it into the story. A diver ended up with the bends, for example, which was something I’d read about. It was a class competition at school and I’m pretty sure I won by virtue of my story being five times as long as everyone else’s! I actually won a Black Beauty movie picture book, signed by the teacher. I was dead pleased about it. I still have it somewhere.
MR: You also mention that you wrote your first novel when you were 18. What made you decide that was the right time to start? What did it teach you about writing? How long was it until “The Tube Riders,” your first published novel, came out?
CW: I finished my first novel at 18. I’d been writing off and on for years before that, but I’d never finished anything. I also used to write by hand or on an old typewriter, but that book I wrote at 18 was written on my parents’ brand new Windows 3.1 computer. I’ve always found it easier to write on a computer. I have no idea how people used to do it when they could only write by hand or typewriter. The book is called The Music and it’s about 100,000 words long. It’s about a kid who gets obsessed with a demonic rock band. It’s pretty terrible. Every now and then I’ll open up the file for nostalgia purposes, but I’ve never read it over and I’ll definitely never publish it. Some stuff should stay on the hard drive.
However, that was the start, and I pretty much wrote a book every year after that. The Tube Riders, my first really decent book, was written in 2008, when I was 29. It felt like my last roll of the dice. I got really near to selling it to a publisher, but eventually I couldn’t place it. After that, I felt like there was no gas left in the tank. I gave up writing for three years, then wrote one really angry novel (published now under a pen name that no, I won’t reveal!) as a kind of screw you to literature, but after that I was done. And then I came across Amazon’s self-publishing platform, and figured, why the hell not? And the rest is history, as they say.
MR: You grew up in Cornwall, England, but you’ve been living and teaching in Japan since 2003 – has the different culture affected what you write or the way you write?
CW: In some ways. A lot of my books are a reflection of my environment, and I use settings I know for the most part to keep things simple. I’ve written three books set in Japan – the Tokyo Lost series – but they’re from the view of a foreigner as I don’t understand the culture enough to portray it accurately. I set most of my books in the UK, though, just for simplicity’s sake. One thing it has helped with is give me a work ethic. People get stuff done out here, no excuses, no next week. Get on the chair and get it written.
MR: Has writing changed the way you look at the world? If so, how?
CW: My writing is often influenced by things that go on in the real world, but it’s a reflection of it, often an exploration of themes I’ve read about in the news, for example.
MR: Do you have to do a lot of research for your novels and stories? I imagine the worldbuilding must be pretty intense to span multiple books in a series and stay consistent.
CW: Honestly, I wing it for the most part. I don’t enjoy anything that isn’t the actual draft, so in longer series I’ll keep a basic file with a few character details, but most things are in my head. That’s why I prefer to write stand-alone books or series where each book is a separate story. Also, I can’t imagine writing some ten-book marathon fantasy. I have a single large fantasy that’s unpublished – roughly 800 pages – and just keeping track of that was hard enough.
Next week: Chris Ward, Part 2