Sep 28, 2014

Author Interview with Chris Pearce

When did you realize that you wanted to become a writer?
It was at quite a young age. In Grade 1, I preferred to write words and numbers at my desk rather than sit on the floor and listen to the teacher read a story. In Grade, 2, I was writing essays of a few pages when we were supposed to be writing a few sentences. From about the age of 11 to 14, I started but didn’t finish about four novels. I said to Mum I wanted to be an author but she said I needed to get a proper job. I ended up in accountancy, same as Dad. I lasted four years. But I’ve been lucky. Most of my jobs involved a lot of research and writing, as did my university studies.

Is being an Author all you dreamed of, or did it just happen? The best and worst thing about it?
I think a lot of people dream of being a successful author. I’ve been through stages of wishing this for myself. I now tend to be more of a realist. Being a writer isn’t easy. Literary agents are taking on even fewer new authors these days. Book shops are shutting as the writing industry transitions from print to digital. This probably hasn’t made things much easier as you are competing in such a large market, with 80,000 new ebooks being published each month. I am preferring writing to full-time work though. So for me, I think it was always going to just happen. It was always something I wanted to do.
The best thing about being an author is the freedom to research and write about what you want to. This is especially so for an indie author. I am not tied down by what a literary agent or traditional publisher might want, or to have my work heavily edited, or to have to meet some publishing deadline. The worse thing is that it seems to be virtually impossible to make a living out of it, and this is the case whether an author publishes traditionally or independently. A few do it and good luck to them. But for me, the important thing is to get my writing out there.

What was the very first thing you ever wrote?
Haha …how far back do you want me to go? I recall in Grade 2 I wrote an essay about the holidays and it seemed to go forever. Mum kept it and when I read it years later, I saw that I tended to use “and” a lot instead of starting a new sentence. Also, it was written in very faint pencil that got fainter and fainter. Perhaps I didn’t have a pencil sharpener. I wouldn’t have been more than just 11, perhaps still 10, when I started writing a story based on a haunted house. I think I wrote about 30-40 pages. At that age, there were always other things to do though, such as running and cycling, and I was always at the beach.

What made you create A Weaver’s Web?  How did it come to you?
It actually came out of a non-fiction book I wrote on an Australian convict, Through the Eyes of Thomas Pamphlett: Convict and Castaway. Pamphlett grew up in early industrial Manchester, UK. I found the place and the period fascinating to research and write about, so I decided to write a novel with this setting. It didn’t come straight away, but during a postgraduate creative writing course. Part of this involved keeping a diary of things to do with writing. I fiddled about with various scenarios and came up with an impoverished handloom weaver and his family eking out an existence in a little village in the face of the burgeoning and more efficient factory system that was putting thousands of people in cottage industries out of work. It was quite a controversial period in history and one of rapid change.

Who is your literary hero?
I have quite a few. I like many of Charles Dickens’ characters, especially orphans such as Pip and Oliver Twist and also David Copperfield. It was unusual at the time to have child protagonists. I think Oliver Twist is my favourite. He is a typical product of the mid 19th century industrial era in the UK and our inhumanity to fellow human beings. Oliver battles a series of antagonists from birth. He is bold enough to ask for more food at an orphanage: “Please Sir, I want some more”. He is constantly in trouble but it’s never his fault. His only real friend seems to be Brownlow, who takes him in. However, he is kidnapped and taken back to Fagin’s den. On a number of occasions, we think Oliver is doomed. But as antagonists fall away and Oliver has some luck, including with coincidences, he finally gets an inheritance he is due, and Brownlow adopts him.

How much of your characters are based on your traits or someone you know personally?
I couldn’t really say that any of the characters in A Weaver’s Web are based on my traits or anyone I know. The protagonist is Henry Wakefield who, according to some of the reviews I’ve been getting, is an even nastier fellow than I meant him to be. Henry actually means well in the early chapters, not wanting family members to work in the new factories, despite the much-needed extra income it would bring in. Later, after he starts his own factory in desperation to make a living, the family becomes quite rich, but he holds the purse strings. Son Albert steals money and is caught and transported to New South Wales. Henry’s wife Sarah is expected to be lady of the house but she hates this role and with the extra stress of not knowing where Albert is, she starts hearing voices. Henry puts her in the asylum while he continues to make money.
I’m definitely not that nasty or poor or rich. So I don’t fit into the mould of Henry Wakefield at all. I don’t think I’m like son Albert, who comes back from his time as a convict as a drifter and drinker. I’m neither of those. I’m perhaps a little like Henry and Sarah’s second son Benjamin: quiet, not particularly handy, means well, friendly, but with bit of a rebellious nature.
Despite his nasty side, Henry rescues Albert from life as a factory orphan, arranges to get him back from the colonies, takes Sarah money and food at the asylum (though it was always kept by staff), showed great kindness and sorrow when Sarah got out, and let a young Benjamin marry his sweetheart, though Henry was far from happy when he discovered she had a disability (from factory work), was an orphan and was expecting.

Describe your main character in six words.
Controversial, complex, money-hungry, hardworking, traditional, bad-tempered.

Describe the world you’ve created in six words.
Poverty, upheaval, cruel, wealth, unforgiving, survival.

What scene was your favorite to write?
I really enjoyed writing many of the scenes. Perhaps my favorite one to write was when Albert rescues his mother Sarah from the asylum. The supervisor would let men into the women’s section at night to see any who were willing. She took her cut and the women made a little money to buy extra food and other items. Albert visited the prison one night, pretending to want to see one of the young women. But he was visiting to get to his mother. He had borrowed an oversized coat from a large friend. Under it, he had smuggled in material to place in Sarah’s bed so the supervisor would think Sarah was still there. Albert gets his mother to climb on his back and they put the coat over both of them. On his way out after allegedly seeing one of the young women, Albert struggles with the extra weight he is carrying, making the supervisor suspicious. Somehow, the pair get out and Sarah is free for the first time in several years.

What scene was the hardest for you to write?
I think the hardest scenes to write were those where Sarah Wakefield was having a hard time, not so much the writing process but getting close to her and feeling so sorry for her. On a few occasions, my eyes welled up and I was close to crying. This happened, for example, when she and Henry travelled in their coach all the way to Liverpool to collect Albert from a ship returning from New South Wales. He wasn’t there because the master Henry had struck a deal with to kidnap Albert and bring him back was unable to do so as the lad was in a chain gang somewhere outside Sydney. She was distraught. Another time was when Sarah came home – a cellar in a terrace (before they became rich) – to find it flooded after rain with a foot or more of putrid water. Also, the scene where Henry took Sarah to the asylum was hard to write because of the emotion.

What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished going through my non-fiction book on the Australian convict Thomas Pamphlett ready to get it published as an ebook. I researched and wrote it a while ago. It was published as a printed book and had been in the bookshops. I think there are still some copies at online booksellers. Pamphlett is best known for his time as a castaway in the Moreton Bay area off present-day Brisbane in 1823, a year before it was founded. He had set off from Sydney is an open boat with three others to fetch cedar from Illawarra 50 miles to the south. A storm blew them out to sea and they suffered incredible hardships. After 25 days, they were shipwrecked on Moreton Island. One of the four died on the voyage. They thought they were south of Sydney and headed north along the beach.
They were finally rescued seven months later by explorer John Oxley who was looking for a place for a new penal settlement of secondary punishment. The castaways showed Oxley the Brisbane River, which was hidden at its mouth by small islands, and he put in a favorable report to the governor. The following year, 1824, a new colony at Moreton Bay was set up. In 1826, Pamphlett committed another crime and was sentenced to seven years’ transportation to the new colony, which may never have been set up had it not been for Pamphlett sighting Oxley’s boat off the beach. The colony became Brisbane, now with a population of two million and the capital of the state of Queensland, Australia.
I’m also working on a book on the history of daylight saving time around the world. There are some amazing stories. My other book writing project at the moment in a novel set 80 years into the future.

Goals? Accomplishments? Improvements?
My goal is to write more books on a variety of fiction genres and non-fiction topics. I’d like to get to about 10 or so before I get too old to be bothered, but who knows. So far, I have accomplished two published books as I mentioned: my historical novel A Weaver’s Web and non-fiction book Through the Eyes of Thomas Pamphlett. I’d like to think I have accomplished other things too, such as 25 years in the public service (state and federal) and 12.5 years in the real world. Other accomplishments include a bachelor of economics with honours and two university prizes, a master of business administration and a writing and editing qualification that included coming top in a postgraduate creative writing course of 30 students. Improvements are harder to measure but I’d like to think my writing is improving all the time through plenty of practice.

Are there any authors or books you recommend?
This is very subjective but I would recommend a lot of Charles Dickens’ books. At a time when novelists were writing about aristocrats, Dickens was writing about people at the other end of the social ladder, something that previously wasn’t considered interesting enough. Dickens, probably more than anyone else, brought the plight of the poor into the public arena and to the attention of the authorities rather than it being ignored or hidden from view. I think he was the first to use children as protagonists, as I mentioned before. Other books I enjoyed immensely include Rich Man, Poor Man by Irwin Shaw and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. These are the only two novels I’ve read twice.

What's your favorite thing to do when you're not writing?
Writing. Seriously. When I’m not writing books, I’m writing articles for writing sites. I’ve written over 400 articles of about 500 to 3000 words each for US writing sites Helium and Bubblews. I also write comments on economic and political articles at a few news and commentary sites. I have spent some time researching my family history. Also, I have been a consultant editor for about 15 years, editing a range of documents for government, private and education sectors. I tenpin bowl in a weekly league; I used to bowl in open grade tournaments and have been in state teams and the like. I watch news, sport and documentaries on television and go on the occasional outing.