Chris Parker – Q&A

Chris Parker
Chris Parker
Chris Parker is a screenwriter. He was born in South Wales and lives in Cambridge with his family.

Nameless Lake by Chris Parker was published by Salt on July 14th.

Chris can be found at:
Twitter: @chris_d_parker

What inspired your debut novel?

I wanted to write about profound, long-term friendship because it’s a subject I find really fascinating. Also, as a man, I found it impossible not to feel disgusted and disturbed by the damage caused by other men, and I wanted to look at coercive control and domestic violence. The novel centres on two women who are lifelong friends and it felt natural for one of them to be the narrator, not just recounting present day events but acting as a curator of hundreds of small, defining moments from their shared history.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

It wasn’t something I was actively pursuing, because just at the moment when I had a draft I was happy with, Covid struck. So I assumed publishing would go on hiatus like everything else. But I read online that Salt were opening a submissions window in November 2020 and I sent in my book. That’s how it got picked up.

How long did it take to write?

Three years, followed by another two of tweaking, re-ordering and cutting – especially cutting. I wrote a lot of it in self-contained fragments, so getting these into the best sequence possible was a huge task.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

I’ve been really amazed at people’s strongly positive reactions, how powerfully readers experience it. It’s a humbling thing for me. This wasn’t a book that was workshopped or even shared with a single living soul before I submitted it to Salt, so I really had no idea what to expect. It’s been incredible to have kind things said by people whose work I really admire.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

There’s one that was a revelation to me, from Mick Jackson, who made a connection between my narrator Emma’s job (as a picture restorer) and her recollections. He described them as “another act of restoration, a recovery”. This articulated something that until then had only hovered at the edge of my consciousness. When I’m writing, I tend to rely on my intuition and make a point of not questioning the choices I’m making too much. I really trust the subconscious to feel its way to the thing the story needs at any given moment.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

I feel really grateful for any attention that’s paid to my work. It takes time and effort for people to read books and even more to write reviews and I don’t take any of that for granted. I’m just delighted when someone has engaged with my book, out of the thousands of others they could have picked up.

Nameless Lake
Nameless Lake

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I trained as a journalist and was a news reporter and feature writer in Liverpool for a few years. I lived not far from the studio where Hollyoaks was being filmed and I joined the show as a writer in my mid-20s. I worked on that for five years, then I spent another decade writing for Coronation Street (where my claim to fame was creating Chesney Brown, now approaching his 20th year on screen) and EastEnders. Then my screenwriting career split into two wildly divergent strands – I co-created the horror drama series Bedlam for Sky TV, and I started writing for Peppa Pig. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I was writing horror by day, preschool fun by night! A lot of writers could not understand why I was attracted to children’s television, but I really wanted to write something my own kids could watch and enjoy. I found that I really loved writing for animation and I’ve gone on to work for dozens of shows as writer and head-writer. Animation writing is still my main career and I love every aspect of it – the brainstorming, the collaboration, seeing my finished work on screen.

Which author(s) inspire you?

I read everything by Jenny Erpenbeck, Garth Greenwell, Dorthe Nors, Rachel Cusk, Max Porter, Keith Ridgway, Jeremy Cooper, Hanne Orstavik and Alison Moore. “Dept. of Speculation” by Jenny Offill was really liberating for me because it’s written in a fragmentary style and that, more than anything else, made me believe writing a novel was achievable. She chucked out all the padding, the scene-setting, the description of landscapes and clothes – all the things I struggle with as a writer and reader. Also finding “Everyone is Watching” by Megan Bradbury was a big moment, it’s lightning-bolt original and announces its intentions so boldly – a real antidote to creative timidity. My mind just won’t let me plan a story step-by-step and then write it from A to Z, with the action moving smoothly forward from Monday morning to Sunday night. If I know everything that’s going to happen in advance, I lose interest in writing it. Even when I’m writing scripts – where I do need to stick to a plan – I never write scenes in order. Also, I was writing my book in the wake of my father’s death, and it had a profound effect on me. I felt like all the pieces of myself had been thrown up in the air and had landed in an unfamiliar configuration. I still feel like that! But in the very early days, I would find myself focusing on very small things, memories of conversations or images that seemed highly significant, before returning to the present. The day my father died, I found myself near Stokes Croft in Bristol staring at a mosaic that said “Relentless Optimism”, and that piece of street art was as significant as any words of comfort people offered me. I began to make a note of these things and it struck me that we experience life this way, our thoughts shifting back and forth in time, jumping between crucial moments in our pasts, dwelling on things that retain significance even years later – so I decided to construct the entire novel this way.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I get very excited by books that don’t recognise genre as a thing that they need to worry about. Books that make you wonder – what do we call this, is this even a novel, is this allowed? Some readers don’t like that inkling of “wrongness” – they want to police the boundaries of the novel, to feel that they have defined it in some way, but I really like how uncontrollable it is, as a form. How the definition of the novel has to expand every time someone writes something unexpected. Because that in turn emboldens the next person to think, “wow, if they can do that and call it a novel, maybe I can try to do this other thing.” I love “How Should A Person Be?” by Sheila Heti, “I Remember” by Joe Brainard, “Aug 09 Fog” by Kathryn Scanlan, “The Way the Day Breaks” by David Roberts. Everything by Maggie Nelson and Sara Baume. “The Address Book” by Sophie Calle isn’t fiction but it’s as imaginative and transgressive as any novel, satisfyingly packed with dead-ends, social awkwardness and a sense that everyone would be happier if the writer would just stop what she’s doing and write about something else. Perfect!

What is your biggest motivator?

I’ve been writing scripts for a long time. As the years pass you become more and more aware of what drama can’t do. The problem with TV and films is that for it to exist, you need at least two people in a room, talking. But in our atomised society where social media stands in for many relationships that might once have been face-to-face, those situations occur less and less. I grew up an only child, an isolated one at that, and I still spend a lot of time on my own. In conventional dramatic terms, I don’t exist. But many, many people live like this, primarily in their heads. Drama can’t cope with this at all, but it’s where novels really catch fire, when you’re living inside the head of the characters, figuring things out along with them. My favourite books have this quality of loneliness, framing it as something with a life-affirming energy. Novels pause for dialogue, they wait for it to be over, then they get on with the real business of breathing life into things. Also, when you write a script, you will always get a note that says (usually of your favourite part): “do we need this?” And of course it has to go. Scripts must be streamlined to move as quickly and smoothly as possible, but novels can contain anything and everything. I love what Kamila Shamsie said about putting all the things that interest her into her books, and letting the readers decide which corners they want to shine their torches into. I love that idea – the novel as a massive cave painting that reaches back and back and you shine your light as deep as you dare.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Comics were my way into reading. I was totally hooked on the paperback collections of Peanuts comic strips on the rack in Porthcawl Woolworths. I was constantly re-reading them and they had a more profound influence on me than any novel. Something about their melancholy mood really chimed with me. I came to them from traditional British kids’ comics like the Dandy and Beano and was initially puzzled by the absence of jokes, as I understood them, in Charles Schulz’s work. Peanuts invites you as the reader to do some of the work in unravelling its meaning, it demands a kind of introspection and self-recognition. That’s true of all the books I enjoy.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

I really like Bookhaus in Bristol, I always find something new and surprising there. The latest one was the brilliant “A Sabbatical in Leipzig” by Adrian Duncan. My goal is to visit as many independent bookshops as I can with “Nameless Lake”, I’ll go anywhere that will welcome/tolerate me.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

Not too many. “The War of the Poor” by Eric Vuillard, “Somebody Loves You” by Mona Arshi, “The Candy House” by Jennifer Egan, “Chimera” by Alice Thompson and a library copy of the Andy Warhol Diaries – because I was half-watching the documentary on Netflix when one line jumped out and grabbed me by the throat and now I want to see it in context.

What is your current or latest read?

I love Joe Bedford’s debut, “A Bad Decade for Good People”, a really absorbing and brilliantly written novel about politics and personal relationships and how they interweave. I’ve really enjoyed “Reservoir” by Livi Michael, “Brian” by Jeremy Cooper, “Sevastopol” by Emilio Fraia, “The Moon is Trending” by Clare Fisher, “Kick the Latch” by Kathryn Scanlan (another satisfyingly hard-to-categorise book) and “Go Went Gone” by Jenny Erpenbeck.

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

Feverishly making notes for my second novel. I’m really excited about how it’s taking shape.

Any events in the near future?

I’m trying to set up more readings post-launch. What I’d really like is to do joint events with other authors, maybe including some discussion of our work. I also love the idea of teaming up with a musician who could accompany me as I read and doing things in arts centres, galleries, festivals and other non-literary spaces. If anyone’s up for it, get in touch! I would really to destroy the sterile churchy hush of the average bookshop reading. It’s taken me a long time to overcome my standing-up-in-public phobia and now I’m determined to make the most of it. I’m happy to travel anywhere that’ll have me. Thank you for listening, BBB, it’s been a real pleasure to talk to you/myself.

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