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Chris Killen interrupted the writing of his second novel to answer these very trivial questions: oh, the guilt

In Interviews on April 27, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Things I know about Chris Killen, then. He was born in 1981. He lives in Manchester. The Bird Room, which was published earlier this year, is his first novel. I know these facts because all the very short biographies of Chris Killen mention them.

I want to tell you that The Bird Room is very good indeed, because it is, and it has been rightly lauded in every corner of the world where it has been translated into the local lingo. However, my mind has suddenly been clouded by the realisation that Chris Killen was born in the same year that a bunch of undoubtedly very suspect people dressed up in fluffy bird outfits, called themselves The Tweets, and had a novelty chart hit in the UK with ‘The Birdie Song’. Birds, you see. A connection. That is the sum total of the desperate search I conducted for my own original fact to quote at the start of this interview. Chris Killen is going to kill me now, I’m sure of it.

Chris Killen agreed to answer some questions. About writing. Loosely about writing. In doing so, he was probably distracted from the act of putting words together in pleasing and meaningful ways to produce his second book. I feel guilty about this. It sometimes keeps me awake at night, fretting into my duvet. Here is the interview.

VS: The internet. For writers and writing and the act of writing, is it a Good Thing or a Bad Idea? Please answer with reference to the amount of writing time wasted watching favourite pop videos of your youth on Youtube.
CK: Ways the internet has been beneficial to my writing: emailed by strangers, writing a blog, making new friends and ‘contacts’, reading new interesting writing, having a free and sometimes immediate way of getting my own stuff read by people I don’t know, maybe selling a few extra copies of my novel, being asked to collaborate on things, do readings places, etc. (45%?)

Ways the internet has been detrimental to my writing: time wasted on Gmail chat, refreshing Gmail, Facebook, Facebook Scrabble, Myspace, Youtube, and now also Twitter. (65%?)

VS: Describe the main place that you carry out the act of writing your writing. Extra points will be given for mentioning rising damp and not suggesting it’s like those beautiful writers’ studies featured in glossy Sunday supplements.
CK: It has changed. The main place used to be on a small IKEA dining table that came with my flat. Just a laptop surrounded by all sorts of crap, bits of paper, pens, half-eaten things, mugs, glasses, etc. Can I get extra points for saying that the flat has mice, mould, bad water pressure, no working lights, and no proper radiators?

But now it is in a room at the University of Manchester. I’m here for one semester, until July-ish, I think. It is a large room with empty bookcases, a radiator, working lights, and a desk with a Dell computer on it. Currently on the desk are: two empty plastic cups from the water machine, some keys, a hardback edition of Revenge of The Lawn from the uni library, some in-ear headphones, a phone, bits of paper, a folded-out paper clip, and a leaflet about something. I printed out a picture of Richard Yates’ face which is looking down at me ‘mournfully’ from the notice board.

VS: In your not at all beautiful writers’ room, as you sweat real blood and cry real tears of creativity, your brow is soothed and your feet are washed every two hours by a faithful servant. Let’s imagine this. Describe that servant.
CK: The servant is an old, human-sized cat, who wears a pin-stripe three-piece suit and a monocle. He is able to speak English, but only ever mutters things to himself like “Oh dear” and “Oh no”. He is almost-senile and usually forgets what he is doing and doesn’t ever wash or soothe me, but just occasionally carries in things like an old shoe or an empty crisp packet and gives it to me for no reason.

VS: You are at a book signing, signing the book that you wrote containing your own words. You are presented with a book by another writer who did not write your words. Whose book is it likely to be, and what message do you scribble inside it?
CK: The book is Pan by Knut Hamsun, and I just write ‘This is my favourite novel, I think’ in it.

VS: Is your book available in Braille? Have you felt it? Was it as good to touch as it was to write, or did you have bleeding fingertips at the end of it?
CK: No, it’s not available in Braille, as far as I’m aware. If it is, no one’s told me.

VS: Let’s say your book is going to be made available as an audio version for listening to on long drives down winding country lanes. Who should record it? I wish to mention at this point that I have a very mellifluous English voice which apparently makes the ladies go shivery at the knees.
CK: I’m not sure a shivery-at-the-knees voice would be ‘fitting’. Sorry. I think Mark Heap might be quite good.

VS: Please tell us the most overblown and pretentious phrase you would like to see included in a critical appraisal of your next book. Extra whoops of incredulity will be given for the use of the terms ‘Kafkaesque’, ‘beatniktastic’ or ‘kitchen sink realism’.
CK: I would feel strange about seeing any pretentious or overblown phrase. I don’t think I’d like to see one, particularly, although I guess I’d probably find it funny. Um, something like ‘existential minimalism’, maybe?

VS: Manchester. Please describe the city for an international audience, and say what it means to you. Extra cod and chips will be given for doing this in the meandering style of an epic novel’s opening chapter: dawn breaking, birds singing, etc.
CK: I’m not scoring many points yet, am I? Manchester is just the city I came to do an MA in, and then stayed on in because I met some nice people and was sick of moving around places.



A pigeon swoops down past the glittering phallus of the Hilton hotel, to peck at a chip packet in the rain-sodden gutter …

No, I can’t do it. I’m rubbish. Sorry.

VS: On your blog, Day of Moustaches, there is a photograph of you buying more bananas than is strictly medically advisable. Do you have a banana addiction? Extra shouts will be bellowed for describing it in tragic Jeremy Kyle talk show language.
CK: No, there is no banana addiction, I’m afraid. It was just part of a ‘photoshoot’ to promote my one-chapter-a-day Untitled ‘Supermarket Nightmare’ Novels.

VS: Your blog also features a lot of photos of cats. Is this because of a guilty obsession, a childhood trauma that you are trying to expunge, or are you followed around Manchester by felines? Please imagine me as a psychotherapist at this point.
CK: I had a cat when I was younger. My cat was called Frisky. I just like cats a lot. I would like to have a cat again, but it seems somehow impossible. You need to find a suitable ground floor flat, and a landlord who doesn’t mind pets, and an area where the cat is not going to get run over, etc., etc. I am hoping that all these currently ‘elusive’ elements will somehow ‘fall into place’ soon and then a cat will just appear.

I was looking at ‘odd-eyed white shorthairs’ on the internet this morning.

VS: You are having a nightmare in which you sell your soul and write a trashy bonkbuster for reading on long haul flights. Please tell us what the book’s title would be, the names of your two smooth-skinned, perma-tanned hero and heroine, and your chosen author’s pseudonym.
CK: The book is called ‘Sexy Vampires’.

The two main characters are just referred to as ‘the sexy vampires’ throughout.

And I would write it under my own name, I think.

VS: Everyone needs to belong to a literary movement. It’s the law, apparently. So please create a literary movement centred around you, and tell us about it. What would it be called? Extra hat-doffing will be given for employing the prefix ‘neo’.
CK: ‘Neo-Miniaturism’?

(Just writing about miniature things a lot.)

VS: Finally, you now have exactly forty-four words to offer the first exclusive viral marketing publicity for your next book, without of course giving away anything about it. I promise not to quote this anywhere else, or leak it to the gutter press.
CK: “Virginia Silt is a twig. Virginia Silt has done nothing wrong in her entire life. Virginia Silt doesn’t look at herself in the shower. Virginia Silt has a flat chest. Virginia Silt takes the mirror off the hook and faces it towards the wall.”

Vaughan Simons can be found here, mostly. He edits Writers’ Bloc, too. He thinks, at this point, that he might stick to those two pastimes and not try to become a second Letterman, Leno or Michael Parkinson.