Thursday, March 6, 2014

Interview with Chris Hill, Author of Song of the Sea God... "You should never trust a writer who doesn’t read!"

Hey there, y'all!

With us today at the BB Writer's Retreat we have Chris Hill, author of Song of the Sea God (Skylight Press).

Lia Mack: Chris, please start us off by telling a little about yourself.

Chris Hill: I live in Gloucestershire in the UK but I grew up on a small island called Walney, off the coast of Cumbria and this became the setting for Song of the Sea God. I’m married with two sons and I spent a lot of years as a journalist working on newspapers in the UK - I started as a reporter and finished as an editor. Now I work in PR for a children’s charity called WellChild who provide nurses for sick children so they can be cared for in the family home rather than hospital.

I’ve always written fiction, I started with short stories and improved over time, winning a few awards including a big one in the UK called the Bridport Prize. Later I progressed to writing novels and Song of the Sea God is my first to find a publisher - Skylight Press, who brought it out late last year.  

Lia Mack: Ultimate question...Why do you write?

Chris Hill: I don’t honestly know why! I started very young and I think it grew out of the fact that I have always loved reading fiction. I loved it so much that I wanted to write some, it seemed like magic to me, this conjuring of stories out of the ether. The passion to do it is what keeps you going and you get better over time, it’s the 10,000 hour rule - put in enough practice and eventually you get good.

Lia Mack: Can you describe a bit how your venture into writing looked like? How did you come to be a writer as your career?

Chris Hill: I’ve done it for as long as I remember - since junior school. I started writing scraps in old school note books and gradually developed over time until I was writing proper stories. Some of these won competitions which was obviously encouraging. Later I started writing novels, three so far.

Lia Mack: Can you tell us a little about your book?

Chris Hill: Song of the Sea God is novel about a man who comes to a small island and tries to persuade the people there that he is a god. It’s a book about religion and what it means to people which is of course a pretty serious subject - and the story is quite dark and alarming in some ways, but there is plenty of humour in there too. I’ve been delighted by the way the book has been received so far and it has had lots of positive and thoughtful reviews from people on Amazon and Goodreads.

I wrote the book because I think there’s a general interest in the idea of faith and spiritual fulfilment at the moment. At the same time belief in god and formal religion has receded to the extent that it’s nowhere near as common as it used to be. I think people have been left with a spiritual hole in their lives - a god-shaped hole, I suppose that’s what the book is about!

Lia Mack: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this particular story?

Chris Hill: There were quite a few. It involved a good deal of research for one thing. I had to learn about all kinds of ancient religions and beliefs and the ritual which went with them. But I also needed to research psychological magicians’ tricks such as cold reading, and I needed to know more about how cults worked and the dynamics of the relationship between a leader and his followers.

Then there was the business of creating a believable world even though some of the things which happen within it border on the fantastic. I wanted to create a world with one foot in reality and one outside of it.

One of the most important things in any book is getting the voice right I believe - the sound of the book, it affects everything, so that is always a challenge. I wanted the writing in the book to really zing off the page - make people laugh, make people think.

Lia Mack: What are you working on now?

Chris Hill: I have another book ready to go - a much lighter, funnier novel, almost a rom-com, about a young man’s inept attempts to find a girlfriend and I’m looking for a publisher for that. I am also working on a short story collection which I’m hoping my current publisher might take a look at. I started out thinking I had that already written because of all the stories I have written over the years. But once you start gathering stories together and looking at them in a group you begin to think - I would be better if I added more of this, or took out that one? and so I am writing new work for that collection now.

Lia Mack: What does your typical writing day look like?

Chris Hill: I work at my day job and then write round the day - in the evenings, at weekends. I find that a perfectly acceptable way to write and I think if I did have the chance to do it full time I would just spend five hours looking out of the window and making pots of coffee and just one or two doing actual work. How hard I work depends on where I am in the process. At the start of writing something there is a lot of head scratching and scribbling in note books on the bus. But towards the business end there is a lot of sitting at the computer tap tapping away for many hours. I am a massive believer in rewriting - that’s when you make it good, so I also spend a lot of time scribbling on my manuscripts so you can barely see the type for corrections.

Lia Mack: Do you read while you write? What are you reading now?

Chris Hill: I do read a lot all the time - I think you should never trust a writer who doesn’t read! Sometimes however, when I’m in the midst of writing a novel I go off reading fiction and switch to non-fiction books, history, popular science, biography, philosophy - all kinds of stuff. It sometimes helps not to read fiction when you are writing as you can cloud your style with what you are reading. Most of the time I’m reading a novel though - at the moment it is a monster - Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, all 1,200 pages of it. I’m about a third of a way through so far and I’m finding it wonderful in parts.

Lia Mack: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself if you could speak to the aspiring writer you once were?

Chris Hill: I think I would encourage myself to get serious sooner, but I would also say take heart - it will be a long road but keep on keeping on and you will get published in the end!

Lia Mack: Thank you so much for being my guest today. Where can you be found online?
Chris Hill, Author of
Song of the Sea Gods
Chris Hill: If people want to read Song of the Sea God, it can be ordered at all bookshops - plus found at many places online including Barnes and Noble, Waterstones and of course it’s available on Amazon and you can read the first few pages to get a feel for it.

I have a blog here which I update every week:

I spend a lot more time than I should on twitter @ChilledCH

And I’m on Facebook here:!/chris.hill.3726

Thanks for having me as a guest at your writers retreat Lia, it’s been a pleasure.