UQP Writer's Room: Chris Flynn
Why did you start writing?
Technically, because I started breathing. There was no real decision point. I began writing stories as a kid and never stopped. I am cursed by imagination.
How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?
I still haven’t decided. I probably never will. I want to keep exploring the boundaries of form and genre.
Where was your inspiration for your latest work?
The inspiration for Mammoth came from a multitude of places. I was reading a lot of history books about the early years of American democracy when I discovered Jefferson’s fascination with securing mammoth bones, or even a live specimen. Separate to that, I read about contemporary natural history auctions, where fossils are bought by museums and celebrities. During this time, I was working at the RSPCA and became interested in animal intelligence and interspecies communication. This unholy trinity somehow converged into a book in my head.
How do you get started with a new project?
Where, how and when does a project begin? I wish I knew. The answer to that is mysterious. If I’m being honest, I probably start by walking. Long walks, during which I’m cogitating, teasing out threads, contemplating characters, trying to decide if the idea has legs. I don’t sit down to write until quite late in the project’s development. So, if you see me staring vacantly into the distance, I’m working, guys. Leave me alone!
Do you have a routine? What tools do you use?
It depends what stage I’m at with a story. Once I get to the tedious part of writing the bloody thing, I work office hours Monday to Friday. Well, a creative’s version of office hours, which is probably more like three hours of writing and five of obsessing over my fingernails. No tools, just a keyboard and a big screen. I don’t work on paper at all. Please don’t buy me notebooks for Christmas. I’d prefer a hamper.
How do you handle writer’s block?
No idea, because I’ve never experienced it. I have the opposite problem – a surfeit of ideas.
How important is research in the writing you do?
Vital. Mammoth wouldn’t exist without years of research. It’s also the most fun part of the process for me. The problem is not getting distracted by all the enticing rabbit holes, although I tend to indulge myself.
How much planning is required when it comes to structuring one of your books?
I tend to let structure dictate itself. From bitter experience, I’ve found that imposing a strict template on a story from the beginning can drain it of life. You do that and then you’re 30,000 words in, about to start chapter 12 when you realise, ‘Oh, this is the where the story really begins.’ I’m not a fan of the traditional chapter structure. What am I writing, a medical textbook?
What’s the editing process like?
Far and away my favourite part of writing a book. I’m the least precious author in the world, and I love collaborating with an editor, exploring how we can make the story better together. Editors don’t get nearly enough credit for their contributions to books. Some of them deserve to have their names on the cover. My editor on Mammoth was Felicity Dunning. She has some killer jokes in there, and she sort of became one of the characters during the process. The Tyrannosaurus, in case you’re wondering.
How did you come to be published?
Persistence. My first book was the sixth I wrote. I also advise potential authors to be friendly, humble and engage with the industry. Don’t act like you’re a genius. In the words of Anne Enright, only bad writers think that their work is really good.
Social media – like it or loathe it?
I hate Facebook with a passion and Twitter is a toxic morass of anger, bitterness and entitlement, so count me out. Instagram, on the other hand, I love! Hit me up on @flythefalcon.
How do you handle the reviews?
I’m a harsh critic myself, so nothing surprises me. Good or bad, I don’t dwell on them. My favourite bad one saw the guy railing against the sex in my first book A Tiger in Eden. He really had an issue with it. Then I looked him up and discovered he was a defrocked priest, stood down for you-know-what. Explained a lot.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
As a younger man, I was a stage actor for a while. My life went in a different direction, but I’m still holding out hope that I’ll be cast as the villain in a science fiction TV show. Something with lots of prosthetic forehead ridges.
What is your number one tip for aspiring writers?
‘Write what you know,’ doesn’t necessarily mean, ‘write about yourself’. Fuel your imagination by exploring your interests and if people don’t get it, remember the sage words of Terry Pratchett: Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.
Plotter or pantser? Plotter up to a point, but pantser once I’m in the cockpit.
Tea or coffee? Tea. Rooibos. Soy.
When I’m not writing I’m… Riding my motorbike at breakneck speeds around the hills of Southern Gippsland.
My favourite place to read is… On the couch, late afternoon, which admittedly often turns into a nap.
Ebook or physical book? Physical. Although I don’t keep them. I give them away once I’ve read them. I know it’s strange for an author, but I only have one small book-spinner in my office containing about 50 of my favourites.