Chris is one of those immensely enviable individuals who is genuinely gifted in two different fields. He can perform what, to me, seems like witchcraft with a computer – conjuring websites and apps out of apparent nothingness, AND he writes novels. He is also immensely funny, softhearted, charming, and generous.
You’re wishing he was your friend now, right?
Back off. He’s too busy drinking coffee and playing Dungeons and Dragons with me.
Who are you?
I’m a 39 year old writer and web programmer. I’ve written (and ghost-written) books for a range of young readers. My latest book – Spurt: a balls and all story – is a young adult comedy, and my first novel under my own name.
Chris with his daughter Gracie, and his latest book “Spurt”
My daughter Gracie turned seven this year. My partner Nikki went back to work full-time when Gracie was eighteen months old, so for a while I was primary carer and ‘household manager’. Now that Gracie’s at school, Nikki and I have a pretty much equal share in balancing our various professional and creative endeavours with the raising of our child (and the ‘cleaning up after’ of our new puppy, Charley).
Charley, Nikki, and Gracie
How would you describe your craft?
A lengthy, grinding process of solving ever more challenging problems, with occasional moments of magic. That is as true of the writing as it is of the programming, and as true of the programming as it is of the writing.
In addition to the occasional moments of magic, there are frequent pork rolls and caramel slices.
Has your creative process and practise changed since becoming a parent? If so, how?
Yes, but mainly in terms of how my creative life is structured. I have more to say about this below.
Do your kids inspire your work? If so, how?
Not in a specific way, but more in terms of the larger question of what it means to produce of work of… well, I hesitate to use the word ‘art’ in reference to a book in which a pubic hairpiece is virtually a major character, but let’s say ‘work of art’ anyway, for convenience.
I have such a small window of time in which to write (which is partly a function of being a parent of a young child), and there are already so many stories out there (especially ones written by straight white men like me), that I want to make sure what I do write is of net benefit to the world. (The jury is out on whether I’ve succeeded.)
So, in a way, having a child has inspired me to realise that the reader’s time is more valuable than the writer’s. And seeing my child reading books is inspiring in itself, because I’m reminded of the sense of wonder and engagement that characterised my own early experiences with reading.
Do you include your kids in your creative practise? If so, how?
As I’m evaluating my idea for my next book I’ve run some thoughts past Gracie, ideas for characters, that sort of thing. My next book will probably be middle grade, meaning Gracie will be in the target age by the time it’s published (I won’t let her read Spurt, much to her chagrin), so I expect I’ll user her as a sounding board throughout the process.
Gracie is also very interested in the Dungeons & Dragons games that I run and play in, and has started coming up with ideas for me to include in my sessions.
As someone who plays D&D with Chris, I am seriously concerned about what this portends…
How do you think the way you were parented influenced your career choice, and your creative interests?
I don’t know if I would describe my parents as ‘book people’ necessarily, but they definitely read for leisure and were not ‘anti-literary’ by any means. Importantly, my dad owned a couple of compilations of Goon Show and Two Ronnies scripts, some Leunig collections, and Monty Python’s Big Red Book, all of which I absorbed obsessively at a young age (and later regurgitated indiscriminately), while my mum’s Pam Ayres books impressed upon me another kind of comedy: a more observational style of humour, based in the domestic and everyday.
Chris: “Some authors would be too embarrassed to cite this as a formative literary influence”
I was quite lucky in that very few restrictions were placed on what I was allowed to read and watch, although now that I have a child myself I can see that this may have been less a conscious strategy and more a case of parental neglect occasioned by lack of energy.
My dad had an interest in computers: he bought a Tandy TRS-80, and then an Amstrad CPC-6128. I taught myself to write BASIC code on these machines. Later we had some sort of IBM clone for which I bought a page layout package, which I used to principally for the production of Doctor Who fanzines and Dungeons & Dragons character sheets and session notes. I’m afraid I rather monopolised these devices, so whatever hobbyist ambitions my dad might have had for them were rather thwarted by his nerdy son. (My parents were so preoccupied with discouraging me from becoming a writer that I don’t think they ever thought of suggesting that I exercise my other strand of creativity by becoming a computer programmer; if they had, my commandeering of the Tandy, the Amstrad and the IBM might have been less galling.)
What do you do to encourage creativity in your own children?
My daughter is a naturally expressive person; she hasn’t needed much encouragement to be creative. That said, when she was younger we built LEGO together (and we still do occasionally), drew pictures, did collages, practised origami, made stop-motion animations, played with fuzzy felts, and used various ‘story maker’-style apps on the iPad. I’ve also typeset a couple of stories she’s written, leaving space for her illustrations.
Chris: “This was actually the last time my daughter asked me to do Fuzzy Felts with her”
When Gracie was heavily into the ‘Rainbow Fairies’ book series (ie. between the ages of four and six-and-a-half; that’s 30 months of Rachel and f___ing Kirsty, by the way) I sometimes got us through the long walk home from the shops by pretending we were on a journey to piece together some enchanted item or other that would help us defeat the villainous Jack Frost (not that he’s that much of an evil mastermind; he’s a bit of an ineffectual tosser to be honest).
We recently took Gracie to a zine fair at the State Library of Victoria, which I think was important in the sense of demonstrating to her that the do-it-yourself spirit that comes so naturally to children does not have to end with the arrival of adulthood, that a ‘published book’ is not the only definition of a book, and that creativity is something you can practise even if it is not ‘your job’.
How do you make time for your craft? What strategies do you use to ensure that you get shit done?
I used to think my most creative hours were in the evening, but several years ago I discovered that I work best in the morning. When I say morning, I mean “really quite early in the morning”.
For a while I was getting up at 5am – not every day, just every now and then – to do some unstructured stream-of-consciousness writing.
That didn’t last very long, but it was enough to seed the idea of the early-morning writing routine that became necessary once I signed the contract to write Spurt.
By that time I’d returned to paid employment, working a few days a week, after a period of being a full-time stay-at-home primary carer. I found that between the hours of 5am and 7am I was just as productive as I would be if I’d set aside a whole day to write.
It’s partly because there are no other distractions, partly because it’s a very focused period in which there just isn’t time to procrastinate, but mainly because my inner critic isn’t properly awake yet (my inner critic works long, intense hours).
How do you recharge when you’re feeling totally tapped out?
Hard to answer this one, as I’m currently in the middle of a period of feeling totally tapped out right now.
The smart thing to do would be to go to the movies, read a book, look at some art, watch some TV, hang out with friends. Unfortunately I’m not particularly good at rewarding myself or giving myself time off, so I tend to try to work through those periods, usually with suboptimal results for my emotional wellbeing.
Theoretically these are all things I could do to try to recharge, but they’re not things I tend to apply in practice.
One indulgence I do allow myself occasionally is to go on long walks – because I’m getting exercise and fresh air, I don’t have to berate myself for ‘doing nothing’, and it’s often enough to clarify a problem, resolve an emotional block, or generate new ideas.
All the photos used in this post were taken by him.