Friday, June 4, 2010

Author Interview: Chris Wardle

Let's get to know a little more about Chris Wardle, author of the Mr. Tinfish series. Be sure to read my review of the book and Chris's guest blog!

Jennifer Walker: Tell us a little about your other books. What are they about?

Chris Wardle: Mr. Choli’s River Trip is the second book in a series of five comical adventures. Mr. Tinfish and his companions are a strange collection of quirky animals including penguins, goats, cats, and wallabies living in a colony that is affected by different aspects of climate change and environmental issues. Normally sorting out the problems requires an expedition to find out what is going on and what steps can be taken to reduce the negative impacts. This usually starts with a meeting led by the pompous Walrus, Mr. Vinegar, as he likes to show everyone he’s the most important, and results in Mr. Choli leading the expedition as he has his own magnifying glass. Mr. Choli is also responsible for communicating any progress back to Mr. Vinegar via various means including messages in bottles, carrier pigeon, and drawings, all of which tend to frustrate rather than help.  Fortunately there are a few more sensible characters, like Mr. Denzel the mole, who ensure a degree of success goes their way. The series should raise basic awareness of a number of environmental issues, and is hopefully a funny and entertaining read.    

Jennifer Walker: What inspired the story of Mr. Choli's River Trip?

Chris Wardle: Whilst at university (some time ago now) I recall that part of my environmental change studies included the issue of plant species migration in response to climate change. In theory, as the climate gets warmer then some plant species at lower altitudes may not grow well in the hotter conditions. However, at a slightly higher altitude, which may have previously been too cold for these plants, the temperatures have also increased and the lower altitude plants are more suited to growing there. So, depending on the rate of climate change and the rate at which plants can migrate (which relates partly to the plants reproductive method, e.g. wind-blown seeds, runners, carried by host, etc.) some plants are able to migrate up the slopes, and some do not survive. There are other aspects of this as well, but the general idea helped to form the plot of the book, in that a warming climate changed the types of plants that were able to continue growing at the colony, but that other plants which might also be useful sources of food could replace them. Therefore, Mr. Choli takes his boat up the river to try and find different plant species that are doing well in the warmer conditions so that he and his team can take them back and plant them at the colony.   

Jennifer Walker: Tell us about the illustrations. Who did them?

Chris Wardle: I have done my own illustrations for the Tinfish series. For each book there are pictures on the back cover, with five or six scenes from the story painted in water-colours. Inside the books are small black and white sketches (about three per chapter). The illustrating, despite my ‘grade C’ at art back in high school, took a surprisingly long time to do. I’ve found that the secret is to find an aspect of the story that matches my artistic abilities. Therefore, the pictures are not of particularly complicated scenes, whilst still conveying the ideas.

Jennifer Walker: What is your next writing project?

Chris Wardle: I’ve recently finished writing the fifth book in the Tinfish series called “Mr. Ginger and the Disappearing Fish”. In this book the sea near to the colony suffers from an El Nino type event, so that the currents become warmer and the fish, on which many in the colony depend, migrate to cooler waters. As a result lots of hungry seabirds turn up and over-fish the nearby river. Mr. Ginger, who is Mr. Choli’s permanently hungry side-kick, takes the initiative to get an investigation underway to find somewhere for the seabirds to move on to, whilst Mr. Denzel makes a fishpond to help restock the river-fish. I was really entertained writing it, and believe that it’s one of the funnier adventures.

Jennifer Walker: What is (are) your favorite genre to read?

Chris Wardle: A lot of my fictional reading seems to be dependent on what I find in airport book stores or borrow from other expats bookshelves. Normally I would go for something funny, or a mystery.

Jennifer Walker: How did you become an author, and how did your publishing journey begin?

Chris Wardle: I discovered my passion for creative writing whilst living in a small village in Cameroon in 1999. It was my first oversees posting and I was a lone volunteer managing the construction of a water supply project.  There was no TV, telephone, or indeed electricity for that matter. I had been writing a lot of letters home about my experiences and found that I really enjoyed putting pen to paper. As a result I decided to write a short story about the pop band that I had played in at college.  I wrote it on scraps of paper, and found myself cutting out paragraphs from different pages and sticking them at the sides of others with duct-tape. The resulting collage of scribbling needed instructions to navigate. After discovering the pleasures of this creative process I went on to write longer stories about my adventures in Cameroon, and the subsequent places I’ve worked in over the past ten years. A lot of my travels have since influenced the characters and adventures that I write about in the Tinfish Series.

In terms of publishing, I found out about self-publishing websites whilst watching a TV documentary and decided to look into the idea. It wasn’t long before I had my first book out there, which is a very satisfying feeling. However, the self-marketing aspect seems to be a far steeper learning curve, and one which I feel I am only just starting on.

Jennifer Walker: Tell us about your family. Are they supportive of your writing?

Chris Wardle: My wife and my mum are both fans of the Mr. Tinfish series and have helped with proof-reading and spell-checking. My mother-in-law is also getting into them, and has read the first two books. She seems determined that my next book should include a character called ‘Belle the drooling hound’ based on her over-excitable and saliva-dripping Labrador.

Jennifer Walker: What is your opinion of the publishing industry today?

Chris Wardle: I am quite new to the publishing world and I have been impressed with the website that I self-publish through. This is a good way for people to get hold of a copy if they have come across the book from reading about it on a blog, my website, or on facebook. However, whilst I would personally use the internet to find a particular technical book for my work, I am probably less likely to use it to buy fiction. I normally pick up novels at an airport or train station and so, as a self-publisher, the books I am writing are not reaching those who are within that category.

Jennifer Walker: Do you have any hobbies?

Chris Wardle: My hobbies include playing the piano and writing songs. However, in recent years I’ve always traveled with a guitar and my skills are slowly improving. I also consider aspects of writing as a hobby. For example, I’ve been writing a detailed journal of my travels over the past ten years in Africa and Asia which is very much for my own entertainment rather than as a publishing project.

Jennifer Walker: If you could meet any person, living or dead, for lunch tomorrow, who would it be?

Chris Wardle: There are many famous people I would like to meet. However, I wouldn’t necessarily want to spend an entire lunchtime with all of them. Also, there are people in whose company I wouldn’t want to risk my own feeling of devastation as I accidentally knock over the soup, or attempt to spear something on my plate only to see it fly off at high speed in their direction. Therefore, I think that the key to this decision is first choosing what we’re going to eat. If it was a bar meal, perhaps scampi and chips, then I might invite Lewis Hamilton. A leisurely picnic with Michael Caine could be pleasant. If we were getting Chicken Tikka Masala take-away, then I’d probably choose Charles Darwin.

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