❉ We’re asking: This week – Author of Battlestar Suburbia series and social media thirst trap!
“I’m a great believer in never meeting your heroes. The moment I found out Su Pollard had voted for Brexit was almost as traumatic as the referendum result itself.”
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up in South Shields, which is a town near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, during the Margaret Thatcher years. It was, looking back on it, low-key grim. Not that I wish to sound like one of Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen, but one of my first memories is my dad, who was a policeman, bringing his riot shield home after a day on the picket lines during the Miners’ Strike.
I left Shields as soon as I could to study drama at Manchester University and then after that did an MA in novel writing. I didn’t know what I really wanted to do other than I desperately wanted to write. I did, however, quickly learn two things from this. Firstly, writing is a truly terrible way to make a living. Secondly, full-time writers spend a little too much time alone for their own good. So I ended up taking a job in PR which means, in a way, my life did continue on a fictional basis even though I stopped writing it for a bit.
What has your journey as a writer been like? When did you decide to become a writer?
I don’t think I ever decided to be a writer. Does anyone really do that? Do they get up one morning and think “I am going to spend the next 20 years writing into the dark despite lack of money, opportunity and crippling imposter syndrome in the hope that one day something I write will actually see the light of day?” Because that’s sort of what it felt like.
I suppose I kept going because I’d always wanted to tell stories from when I was very small and whenever I wasn’t at least trying I felt weirdly unfulfilled. What those stories were and how I wrote them changed along the way. I wrote plays, stand-up, blogs, had a near miss with a radio sitcom. I even spent several months writing ‘choose your own adventure’ stories on Twitter using their poll functionality. In the middle of all that came my first (published) novel, Battlestar Suburbia. I wrote most of it during my commute on the Circle Line, tapping it out in dribs and drabs on an iPad between Liverpool Street and High Street Kensington.
Tell us a little about your latest book. What’s it about?
My new book is Battle Beyond the Dolestars, and it’s the sequel to Battlestar Suburbia which was published last year. It’s a comic science fiction adventure set in a world where consumer appliances caught artificial intelligence from the Internet and exiled the human race to a life of cleaning and domestic service. The first book is about the conditions that lead to a human rebellion, and Battle Beyond the Dolestars is about what happens afterwards. It follows a cast of characters that include a backstreet hairdresser who’s the reluctant leader of a resistance movement, a sentient breadmaker, a psychopathic smartphone and four cyborg grannies. I like to describe it as a book about how to live in a time of growing fascism, but with jokes.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
I’m a great believer in never meeting your heroes. The moment I found out Su Pollard had voted for Brexit was almost as traumatic as the referendum result itself.
That said, I would have loved to have met and spoken to Victoria Wood about her writing. She’s my single biggest influence. I love the way she found such a perfect balance between situational, verbal and character comedy.
What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?
Only one? Phew… I’m going to sidestep this one and talk about the piece of television that had the biggest impact on my life. It was the first series of Absolutely Fabulous, which I first watched in its first run on BBC Two back in 1991/2. Before I watched Ab Fab I had no idea about how the media worked, what PR was, and what kind of fun you could have living disgracefully in a big city. I know it was a satire, but to little eleven year old Chris it was a glimpse into another world. My life s nothing like Ab Fab – PR isn’t like it was in the 90s, I don’t shop at Harvey Nichs and I don’t dress like someone’s run at Christian LaCroix blindfolded with a shopping trolley – but it was a show that opened my mind.
Monty Python: is it funny?
Like the curate’s egg: good in parts. Comedy is inherently hit and miss, and Monty Python hit more than they missed, especially in Life of Brian, which I still find hilarious. Every time Jeremy Corbyn appears on the TV I find myself thinking of the People’s Front of Judea. That said, a lot of the sketches are now very dated and they are truly terrible at representing the 51% of humanity that is not men.
What was the last film that you watched?
I finally got round to watching Annihilation and really liked it. The conversation around the movie led me to expect a jump horror, but I got a slow, thoughtful and dreamlike meditation on the mutability of life. It reminded me a lot of Under The Skin, but less baffling and alienating. It has a great cast too: anything with Jennifer Jason Leigh is worth two hours of your time.
What book/s are you reading at present?
I’m getting through Perfidious Albion by Sam Byers. It’s an uncomfortably on-the-nose satire about a near future Britain that’s sliding into populism, driven by insidious tech, bad faith politics and the meatgrinder of social media discourse. It’s quite remarkable, not least because it’s great to see a novel that doesn’t draw tiresome artificial lines between people’s ‘real’ and online lives. We need more novels that acknowledge and respond to the fact that the Internet is part of our world.
What film could you watch every day?
There was a time in my life when I couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing a re-run of The First Wives’ Club, a film which I maintain is endlessly watchable. However, I think the film I am yet to get tired of is Alien. It’s tight, scary, imagines a coherent world without over-explaining it and has several great performances and incredible set-pieces. I still hold my breath when I watch Ripley climbing into that spacesuit singing Lucky Star.
Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?
There are two: The Hissing of Summer Lawns and Hejira, both by Joni Mitchell. One is an album about the high watermark of American culture at the beginning of the 70s, the second about wandering, looking for your home in ideas, in other people, in the road itself. Each song on both of those albums could be a whole novel. I love them.
Which book would you save if your house was on fire?
I own a lot of books but I’m not sentimental about them as artefacts. The great thing about books is that they’re designed to be fungible, so if you lose one you can buy it again and get the same thing. I like to think that if my house was on fire I wouldn’t be fixated on saving a mass produced object.
What’s your definition of what makes something cult?
Hmm, that’s like asking someone to define camp. The harder you try to pin the concept down, the more it transforms itself into jelly and slides through your fingers. I think of cult culture – books, films, TV – as being something that generally speaking isn’t that popular, but which a small number of people adore, and that adoration creates a community around the content. (Can you tell I used to date a Dr Who fan in the early ‘00s?)
What are you working on at the minute? Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’m working on several things. Firstly, a Battlestar Suburbia short story which will be out as a special offer for readers next year. Secondly, a completely new book about class warfare and inequality in a world of magic. And thirdly I’m plotting out a third book in the Battlestar series.
What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?
For a writer, never read below the fold. Nikesh Shukla warned me not to when I got my first piece in The Guardian about why Katie Hopkins book would never sell. It’s great advice. No one’s life improved from reading the comments.
What do you do to chill out?
How do you chill out in a world beset by global warming, rising fascism, ruinous inequality? Yes, I spend too much time on Twitter? I tend to cope with the horrors of civilisation by revelling in them via true crime, or building my own. I’m slowly working through all of the civilisations in Civilization VI.
What would you like to be your epitaph?
No idea. It isn’t up to me to decide how (or if!) I’m going to be remembered.
Is there anything unique about yourself that you would like your readers to know?
I like to think I’m the only author of comic fiction who spends too much time posting thirst-traps on social media, but does that count as unique or just mildly narcissistic?
We are at a bar, what are you drinking?
I will have a red or amber ale please, because I have lived in North East London for too long.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
❉ For more information and to buy Battlestar Suburbia 1 and Battlestar Suburbia 2: Battle Beyond the Dolestars, visit https://farragobooks.com/fb-author/chris-mccrudden/