Chris Morton is a Brighton-based author who enjoyed making up stories as a kid. Contrary Life caught up with him to find out more about his novel and the importance of being happy.
Your debut novel English Slacker has just been short listed for the Guardian’s “Not the Booker Prize” competition, tell us more about the book.
There’s a spoken word song by a band called Arab Strap named The First Big Weekend. Over a mix of acoustic guitar and trip hop the singer describes what he and his mates got up to on the first weekend of their summer holiday: going to the pub, lazing around in the sun, wandering through their neighbourhood in the late afternoon curing their hangovers whilst preparing to hit the town once again that night. The free and easy style of spoken voice is great to listen to and I thought it would work brilliantly in a novel. That’s how it all started. I wrote a novella around ten years ago that portrayed the world of teenage drinking in a wonderful, romantic light. But when I decided to turn this into a full-blown novel a decade later I was thirty, an alcoholic and my attitude to this world of drink, drugs and socialising had darkened somewhat. English Slacker explores this change from the sweet taste of your first alcopop or innocent toke on a joint to the bitter reality of an addiction that can take you so far from reality you no longer know who you are any more.
The book is said to be based on your personal experiences, how much of you is in the book do you think?
Well, to create a novel with any accuracy you can either do a lot of research or write about what you know. Personally I prefer the latter. But although the novel is written in the first person it’s not me. In fact the writing process was like being an actor, getting into character and all that. I’ve heard that all good actors put a little of themselves into the parts they play though and of course there is a fraction of me in there. The voice too is based upon my own. I felt that if I were to fake an accent there was a danger of my character sounding stereotypical or contrived. All the events that take place are made up but they’re all based on similar types of things that have happened to me or my friends. To explicitly write the truth is dangerous in my belief because it can be meaningful to you but lost on the reader.
You do seem to have led quite a laid-back existence so far, with plenty of time to enjoy life, whereas most people these days barely have time to blink. What are your tips for a stress free lifestyle?
Honestly I think you have to do what you want to do rather than what society or your parents expect of you. It’s like in that film where the guy quits his highly paid job to work in a hamburger bar because that’s what he enjoys and all his family are freaking out saying, “What the hell are you doing?” and he’s like, “I’m having fun, what’s the problem?” and everyone thinks he’s having a breakdown. I did a similar thing by working part-time in a supermarket for most of my twenties and then becoming an English language teacher, travelling the world and not worrying about my career status, just enjoying myself instead.
I think a lot of stress is related to keeping up appearances too, and that’s an important thing to keep in mind: Better to stick with the truth. We’re all gonna die one day so just be yourself.
The grass is always greener on the other side though. I was listening to this guy on the train the other day saying if he could go back and start again he’d love to be a teacher, do something fulfilling with his life. Said he’d even do it now if he didn’t have the pressure from his wife to keep up the mortgage payments. He appreciated having a big house, two cars and that he was able to go on holiday twice a year but he’d throw it all away for the chance to do a more worthwhile job – Personally I’d love to be able to afford a house.
You did complete a degree in Biology, at some point did you see yourself as more of a scientist than a writer?
The words, “What the hell am I gonna do with an English degree?” kept rattling around my head so I chose Biology because I thought it would give me more career options. I’ve never been a scientist though; I was quite a lazy student. Science is interesting for me but only because it spurs my imagination. Dinosaurs, black holes, the speed of light and the speed of time, evolution and all that. It’s great to learn about on Channel 4 but when it comes to studying it can get a bit boring. I’ve ended up becoming an English teacher and a writer. Maybe I should’ve opted for an English degree after all!
Do you have plans for a second novel, and will it be similar to English Slacker or something completely different?
As soon as I found out English Slacker was going to be published I started writing short story after short story like a maniac and posting them all up to various websites across the net (I guess getting published helped my confidence). Then suddenly I got an idea for a new novel and wrote 40,000 words in two months. Right now I’m about three-quarters of the way through it. And yes, it’s a book quite similar to English Slacker in many ways. The style is comparable and once again my protagonist is eighteen years of age. This time the action takes place at university (as opposed to a small town during the summer holidays). I figured that when you read and enjoy an author’s work you hope and expect the next book to provide more of the same so that’s what I’m giving. With my short stories I can be more experimental.
More info: authortrek.com