Hi Steve, many thanks for inviting me along today. It’s a real pleasure. What I’m up to is the usual double life authors have of writing on the one side and the real world on the other. So I’ve got my day job, working as communications officer for the children’s charity WellChild, my family - teenagers, dog, the whole works. Then on the writing side I’m still promoting The Pick-Up Artist which has been out for about 12 months now with Magic Oxygen Publishing, plus I’ve started on another book.
The Pick-Up Artist last year. Tell me a bit about that book and how it has been received so far?
It’s essentially a romantic comedy, it’s about a shy young man’s attempts to find love, or sex at least, with the help of a peculiar online community called the Pick-Up Artists who claim to be able to use psychological techniques to attract women. It’s not giving much away to say it doesn’t go as smoothly for him as he might have hoped. But it’s also about the women he meets who are my favourite characters in the book I would say, they’re rude and funny and don’t take any prisoners. I’d say it’s done maybe a bit better in terms of sales than my last book which was literary fiction, but they are both with smaller publishers and that kind of puts a cap on what they are likely to sell as you don’t have the marketing machine and distribution network that the big publishing houses do. They’ve done okay though, I’m very grateful they are out at all and that I found publishers who wanted them.
It is described as 'A lad lit romcom about dating in the digital age.' Have you got any experience of dating in the digital age and how much of this novel was based on true life experiences?
No experience personally, I’ve been happily married for about a thousand years. Luckily, the beauty with fiction is that you get to make things up, or use stuff you have observed in others, I spent lots of years as a journalist which you could describe as being a professional observer, so I’m quite good at people watching. The lad lit description came from my publishers. They decided that was the way to market the book and I deferred to them on the subject as it’s their area. I was a little uneasy about it at first - the majority of my readers are women, both for my first book and for this one. I didn’t want to do anything to put them off or make them think this book wasn’t for them. Luckily I needn’t have worried, most of the readers who have contacted me about PUA are women and most of the reviews have been from women, and thankfully they seem to like it.
What is the best pick-up line you have ever used? And more importantly, what is the worst?!
I didn’t used to use pick up lines - maybe that’s where I was going wrong. The PUA people in my book are a real movement who believe you can attract women through supposed psychological techniques. A lot of their ideas sound barking mad, others sound like they have a grain of truth in them, many of them are described in the book. Do they work? I don’t know, I’ve not tried them. I’m uneasy about the whole idea really as it sounds like a recipe for using people and trying to bend them to your will. I suppose if The Pick-Up Artist has a moral position then it’s that, though it is basically a comedy.
Do you think the lad lit genre gets the praise it deserves?
If I’m honest, until the publisher told me I’d written a lad-lit novel I didn’t know I had done, or really that it was a genre. What I do believe is that the best writers, and the best books, in any given genre transcend that genre and are just appreciated as great writing.
Who is your favourite lad lit author/book and why?
I’m no expert on the genre I’m afraid. What I did with this book was try to pitch it around the area inhabited by say Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis, or The Rachel Papers, which was Martin Amis’s first book. I think maybe it has a little taste of Nick Hornby, that kind of thing. But I was also influenced by the more romantic literary fiction books out there such as Love in the Time of Cholera and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. I read a lot and it all gets into the mix - I find it easier to see what has influenced me with a book when I have finished it.
You are a winner of the Bridport Prize. What can you tell me about that award?
It was years ago I won it but it still follows me around, in a good way. It’s one of the bigger short story prizes in the UK and is considered reasonably prestigious. On the one hand, winning something like that doesn’t mean very much to you as a writer, it’s not like I had agents and publishers banging my door down because of it, but on the other hand it did give me a boost of confidence and made me think I was perhaps on the right track, which was great. It’s also something which pops back up again from time to time, publishers like sticking it on blurbs and websites, and I even get the odd gig off the back of it. I’ll be at Evesham Festival of Words on July 1st giving a talk on ’Winning the Bridport Prize’ (and hopefully flogging some books) so, be there or be unfashionable.
Song of the Sea God, is not exactly what you would call lad lit. What made you make such a jump from one genre to the other?
I basically write the books I feel compelled to write and then try to find a publisher who loves them enough to put them out. So my first book is nothing much like my second and the one I’m working on now will be different again. Wiser authors than me will say I’m doing it all wrong and that I should write in the same style every time to build up a readership, but I think what the hell? I’d rather write what I’m inspired to write and see how that goes - that’s the fun of it surely. There’s not much money in this so I might as well enjoy it. Song of the Sea God, published by Skylight Press, is a literary novel set on a small island of the coast of England where a strange figure washes up and tries to convince the local people he is a god. It’s like a kind of creepy fairytale. Some people really seemed to like it - they wrote all kinds of essays about various aspects of it, what it secretly meant and so on. PUA is a lot more straightforward but I like to think it’s just as worthwhile in its own way.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Practice - nobody gets good at this straight out of the box. It’s a funny thing that people wouldn’t expect to pick up a guitar and know how to play it without having learned, or paint a great picture the first time they pick up a brush. But, perhaps because everyone can write there’s this belief that everyone is automatically a writer. Put in the work and eventually you will get good.
And finally, what is next in the pipeline for Chris Hill. Any more lad lit?
My next book will be different from either of the others but I’m not quite sure yet what it will be. It takes me two years to write a book, soup to nuts, a year for a first draft and another for rewrites, at the moment I’m right at the start of that process which is quite an exciting place to be but also quite daunting, who knows where I will end up?
Thanks Chris and good luck with that third book!
Chris Hill is an author from Gloucester in the UK whose new novel The Pick-Up Artist is published by Magic Oxygen Publishing. You can find it on Amazon here.
Chris is a social media addict with 25,000 followers on Twitter @ChilledCh he is on Facebook here, and has a popular blog where he talks about reading, writing and more at http://www.chrishillauthor.co.uk/.