Today we welcome Chris Rose, with this new coming of age novel, Wood, Talc and Mr. J. What an unusual title. Let’s find out more…
Born and bred in the city of steel: Sheffield.
Spent – or misspent, whichever your viewpoint – the majority of his ‘young’ years on the Northern Soul circuit.
It’s around this time and place that his novel is set – ‘Wood, Talc and Mr. J’. His academic education came much later, from scratch, in a sense.
In time, he fell in love with the idea of languages, French in particular, and went on to get a BA Hons in French Language and Literature with subsidiary Spanish, at The University of Sheffield. He was a ‘mature student’, though maybe not as mature as he would like to think, looking back…
After which, he moved down south – mid 90s – and eventually further still to the South of France for a few years, where he taught English. He then moved up to northern France to do much the same thing.
But it was here where he also began to write, or experiment with writing.
He came back to England in the mid-00s and lived in North London for five years, teaching and writing again.
And for the last four or five years, he’s lived in Norwich, where he’s completed a Masters in Literary Translation, at the UEA – he likes to believe he’s most definitely mature now!
He’s now working his way toward making a living by writing, with a little translation on the side…
He tends to be picky about books, and take his time reading them; he expects each word to count; something he can go back to, read again – and again. Things witty, satirical, poetic… Moving. Favourite writers of late? Maybe Markas Zusak. Anna Funder, her ‘All That I Am’. Actually, he’s only just discovered Kurt Vonnegut, and read ‘The Slaughterhouse Five’.
Soulful writers, and their soulful things. And maybe he tries to emulate them.
Same goes for his taste in films, music… and people.
Read on for the interview and more about Chris’ novel…
Wood, Talc and Mr. J
A look back. Without the rose-tinted spectacles, but with hindsight and humour, and with poignancy and affection.
1978. The North.
Phillip sees life in a simplistic if passionate way: up or down, us and them, black, white and nothing in-between. When not doing his ‘thing’ in Wigan’s Casino Club – voted ‘The Greatest Disco in the World’ by Time Magazine – Phillip hates the world. Or at least he thinks he does. He longs for the weekend, or a greater, permanent escape from the daily grind of factory life in an industrial town.
With a little imagination, he might realise things midweek aren’t that bad: there’s the loving family, the secure job amid mass unemployment, a relationship with the perfect young woman… Or maybe he realises too late. And all he’d deemed important was only ever an illusion, his reflected image included.
Coming full circle by way of loss and more loss, you would hope lessons are learned…
The book progresses through myriad dream sequences, interwoven song-themes, a father’s philosophical ramblings, ever blackening wit, leitmotif – or seemingly recurring scenes; is someone laughing at our hero? And Phillip’s own, lyrical, strut-like, black or white manner.
Dancehall adventures via train rides to Heaven, scooter cruising almost coast to coast. Beneath the pier encounters with the opposite sex, et al… set against the birth of Scargill and Thatcher feuding…
Now let’s shine the spotlight on Chris!
Chris: Hi, Maer. Thanks for allowing me a bit of space on this wonderful blog of yours.
Maer: My pleasure, Chris. It’s lovely to have you here. What is the funniest or oddest thing that has happened to you as an author?
Chris: Oddest thing as an author? I’d have to say firstly that this is my debut novel, and yet I wrote it between 2002–2005. I was living in France at the time. But I moved back to England, coincidently, as soon as I’d completed it, and then tried to get it published, over about six to eight months. That didn’t work, although I received quite a lot of interesting feedback, i.e., “Wonderful stuff, so rich, but I don’t understand the dialogue, being based in Brighton and your book being based in the north” – she didn’t get on with Train Spotting, then, I presume… and I suppose you can’t get much further south than Brighton…
I also phoned a few publishing houses, sometimes catching the odd publisher’s assistant off-guard – I would love to have been a fly the wall; I was sure, from some of those flustered replies, that they were up to ‘no good’ at times, even if having only fallen to sleep.
Oh, and one publisher, out in some tiny midlands village somewhere, who sold a couple of books a year about local history, informed me that my story-idea was a boring one, so he wasn’t going to look at the book, and that, if I wanted to make any money, then I needed to write about David Beckham.
The point to all this is that by the end of 2005 I put the book away, and came back to it only last year.
Maer: Wow, that’s a roundabout road to getting published. Do you use beta readers and, if so, what qualities do you look for in a beta?
Chris: No, I don’t. I don’t look at what I read or write in those terms, really; people will either like what I’ve written or they won’t. But I’m not taken by the idea of what’s selling now and why, that doesn’t mean anything to me and never will. If I thought I had to sit down and work out a (selling) formula, it would take away the very aspect of writing, for me. I use proofreaders and editors, both non-professional, but other than that I won’t write someone else’s book. At the same time I don’t want to appear arrogant, but the idea of someone telling me they’re not sure where a ‘plot’ is leading always makes me smile. Why read the book if you know where it’s leading? Just enjoy the journey.
Maer: What is a one line synopsis for your book?
Chris: Learning both how to grasp The Now and when to let it go: when it’s The Then.
Maer: Is this a stand-alone or part of a series?
Chris: It’s very much a stand-alone, in that even each chapter reads likes its own short story. But at the same time I can’t resist coming back to it with a sequel, and then who knows? I still have so much to say. No, I should alter that: the characters still have so much to say. And I love them.
Maer: Speaking of the characters, which one, other than Philip, is one of your favorites to write and why?
Chris: This is such a difficult question, because each character is based on people I’ve known – I loved being around those characters again when writing the book; as well as coming back to it last year. Phillip – the MC ’s – grandmother is hilarious, in very much the same way mine was.
But I’m going to chose Jed, Phillip’s best friend.
A few weeks ago, on my website, I wrote a blog post about 1st-person narrative, my fascination for it. And in doing so I interviewed Phillip, from an early stage in the book, 1978. My fascination lies in what we don’t know about the other characters; we can only go on what the narrator tells us; this is why I wanted to learn more. In my subsequent post, I went for 2nd-person and allowed Jed to recount the novel’s shortest chapter. An alternative version. Of course, it’s all hypothetical, we can never truly know. It was just a bit of fun, I guess, but that’s the fascination. Jed is somewhat taciturn and distant at times, difficult to pin down: is he really the person Phillip thinks he is? Read the book and make up your own mind…
Maer: If you had to pick a color to describe Phillip what would that be and why?
Chris: Red, I think. Angst.
Maer: Chris, who are your favorite authors to read?
Chris: Of late, Anna Funder; she likes a poetic sentence. I hate to say this but I’m not one for very specific genre fiction: paranormal, horror, fantasy, erotic etc… I like to take my time with a book, one that impels me to think, and to want to return to it. Am I old-fashioned?
Maer: Nope, you sound like a few of my friends. Can you share a bit about the project you’re working on now?
Chris: I’ve just begun a series of children’s stories, and have a wonderful illustrator who happens to live just down the street. The stories are inspired by a translation/adaptation I did of a French pop song, believe it or not. And as I said, I’m getting the idea of a novel to the sequel together, set in the 1990s, in France. But I don’t want to give the title away just yet, as much as I love it – don’t worry, I have no desire to publish it in 2026.
Maer: Sounds like fun. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Chris: And not reading of course.
I do theatre, mainly in what claims to be the only established French-speaking Theatre Company in Britain, here in Norwich. I love French films, languages, listening to music – Soul music, essentially. And I play my guitar every day. That’s the one to keep me sane. Red wine and good food helps too. The good life.
Maer: Yay, another theatre person! So, what influenced you to write in your genre? Do you write in others?
Chris: Life’s experiences, I guess. I think I’m a natural storyteller, as was my dad – he wrote, too, but never believed in himself. But I’m inspired, partly, by writers like Catherine Mansfield, who could pick on anything mundane and render it tactile.
Maer: What music, if any, do you like to listen to while writing?
Chris: No way can I listen to music and write simultaneously. Music very much inspires me, but I love it too much to be able to miss refrains for a literary idea. I don’t know how people do it.
Maer: Do you have anything you’d like to add?
Chris: Only that I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions, thank you. And maybe that if you feel like reading something a little different, hopefully, you know where to find the novel.
Maer: Thanks for stopping by, Chris, and best of luck with the novel.
You can buy Wood, Talc and Mr. J at Amazon.
You can find Chris at these links: