Tuesday, February 19, 2008

CSFF Day 2: Chris Walley's interview with Christian Fandom

Okay, I promised it, so here it is ... and first an update! Jenny's baby was born this morning around 7:40, and while I didn't get to be there, I was in prayer for her and then got to see her and hold sweet Coral Maria when she was only 3 hours old!

Okay, now for Chris Walley, from November 2006:

Tell us about your background, birthplace, where and when you grew up, what your childhood was like, etc.?

I was born in north Wales but our family moved to Lancashire in northern England when I was just four. One result of this is that I never really felt either Welsh or a Lancastrian; even now after twenty years living in Wales, I still feel like an ‘adopted’ Welshman. I can’t say that it was a particularly happy childhood. I was very bookish and very insecure, two factors that created a gulf between me and my school colleagues. It was all made worse by a stunning error of judgment in which I got sent to secondary school a year earlier than everybody else and so struggled for many years. Retreating into books was something of a consolation. One curious feature, which I only found out a couple of years ago, is the area where I spent most of my childhood was the area that provided Tolkien (who was at a boarding school just round the hill from where I lived) with much of the background for ‘the Shire.’ Intriguingly, when I read Lord of the Rings, I envisaged the Shire very differently from where I lived. I suspect we like to distance fantasy from our real world.

Where did you go to school?

Aah, an Americanism that trips up Brits. ‘School’, of course, in British English means something you leave at 17 or 18 when you go to university. I did a first degree at Sheffield, a PhD in Swansea (starting a long link with the area), and a postgrad teaching course at the University of Keele.

I took geology at university. There were, I think, two reasons for this, both linked to books. The first is that I liked the heroic, romantic idea of travelling the world and being in exciting locations. As a cautionary tale, I ought to say when I did at last go to far-off exotic and exciting places I found that often they were really unpleasant. It turns out I preferred the theory of adventure rather than the practice. The second reason I think I did geology is also literary. Geology requires a great deal of imagination. A typical exercise is to look at some sequence of dull grey rocks with tiny little fossil fragments and from them extrapolate back to some warm coral sea full of light and colour. I enjoy doing that and seem to have been pretty good at it.

What is your family situation? (Married? Kids? 1.7 dogs?)

I am happy married to Alison and have been for over a quarter of a century. We have two adult sons, both of whom read books and are very much involved in church things. But it is just us at home now.

How did you get started writing?

I was working as an oil company consultant in the 1980’s and did a lot of globetrotting. I would tend to pick up books at the airport bookshop and very soon decided that, in many cases, I could do better. Then for a number of years the oil price was so low and there wasn’t much to do in the office. So I started writing a contemporary thriller Heart of Stone, under the pseudonym of John Howarth. This, and its sequel, Rock of Refuge and were picked up by the States, where they sold tolerably well. At the time, I assumed that this was par for the course rather than me being extraordinarily fortunate.

What works have you had published? (not restricting yourself to SF/F titles) Articles, short stories?

Lots of science papers! Two thrillers which are now astonishingly out of date: nothing dates more quickly than the contemporary thriller. The present cycle of the Lamb among the Stars, which if we are to go on the definitive hardbound books, is The Shadow and Night and The Dark Foundations and (when I finish it) The Infinite Day. I’ve also done quite a bit of ghostwriting and co-writing. When we came back from Beirut the second time in 1998, there were no geology jobs, so I ended up first editing and then writing. One book The Life, a Portrait of Jesus I did with J. John is, I think, really good. But I rather despair about the way in which it has not really made it into the secular bookshops, where it is badly needed.

Who are your influences as a writer, and why?

A major influence is Arthur C. Clarke, although his sometimes rather rabidly anti-Christian attacks irritate me. One other influence is John Buchan, who probably is little known in the States. He wrote a large number of books in the early decades of the 21st century, including some excellent thrillers. His sense of atmosphere, his style, and his enviable ability to dash off a book while doing such jobs as managing Canada is a real challenge.

What is your personal all-time favorite SF/F work, and why?

I’m afraid it’s hard to avoid Lord of the Rings. It is everything we want an alternative world to be: heroic, vast, frightening.

What is your faith stance, and how does it affect your writing?

I was converted to a living Christian faith while doing my PhD and have always been pretty involved with Christian things. By British standards, I am a conservative evangelical. I think by some American viewpoints, I would be somewhat suspect, especially when it comes to both Genesis and Revelation, where I think it probable that both the start and end of this creation may be further away than some of us think! I am currently an elder in a Baptist Church in Swansea and do a reasonable amount of preaching and teaching. In some ways, I wish I could remove my faith from my writing, as books with any sort of a Christian basis are hard to market in the UK. But I can’t. Faith issues are very real to me and I think I tend to work out some of my struggles in my characters.

What Christian book(s) (fiction or non-fiction) have had the greatest impact on your thought and writing?

In terms of Christian fiction, I think that C. S. Lewis’s science-fiction trilogy had a great impact. It made me realise that you could write about such things. Mind you, I’m not sure that the Narnia series isn't more successful. Relevance to my current project – the Lamb Among the Stars – is a book I read 20 years ago, called The Puritan Hope by Iain Murray. In that, he pointed out that the Puritans and the founding fathers of the United States held to a post-millennial view of the future and foresaw a glorious future of the church. Although I am cautious about adopting this as a dogmatically held doctrinal position, it opened such an extraordinarily entertaining vista on what would happen when this long, glorious period ended prior to the Second Coming that I thought it would be fun to try writing something.

When you write, have you ever come across theological “puzzles” you had to sort through to your own satisfaction before you could continue with the story?

All the time! My concern is that I have got some still to resolve before I can finish this final volume. Actually I think I have sorted them out. But new issues do come up. One of the interesting things about writing in the SF genre is that often the treatment of very difficult issues has been handled rather shallowly. For instance, what would it really be like to be an artificial intelligence? How would you learn? How would you relate to ordinary human beings?

What do you do when you aren’t writing?

Sadly, at the moment, I have another job which pays enough money for me to live. I am a lecturer in a local college teaching 16 to 18-year-olds Geology and Environmental Science, which I rather enjoy. So my writing is condensed into evenings and holidays. Of course, if anybody wants to buy the film rights, that will free me up!

What sorts of things stir the pot of creativity for you? Music, artwork, certain films, etc.

I think there are two things here: ingredients for the pot and stirring the pot. With respect to the ingredients for the pot, I think that has to be life, whether that is in other books or in reality. Ironically for fantasy, I think some of the most stimulating things are say, National Geographic articles or reports about some particular, long forgotten culture. I find it rather pathetic when a writer introduces what he or she considers to be an exotic alien or human society and you realize that it is nothing more than a faintly veiled 21st century Los Angeles or London. Sometimes ideas can hit you in the most extraordinary of places: in The Dark Foundations there are major chunks that would very definitely not have been written if I hadn’t visited Mont St Michel in France or the ethnography section of the Field Museum in Chicago. (Readers may guess which chunks I am referring to.) On stirring the pot, I think music really helps, because I know nothing quite so transports me as much as music. I think I would perhaps rather have written a really good piece of music than a really good book.

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Thanks again to Chris for that interview ... and I'll dig up a few more bits tomorrow!

For the list of participants, see yesterday's post.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing! Because, as you might have guessed, I didn't make it to the Fandom site in the past 24 hours...

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  2. Thanks for sharing this! It was wonderful to see some incite into the author's life.

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  3. Fascinating, Shannon! I'm so glad you posted this.

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  4. I'm glad you liked the cartoon. :)

    I'd like to thank you as well for posting this interview. It was something I missed when I was researching Mr. Walley for the tour.

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