AMR: Chris Whitaker meets Phil Ramage in our AUTHOR MEETS REVIEWER series

Article published on April 21, 2016.

Chris, was there a book from your childhood which triggered off a love of reading?

When I was a child, maybe nine or ten, my dad left a copy of Stephen King’s IT lying around. Intrigued by the cover I asked him what it was about and he told me, in no uncertain terms, that it was far too scary for a child to read. Naturally I read the entire book over the subsequent weeks. It was the first adult book I’d read, and I couldn’t comprehend how words on a page could be so vivid, so gripping, and so utterly terrifying. I’d hide IT under my pillow, then turn each page with a shaky hand long after I should have been asleep. I was hooked. I’d go to the library every week and quickly worked my way through Stephen King’s back catalogue. Though I went on to wet the bed until my mid-twenties, it was a price worth paying as it was my love of reading that led to a love of writing.

That may very well be just a little too much information! Perhaps you should sue Stephen King for bringing about impaired bladder control! How did this love of books morph into a desire to write?

I wrote my first story when I was eleven. It was about a man with a gun for a hand and had the kind of macabre ending that saw me blipping on the child psychiatry radar. I didn’t actually write anything ‘serious’ until I turned thirty. I guess life got in the way a bit.

The first time I opened a blank Word document there was an element of what-the-hell-do-I-do-next. I had no relevant qualifications, no experience, no writer friends and I’d never been in so much as book club let alone a writing group. But mustering the kind of misguided determination that once saw me apply to Embry-Riddle after watching Top Gun (sad but true), I began to write what can only be described as total shit. Page after page of it. I meandered through a hideously complex plot, dropping in the kind of random ‘literary’ words that even Collins would struggle to define. I toyed with the reader, led them up a dead-end before playfully showing them the way again with a wry smile on my stupid face.

This writing lark is easy, I thought. I’d be published in year, lauded in two. And I might have got away with it, if it wasn’t for those pesky agents.

Many of us have desires to be a writer which fizzle out because of the effort involved. How did you take it to the next stage?

I did some research, found a couple of potential victims, and then decided to read some of the authors they represented. I picked up Bed by David Whitehouse. It’s the kind of wonderfully original story that sent me straight back to the drawing board. I incinerated my piece of shit and started again.

This time I gave some real thought to the type of story I wanted to write, and the type of writer I wanted to be. I like to read crime, but also love any book that can make me laugh. With that in mind I began working on Tall Oaks.

Tell us about how that came about. It reads as if the whole thing was effortless. Was it easy to write? 

I wrote it quickly, then spent an age editing it, paying particular attention to the humorous lines. I came up with a system, if they didn’t make my wife laugh then I rewrote them. Sometimes she fake-laughed just so she didn’t have to sit through another ‘explain to me why that isn’t funny’ conversation. (I know this because I once overheard her tell a friend that she’d become quite good at ‘faking it’ with me.)

Once I was happy with the plot, the pacing and the structure, I began to work on the smaller details. Tall Oaks is set in America, which presented some unique challenges, perhaps the biggest being the language barrier. To counter this I became a method writer (like method acting only even more embarrassing.) I spoke with an American accent, making sure to substitute words like garden, trousers, wardrobe, for yard, pants, closet. Whilst my wife thought American Chris was a bit of a pervert, mainly due to a ‘your fanny looks great in those jeans’ misunderstanding, I found it was a good way to ingrain the dialogue in my mind.

Congratulations on getting Tall Oaks published. Any advice for aspiring writers?

I know don’t give up is a bit clichéd, but I think it’s the most important. My writing journey was a long one, I’d written entire books that will never see the light of day, hundreds of thousands of words before I found a style that suited me and a plot worthy of pursuing. And I found it in Tall Oaks.

I’m blasé about it now, and sometimes deflect compliments, but in all honesty I absolutely love Tall Oaks. It landed me my dream agent, and also a publishing deal with the amazing Twenty7. I’m incredibly proud of it, and I hope that one day someone out there forgets to hide it from their child and the process can begin again. It’s what I like to call the ‘circle of life.’ *Cues music from Lion King… wipes tear from eye.

Many thanks for this, Chris and best of luck with the debut novel.

**Read Phil’s review and enter our competition to win 1 of 5 signed proofs of Tall Oaks**


Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker, published by Twenty7 on 7 April, 2016 as an eBook at £3.99


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