Chris Kelso is a Scottish Weird/Bizarro/Experimental writer. His novels and short stories collections include Transmatic, The Black Dog Ate The City, Unger House Radicals and The Folger Variations.
What is your earliest reading memory?
Well, apart from Spot the Dog and moveable books, my earliest memory of reading independently was probably at about 6 or 7 years old. I devoured R.L.Stein Goosebumps books at that age, but ‘Ghost Camp’ was my first, my cherry-popper. I remember reading it in bed, under the cover, and being scared shitless. It was the first time I felt like a rebel, I mean I was so worried that my parents might burst in and catch me reading the equivalent to an 18 certificate horror movie – of course, in retrospect the Goosebumps books are relatively tame, but they awoke an interest in the horror genre which then gave way to an obsession with science fiction which then gave way to me trawling the literary classics. I basically did things backwards.
Has writing been a conscious choice or a natural thing for you?
It’s always been natural, a compulsion even. Although I did consciously decide during university that I was going to drop out and focus on writing a novel, I had been writing short stories and screenplays for myself years before. In the beginning, nothing had ever felt that natural.
Do you have any special habits or rituals when you write?
This will be a really boring answer, but no. I do like to create a nice writing atmosphere which consists of a clear desk, dim-light and some ambient or jazz music to get the creative juices flowing. I suppose masturbating counts as a habit, right?
Do you choose your stories or do the stories choose you?
The story always picks me. I open up a word doc with only the vaguest idea about what I’m going to write. I usually start with a dingy setting, a city, an alien wasteland—you know the scenario-- then I start throwing in random lines of snappy, cheeky dialogue. The process is really a case of outlining raw unfiltered thoughts and stitching it all together into something a little more coherent. Very rarely do I think “I’ll write a story about ‘X’ or ‘Y’!”. Usually I’m just stabbing blindly into the night.
What national books/authors do you enjoy re-reading and why?
We’re pretty blessed in Scotland with the likes of James Hogg, Robert Louis Stevenson and Naomi Michison. We have an Enlightenment period every 20 years. I have to say, Alasdair Gray is my favorite Scots author, hands down. I re-read ‘Lanark’ and ‘1982, Janine’ often. They say so much about Scottish life and culture in a way that’s not entirely obvious to an outside observer, but they also teach you how to write beautiful prose. Gray talks about identity better than Kafka, discusses alien environments and the struggle of an artist who is at odds with himself and his background. It’s a fascinating concoction. No one gets close.
What foreign books/authors do you enjoy re-reading and why?
Well, apart from the US/Canadian authors (of which there are too many to list), I enjoy a lot of foreign writers. Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch’s ‘Venus in Furs’ is a favorite and it describes the submissive nature of men at the hands of beautiful women – something I can really relate to. The writer does this in a compelling way though, like this mysterious Dark Lady has cast a spell over him. I love most of Solzhenitsyn’s work and Werner Herzog’s ‘On Walking in Ice’ are required re/reading.
What is so important about fiction?
I know it sounds clichéd but fiction provides us with a crucial form of escapism from the hustle and bustle. We live such chaotic lives that it’s easy to forget the basics. Many of us can emote more clearly, and actually relate more closely, to idealized etchings of human beings, caricatures rather than with the real thing. The artist extracts the drama and beauty from life and fantasy and gives our addled minds a much needed cleansing. We learn about the goodness of people, about the beauty around us and the torment some individuals face and it’s usually all portrayed in an empathic way. Fiction reminds us about important aspects of reality that get muddied in the day to day grind.
Flaubert says he was physically sick when he wrote Emma Bovary’s death. Are you empathetic with your characters?
I am, usually to the female characters. The hapless men remind me too much of myself and therefor come across as needy, pretentious and annoying. I can’t get that Sacher-Masoch trick of making these men sympathetic human beings. I suppose I sympathise with them all to an extent. If they live in one my books then chances are their lives are abjectly miserable. I don’t think I get deep enough to mourn the death of a character. I like to keep their interior monologues fundamentally unlikeable and flawed because, inevitably, they’ll meet a gruesome end.
What is your ideal reader?
Someone who loves to think for themselves, has an appreciation for verbosity and metaphor. Someone who enjoys the fact that I’m trying to do something willfully different, even if I don’t always succeed. That’s quite a lot to ask, I am aware of this fact.
Should writers be embraced by society or should they be exiled?
Writers are usually already exiled, certainly psychologically. We’re outcasts, people looking in from the outside. In saying that I think all artist’s output should be embraced if they possess legitimate innovation or ability. We should pay them proper money so they can be taxed accordingly.
What makes a writer a writer?
Someone who writes compulsively, or it can be someone who writes for money. Someone who writes to a conclusion. If you can sit down and get from the beginning to the end, by way of the middle, then you’re a writer in my book. Even if you write Mills and Boon or similar gibberish.
Tell us about your fiction.
I mostly write speculative fiction. Sometimes its fantasy and SF, sometimes its horror, but I try to make it as cerebral or humorous as I can. I wrote a bunch of juvenile books set in the slave state, a place in the 4th dimension where humans work in mining enclaves under an alien kleptocracy, now I write noir, existential horror stories. I hope the segue feels like an organic one.
How do you really feel about recognition and fame? Are you a satisfied mind or always craving for more?
I think recognition is good, fame is not. I’ve seen ‘fame’ change and corrupt. I’d happily settle for having a good reputation among writers because, really, that’s what I am – I write for myself and other writers. I’m motivated by the thought of creating a lasting artefact. When I die there might be someone in a thrift store somewhere who’ll notice one of my books. It’s a reminder that I existed. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m creating a legacy but it’s all self-preservation, right? It’s all for posterity. We’re justifying our existence. Trying to immortalize what we were. Mind you, there won’t be many ‘readers’ out there who’ll get on board with my shtick so ‘fame’ isn’t something I worry about, but I’ve seen it change people. A small amount of mainstream success can be deadly.