Chris Killen’s debut novel The Bird Room is a bit like a bad dream. It’s made up of a series of short, dark scenes. Some questions are never answered, but it doesn’t really matter. Identities mix ‘n’ match: two characters have the same name (Will). One character has two different names (Clair, Helen), and is made to pretend to be another character (Alice). The story is filled with sad, self-loathing-fueled sex, and it will definitely make you feel like a perv when you read it on the tube. But an entertained perv! Sound like fun?
Below, Killen explains at least one of The Bird Room’s mysteries and makes me kind of want to read his (as yet unpublished!) story in which the narrator’s head explodes. And is it too early to say that cat fan-fiction might save publishing? I don’t think so.
What are your Five Desert Island/Zombie Apocalypse books?
Pan by Knut Hamsun – This is favourite novel by my favourite writer. Pan is probably the book I have read the most times, and I feel reasonably confident that I wouldn’t get tired of re-reading it, even once a month or whatever.
An Unfortunate Woman by Richard Brautigan – I like all Richard Brautigan’s novels, so this was a hard choice. I decided on An Unfortunate Woman because I feel it has the most of him in there – in my opinion, it’s the most autobiographical of his novels. I have occasional daydreams about ‘hanging out’ with Richard Brautigan, and reading this book feels (to me) like the closest thing to that.
A Special Providence by Richard Yates – I’m choosing this Richard Yates novel because it’s the only one I have left to read. I was saving it for a ‘special occasion’ so I guess being stranded on a desert island or caught in a zombie apocalypse would do.
Collected Stories by Lorrie Moore – Same as above, I know that there are three or four stories in here that I’ve yet to read and I am kind of saving them. Also, everything else I could read many times over and still enjoy.
The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky – I’ve tried to read this twice and never made it past page 200 or so, even though I was enjoying it. I don’t know why I can’t keep reading it. I would like to be stranded somewhere so I could finish it.
How would you describe your own writing style?
Well, I don’t have a very large vocabulary, so I tend to write quite short, simple sentences. I use repetition a lot. I guess I try to write things which are funny (maybe not in a ‘laugh out loud’ way, but that someone might just look at and think, ‘That’s funny’). I tend to write about awkward, young people a lot. Awkward young people without many external problems. Awkward young people wishing for things they don’t have. I hope that makes sense.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever written?
I don’t know. I am bad at writing ‘official’ things – like a job application or a reference for someone or something – anything that calls for a more ‘formal’ style. Apart from that, pretty much everything I wrote between the ages of 16-23 was pretty dreadful. I once wrote a story in first person, past-tense, where the narrator’s head explodes at the end. I wrote a story about a ‘great poet’ meeting a female fan, which ended up as a kind of Charles Bukowski pastiche. And I wrote lots of things about young men in their early twenties swigging red wine from the bottle and moaning (internally) about how no girls ever wanted to go out with them. Oh dear. Just lots and lots of bad/pretentious/corny short stories. I know I have them all saved in a folder on this computer but right now I feel too scared to look at them to provide excerpts or more details, I’m afraid.
What distracts you from writing? (Aside from answering emails from bloggers)
I am pretty undisciplined at writing, so if it’s going badly, if I’m stuck, if I’m not 100% excited about what I’m doing, then almost anything can distract me from it. I guess number one is The Internet. After that, just the general nagging worry that there is ‘something I have to do, but I don’t know what it is’. This vague but persistent feeling can have me wandering aimlessly around my flat for hours.
ABOUT THE BIRD ROOM
Which character in The Bird Room is most based on someone you actually know?
Both the Wills – the narrator and the artist – are based on me, on the two different sides of my personality. I have a friend called Chris, who is a working artist, and I worried around the time of publication that he would think it was based on him. It’s not, it’s me when I am at my most dickish.
Did you have trouble writing any parts of The Bird Room?
I honestly can’t think of a passage that I had much trouble writing – if something wasn’t going well in first draft then I usually just scrapped it and tried a different approach. So what I was left with, at the end of that draft, were all things that I’d had fun writing (and so went pretty easily). That said, once I was done, I did have a fair amount of trouble ordering and re-ordering it so it made sense on first read, while still being fragmentary/non-chronological. So, my answer is either ‘nothing’ or ‘the whole thing’. Is that cheating?
TIME FOR PICTURES!
What kind of writing space do you have?
I just moved flats. My last ‘writing space’ was sitting on my sofa. It gave me quite a bad back. Now I have an ‘office’ (which doubles as a spare/guest room), which I am very excited about. I’ve only been in here for two days, and apart from emails, this is one of the first things I’ve written in it. It feels calming in here. I like looking out of the window. I’m excited about trying to maintain more of a daily routine from now on. No more bad backs and late nights. I like the sound of the cars out of the window.
Do you have any writer’s pets?
I don’t have any pets, I’m afraid. I used to have a cat called Frisky. I wrote some fanfiction about her recently here.
I would like to have another cat but, like every other landlord in Manchester, my new one doesn’t allow pets. Hopefully one day I will have a cat again.