Author Introductions #29: Chris Ord
I hope you’re all well and as pleased as I am that it’s (almost) the WEEKEND! Hooray! To start it off with a bang, I think it’s about time I introduced the next author in my series of ‘Author Introductions’. This week, it’s Chris Ord – who, I have to say, has been wonderfully patient with me since I’ve been so behind schedule with my blog recently (what a gent). And here is the man himself:
By way of background, Chris is a fellow Northumbrian, having grown up in the area. After graduating in the early 90’s he became an English language teacher living in Turkey, Portugal, India and traveling extensively. He returned to the UK to study an MA in International Politics and taught at Warwick University before moving into policy research and implementation. Chris’ dream was always to write a novel and his writing ‘journey’ began in August 2015 when he took voluntary redundancy from his role in education policy and wrote his debut, ‘Becoming’ . It was published in September 2016 and sold around the world, receiving widespread acclaim. His second novel, ‘The Storm‘ is also set in his native Northumberland, the place which provides much of his inspiration (I can relate). Currently, Chris is writing the follow-up to ‘Becoming’, entitled ‘Awakening.’
Let’s find out a bit more about the man himself…
- Tell us a little about yourself – don’t be shy!
I’m the father of four boys and married to my childhood sweetheart, who I met at high school. I spent my twenties travelling and teaching English abroad and have lived in Turkey, Portugal, India and visited around thirty different countries -my favourite is Iceland. I’ve been a teacher, a university tutor, a researcher, I’ve worked in a record store and packed biscuits in a factory. I’ve worked with the son of Oliver Postgate (Bagpuss) and been on holiday with acclaimed crime writer, David Peace. I’ve been arrested twice and searched at gunpoint on a Indian train on suspicion of smuggling diamonds.
2. How about your latest book – what can readers look forward to when they pick it up?
My latest novel, ‘The Storm’ was released in January. It’s a supernatural thriller set in a fishing village in Northumberland in the mid-nineteenth century. It was inspired by a true story when ‘Big’ Philip Jefferson, the first Newbiggin Lifeboat Coxswain rounded up a group of young fishermen and attempted to rescue the Norwegian brig ‘Embla’ in a violent storm. This isn’t a history book though. It is pieces of history filtered through my imagination. The beauty of being a writer is you can take fragments of truth and turn them into new and different versions of the truth. It’s a dark novel, full of mystery and intrigue. It mixes a reimagining of a real life event with local folk stories, fantasy and the supernatural. My aim was to plunge the reader into the fear that the villagers felt when the storm descends. Love is a key theme that underpins ‘The Storm.’ Love of family and community, and the lengths people will go to in order to protect that love
3. Who is your hero in real life and in fiction?
When I was ten, I heard ‘Ashes to Ashes’ by David Bowie for the first time. My life was changed forever. I still have the single, my first and favourite. It opened up a world of possibility and a lifelong love of music, but with Bowie it was more. His life and death were the greatest art. He changed everything.
In fiction I have many heroes, one is Billy Casper from ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ by Barry Hines. Of course, it’s more commonly known by the title of the film, ‘Kes’. Sometimes you read stories and think they could have been written about your own life. I suspect many who grew up in mining towns and villages of the North can relate to Billy Casper. The feeling of desperation, the lack of hope, and the longing for some sense of freedom. It’s a short, powerful story, but one that has strong universal themes that still resonate today. My heroes in literature are people I can relate to, ordinary people that do extraordinary things, or those that act as a mirror for own lives.
4. Who are your three favourite writers – and why?
A tough question, but three I adore for different reasons are:
- Thomas Hardy – he writes moving and engaging stories and I love his descriptive language. Tess is one of my favourite love stories.
- John Steinbeck – his stories are compelling, but always have strong characters and a powerful moral core. I prefer writing that entertains, but also asks important questions of us and the world we live in.
- George Orwell – I’m not someone who thinks that politics can be put in a box and taken out for discussion when appropriate. Everything we do has consequences and is in some way political. Our actions or inaction matter and whenever I read Orwell he reminds me of this. My first novel ‘Becoming’ was dystopian and ‘1984’ was a major inspiration, as I guess it is for most dystopian novels. Few books have been discussed more or changed our thinking, and even our language. Imagine writing a novel that has so much impact.
- When you’re not writing, what is your favourite way to spend your time?
I’m a musician and music has always been my first and most enduring love. I play solo horn for Jayess Newbiggin brass band. It’s the village where I grew up and still consider my home. It’s also where ‘The Storm’ is set. The past two years have been our most successful and this year we retained our Durham League title, won the North East Regional Championship for the second year running, and qualified for the National Finals in Cheltenham. Music is everything to me, and if I’m not playing it I’m usually listening to it or watching it. I can’t imagine my life without music and, other than my children, learning to play an instrument is the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.
6. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
It was tempting to opt for a writing achievement, but most of my memorable achievements are linked to music. I have many highlights most recently playing at The Sage alongside the greatest brass ensemble in the world. However, a few years ago myself and some old school friends got together with our music teacher from high school. Our Christmas concerts were legendary in the area and we decided to put together a reunion of the old school band and play another Christmas concert in our local church. It took us a year to find everyone, plan the event, develop a programme, source the music, book the venue, and sell the tickets. It was a much bigger undertaking than any of us imagined, but we pulled it off. Over fifty of us got together and played for a sold out audience with friends coming to play from Scotland, Cornwall, Russia and even New Zealand. It was magical and we played better than ever. I was in floods of tears that night when I realised what we’d achieved. It was something that will stay with me forever. Nothing matches the feeling of playing music together. There is a connection which is like nothing else. My family were all there to witness it, including my dad who died a few months later. When I found him, he had the DVD of the concert on. It was the last thing he would have seen before he passed which means the world to me.
7. What was your favourite book as a child?
I’m a huge Doctor Who fan and when I was young I would devour the books spending a lot of evenings after school heading up to the library in Ashington to replenish my supplies. I pretty much read them all, but the first I read was ‘The Horror of Fang Rock.’ It was a Tom Baker story set on a lighthouse in a mysterious storm. Who knows? Maybe, it stayed with me and inspired my latest novel!
8. Have you read any books recently that have really captured your imagination?
I’m a big Murakami fan. There’s something haunting and hypnotic about his prose. Whilst I love his writing I don’t always find his stories the most gripping. The pace is often a little too relaxed. The ‘1Q84’ trilogy was a real exception, and I read all three novels in about a week. As soon as I picked the first up I was hooked. The story is bonkers, but it drew me in from the opening pages and took me to another world that I didn’t want to leave. I spent hours of my life immersed in the lives of the characters, and was devastated when it ended. That’s the mark of a truly great book for me. If I can achieve anything close to that with any of my novels I’d be delighted. This is what keeps me writing, the desire to thrill, unsettle, challenge, and entertain. Writing is a great art, but above all I see myself as a storyteller and an entertainer.
9. If the Prime Minister knocked at your front door and asked to borrow a book, which one would you recommend they read?
‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ by Robert Tressell. Need I say more?
10.Finally, if you could be any character from a movie, which would it be?
George Bailey from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ It’s my favourite film, and every year it is part of my Christmas ritual to go to the Tyneside Cinema and watch it. I always go alone and have a good cry. George Bailey is the greatest of men who devotes his life to his friends, community and the people he loves. The values and message of the film are simple, but powerful. At the core of the film is the importance of love – of family, of community and of your fellow man. Love over gold. Always. I wish I could be more like George Bailey. He makes me want to be better and those are the best of characters.
…Thanks, Chris! Some fantastic answers and insights into your life and what motivates your writing. As for the Tyneside Cinema, I may very well bump into you there, this Christmas – I don’t know if it’s a northern thing, but watching It’s a Wonderful Life is also a bit of a tradition in our household! I’m excited to discover your writing, especially since they are set in an area that is so familiar to me. It also just goes to prove what has been said many times before: shared landscapes and communities can be such wonderful inspiration. All the very best for your next book, too!
Until next time!