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20 questions with Christian D Read

Shooting Star author Christian D Read has a new book coming out this month – The Lark Files Book 4 – Snake City. Here we sit down with him and pick his writerly brain . . .

What is the first book that made you cry?
Not big with the tears.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both at different times. Both at the same time. And it depends on what I’ve written and how long I’ve been anticipating writing it. The longer you wait to surrender something to the paper, the more the feeling of shaky, wounded relief.

What is your writing Kryptonite?
My dog wanting to play. Physical illness can get in the way. When you’re just spent and shambling, and in the zero stay home. Other than that, one of the things about writing is that it just gets done. By you. 
So do it. 

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
’m a genre writer and genre is a set of expectations. You don’t call your book a noir thriller if it’s set on a beach, and there’s no crimes. But we’ve had a hundred years 12 Bar Blues, but a pretty wide variety of songs out of that.  But if I’m not telling the reader about my personal concerns, my take, I’m being dishonest with them and what use would they have for me then? So both. 

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’m mates with K.J Bishop. She lets me know that writing is something to be respected. Kyla Lee Ward the eerie poet follow her obsessions and I admire that. Michelle Starr the science journalist and her endless curiosity. Andrew Constant at DC who hustles and rarely rests. 

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Start earlier. Get serious earlier. There’s no point fretting about your own worth, self-doubt is boring and self-indulgent. Get in there. Finish what you start. Learn to plan earlier. Don’t smoke.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?|
Drugs.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Good question. Probably being moved by lyrics in music, finding that imagery lyricists used, to shock, to seduce, to impress, to anger. But I was a sucker for a well-turned phrase from day one. I remember thinking the Latin in ‘Dragonslayer’ was pretty ace.  

What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
Tough one. Top of the head, Iron Dragon’s Daughter, by Michael Swanwick.  

What’s your favourite under-appreciated movie?
‘The Reflecting Skin’, Phillip Ridley. Very early Viggo Mortensen flick. Pure southern gothic. One of the darkest things I’ve ever seen. 

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Whatever animal gets up around noon. 

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Hahahah. I have a supervillain novel finished. It’s… it’s ok. I have a sort of kind of companion piece to my weird fantasy novel Nil-Pray. No one likes it. Too mean. But I’ve gotten better about finding ways to head off failures before they really get going. So plenty of 20 page false starts or experiments but not half-finished. But pre 2013? Loads.

What does literary success look like to you?
Honestly? Obviously, there’s fantasies of Potter money and awed universal praise, especially from exes and bullies. But to be able to stop jumping through hoops and just write what I want to write, knowing it will have a home. If I had that, I’d be really pleased. 
And a really big black leather chair. That’d be good. Swivel. Dramatic!

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Well, being a writer was a decision I made to give myself permissions to indulge my obsessions. If I was going to read weird stuff people never let me talk about at parties, why not follow some of the ideas I had about it all the way down?

The Lark books are 100% real world occultism. Every god, spirit, spell, technique, it’s all real. But the good news is, I’ve probably already read about it. So there’s sort of no meaningful separation between ‘this is research’ and ‘this is my regular weirdo life.’  

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
Yes. Yes. One of my favourite quotes about writing is by Walter Benjamin, the Marxist and mystic. 

“Death is the sanction of everything the story-teller can tell. He has borrowed his authority from death.” Writing is the author exposing their greatest battles against themself. Take writing seriously and let it teach you about the time you have left and what you think about yourself and others. 

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
There’s no special trick to writing women characters if you are a man. Put their humanity ahead of their womanhood, pay attention to the women in your own life, and not just mums and wives. Talk to women about their experiences, locate commonality, if there is any, and try to empathise. And don’t make everyone your imaginary girlfriend. That’s a bit sad.  

What did you edit out of this book?
My process doesn’t do a whole lot of cutting. I plan and plan and plan so by the time I come to writing, it’s a lean thing. But this new book, Snake City, is about hunting down a cult of Egyptian wizard-bastards. It started out as a haunted house story. I do cut details though. I have a bad habit of dropping a lot of research onto the page that’s got no place in a novel.  There was a scene with the devil I decided was just because I really like writing the devil, rather than good for the book . 

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
No. I’m writing a book I want people to enjoy, not showing off how clever I am. All the dark secrets are dancing with no shirts on by the stage.

What was your hardest scene to write?
As ever, the scenes between Scarlet and Lark. Once a couple, she’s moved on and he’s struggling too, and that, after four books, it’s not romantic it’s pathology
Lark admitting to Bettina what he did to her in book 2, risking his only, best friendship. A baddie gets his comeuppance at the end of this one and I found myself oddly sympathetic. 

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
Ah, writers are just a collection of their bad habits they then ask people to come over and judge. If I gave up on my faults and vices, I might be better, but I wouldn’t be me. Writing’s about confronting who you are right now. 

You can pre order The Lark Files Book 4 – Snake City here.