Thursday, 4 August 2011

Author Visit: Chris Wakling

Today is the final day for submissions from UK and Irish booksellers for 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops.' So, if you've yet to send yours in, then do it now!

In other news:

Today, What I Did by Chris Wakling is out in the UK. It's a wonderful book, and Chris is here to talk to us about it. So, pull up a seat, have a read. Drop a reply. And if you don't win the copy of the book - then go and buy one!

All who reply to this thread before August 20th will have their names put into a hat, and the name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Chris's What I Did.


Chris! Welcome!

Thank you for having me.

So, you’ve been a very busy bee. Two books out this year. Blimey. Tell us about them both, please.

They’re different, that’s for sure. And they represent four years' work, which just happens to have concertinaed into one publishing summer. THE DEVIL’S MASK is a dark, historical mystery set in Bristol after the abolition of the slave trade. WHAT I DID is a tragicomic literary novel about a six-year old whose
father smacks him in public, with disastrous consequences.

How much of Billy in ‘What I Did’ is drawn from how your children behave? Child logic is something that really fascinates me, and you’ve got Billy’s character so spot on.

My son was three when I began work on the novel, and six (the same age as Billy, the novel’s protagonist) when I finished it. I owe him a debt not only for the inspiration he provided, but for his editorial help. (When I was able to pull his nose out of the Lego box, I ran the odd passage past him, to ‘No, he’d never say that, EVER’ useful effect).

But although my son and Billy share characteristics, of course they’re not the same. Billy is both an exaggeration and a refinement; he’s a character. He’s no more my son than I am Jim (the father in the novel): we’re alike in ways, too, but happily I’ve never done anything to warrant a social services investigation.

Part of my reason for writing the novel was to make myself slow down and think hard about what it is like to be a child. Having my own children helped me in that enormously. The extreme present-tenseness of childhood, its frequent misunderstandings, the constant jump-cuts within trains of thought, the bipolar yo-yoing from elation to disconsolation and back again: it all plays out in my kitchen day to day, and it’s also in the book.

If you could sit Billy’s dad down in front of you right now. At the beginning of the book. What advice would you give to him?

We all make mistakes, we all overreact, and – particularly when we suspect we’re wrong - we all hate interference. But it’s Jim’s attitude to the latter which propels him and his family to the brink. I’d tell Jim to let the world in.

What do your children make of you being a writer? Do they think it’s cool? What’s the weirdest thing they’ve said to you about it?

Children normalise everything - to a heartbreaking extent - so mine think being a writer is … normal. My son once asked how many of the six thousand or so books on my shelves I’d written. He looked pretty crestfallen when I singled out the ones with my name on the spine.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Andrew Kaufman’s THE TINY WIFE. It’s fabulous, and tiny. I’m also reading Hari Kunzru’s OF GODS AND MEN, which is big, and also great.

What’s your ‘my first book publication’ story?

I’d chucked in my job as a city lawyer to write my first novel, and I’d gone to Australia to do it. I knew my agent was pitching the novel at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Night-time in Australia, obviously. I slept on the sofa with the phone on my chest. It rang. My agent told me she’d had a couple of offers. I did a little dance (we had people staying) then walked down to the wave-thumping beach and toasted the moon.

Where/when do you find you’re most productive with writing?

I’m normally hardest at it in my study just before 3pm, when I have to stop and collect my kids from school.

What are you up to when you’re not writing?

I look after my children. I travel (and write for The Independent’s travel pages). I also tutor creative writing courses for The Arvon Foundation, and work as the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Bristol University. And I enjoy mountain biking, among some other pretty goddamn hearty pursuits.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My dad was a fighter pilot, and I liked writing, so I wanted to be a writing fighter pilot, obviously.

On our Book Forum we’ve got a Book Tree, where members choose their favourite book and we post them round in a circle. Everyone gets to read everyone’s books, write in them etc, so when we get our books back they’re filled with comments by everyone else. If you were to choose a book for our Book Tree, what would you pick and why?

I have to be honest and say, right now, that I’d choose WHAT I DID. The central question in the novel – is it ever right to smack a child? – elicits a strong response from readers. I’d love to hear what the members of your Book Forum think.

&, finally, what are you working on at the moment, and what are your plans for the future?

I’m working on a new novel about child abduction. And I plan to carry on writing until I die.


'This is family life at its most believable: warm and messy, bored and raging. WHAT I DID is every parent's nightmare, but will make you burst out laughing too. I loved it.'
(Emma Donoghue, author of ROOM )

'I loved it! Staggeringly good. Terrifyingly good'
(Lisa Jewell )

'Hugely impressive, gripping, funny and thought provoking'
(Emily Barr )

'Excellent . . . Dark but uplifting'
(Alex Preston )

What I Did is available here

Chris Wakling website / Follow Chris on Twitter


  1. I already have my copy of What I Did in my sticky little hands. Hooray! Really looking forward to getting stuck in.

    Also Jen, congrats on the book deal! Only just caught up with that news. Brilliant!

  2. Sounds like an interesting read. I'll have to see about getting a copy.

  3. This sounds fab! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  4. I also now want to read The Tiny Wife. I am constantly worrying my peacock tattoo will come to life and fly away, like The Magic Paintbrush stories from Puddle Lane.

  5. This book sounds brilliant. I love the idea of Chris' son asking him how many of the books on his shelf he'd written. Kids rock!

  6. This sounds great! It's on my list.

  7. Intrigued. Sounds like some of the same territory as The Slap but that doesn't stop me being interested.

  8. Thanks for the heads up on the book by Andrew Kaufman. I absolutely loved All My Friends Are Superheroes.

    As a parent, I find the idea in Chris's book very interesting.

    Love the blog.

  9. Wow! I love that he had his son help him edit, I'll have to check it out.

  10. That's really cool. I'd love to read it!