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Christopher Jory

Christopher Jory

Christopher Jory was born in 1968 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He spent his early childhood in Barbados, Venezuela and finally Oxfordshire. He did a degree in English Literature and Philosophy at Leicester University and then worked as an English teacher for the British Council and other organisations in Italy, Spain, Crete, Brazil and Venezuela. He is currently a Publisher at Cambridge University Press. His first book, Lost in the Flames (Troubadour, 2011), was a moving account of RAF Bomber Command airmen and their families.

Getting to know: Christopher Jory
1. What inspired you to become a writer? It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I was young. I’m not really sure why – perhaps because I read a lot when I was a child. Perhaps because I’ve always had a feeling that being a writer would be a good life. Perhaps because I don’t like following rules and being a writer sounds like something quite close to being free. 
2. What keeps you motivated as a writer? Feeling passionate about whatever it is I’m writing about. That’s the only way to keep going through the long dark nights when you should really be asleep.
3. What’s your favourite book, and why? I don’t really have a favourite, but let’s say The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupery. Not as a piece of literature, as such, but because of the sentiments within it, the view of the world it conveys.
4. Do you have a routine when you’re writing (i.e. silence, a particular genre of music, only working in the morning, only working in your underpants?) I also have a full-time job, so writing has to fit in around other necessities. I don’t write all the time – I have periods (perhaps three months, perhaps six), when I’ll be in the zone and more or less every spare hour will be spent writing, until I get the thing finished. This means late nights and weekends. Then I stop and don’t think about it until I get in the zone again. What causes me to need to be in this zone is having that idea that I feel passionate about – then it has to be written as quickly as possible. Then I stop. When writing, I’ll usually be at the desk in the top room, Magic FM and its nostalgic night-time tunes on the radio, and a glass of beer (and perhaps a plate of goat’s cheese) by my side. Above all, writing is for me a solitary activity, something to be done and not really to be talked about – I know the value of a good editor, but I’ve never joined a writers’ group (though I expect it might have been helpful), I never talk about my writing to friends, and for years my wife was the only person who even knew I was writing at all (I could hardly hide it from her!).
5. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be a writer? Read a lot when you’re young (although I realise that’s not possible in hindsight), seek out as much experience as you can, reflect on what you see and hear around you, write about things you know and things you love, and let your imagination run away with you. And on a more pragmatic level, make sure you put in the hours – a book won’t write itself – and never ever give up. And only write if you feel a real compulsion to do so – if you’d rather be out fishing or playing football or drinking with friends, then do those things instead (they’re often more fun and equally rewarding). Oh, and don’t send your manuscript out until it’s really ready for others to read (I know you see that advice everywhere, but I certainly didn’t follow it and I don’t think it did me any good). 
6. How easy was it for you to find a publisher? Almost impossible. You often hear stories of books that finally get published after being rejected by everyone. Well, I didn’t get rejected by very many publishers – probably because I sent the manuscript to hardly any of them – but I did get rejected by lots of agents in the UK and quite a few in the States (don’t tell my agent that!). Twice over, for both of the novels I’ve written. But among the rejections (example: ‘I’m afraid you’re not one of nature’s natural novelists – good luck elsewhere!’), I received enough positive encouragement to keep trying and I always had a feeling things would turn out OK. One night I was in the garden looking up at the full moon and started to howl – just joking, I didn’t start to howl, but I did think, ‘If a plane crosses the moon right now, the book will get published’. Of course no plane came. But the next night, I was looking up at the moon again and a huge great airliner flew right across the centre of the moon, almost filling it, so I took that as a sign. To be honest, I don’t think I would ever have got published if I hadn’t self-published one of my novels (Lost in the Flames) first. There’s obviously a stigma attached to self-publishing, but I got the book into Waterstones, sold 600 copies in five months through my own marketing alone, and received good feedback from readers I didn’t know (feedback from friends and family doesn’t count) – and I think this probably helped me to find an agent in the end, and without an agent I’d never have been taken on by a real publisher. I think, when it came down to it, I just worked really hard, never gave up, and finally got lucky.
7. What’s the best experience you’ve had while writing a book? Losing yourself in it – suddenly realising it’s five in the morning and the birds outside are singing and the sun’s coming up and you hadn’t even realised you’d hit midnight.
8. Who are you generally writing for? I know this probably isn’t the ‘right’ answer – I should be considering a target audience and what they might like, and I should be reading the kind of things they read – but I think I’m really writing for myself more than anyone else. I write the kind of things I would like to read myself, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to write at all. I just hope some other people will like it too!
9. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be? I don’t really consider myself to be a writer – I earn my living as a publisher (but a very different kind of publishing, not fiction), so I guess that’s what I would be (what I am) if not a writer. Or maybe an antiques dealer (something I’ve done a bit as a hobby, albeit in a very uninformed way) – I like rummaging around in old Victorian and Georgian furniture (and old houses)! Please also see question 15.
10. What one thing would improve your life? Having enough money to be free – by which I mean to be free not to work a full working week, free to spend my time doing productive things entirely of my choosing. Not that I don’t enjoy my job, but sometimes I wonder why the ratio of working week to weekend is five days to two. Do we really need people to be working that much? Doesn’t it mean we just end up rushing around making far more things than anyone could possibly use, uselessly exhausting this planet’s resources while we do so? Sometimes I think the world needs a benevolent dictator to prohibit global competition, to ensure that we all work less and enjoy life more and that no one can gain an advantage by working more than allowed – that’s probably just a narrow, complacent middle-class English view of things, but I do think the seemingly constant intensification of competition will slowly kill us all (and, while doing so, will kill off quality in the things we do and the things we produce). 
11. Where would you like to be right now, anywhere in the world? In Venice – anywhere in Venice. Or on my favourite beach in southern Crete, with a warm wind blowing the scent of wild herbs down off the mountains to the sea. Or in the mountains of north-west Italy, listening to wild boar snuffling around at night a stone’s throw from the open window.
12. Are any or your characters based on yourself or people you know? Yes, there are a couple of characters in Lost in the Flames who are based on people in my family – my grandfather (a farmer) and my great-uncle (a bomb-aimer in RAF Bomber Command in WW2) – but no one specifically in The Art of Waiting. Having said that, I think most characters are probably based on an unconscious amalgamation of lots of people you’ve met, and obviously on yourself to some extent (though I hope not deliberately so).
13. If you could swap lives with one of your characters, who would you choose and why? It would be a character called Jacob in a novel called Lost in the Flames – he’s a bomb-aimer in a Lancaster squadron in WW2, and is based to some extent on my grandmother’s brother, who was a bomb-aimer too. One of the reasons I wrote that book was to try to understand what it must have been like for him to go through what he went through, so swapping lives with him (preferably temporarily, I have to admit) would bring some enlightenment.
14. Have you ever regretted how you ended a story and wish you could change it? No, not yet. I’ve only written a couple of novels so far and I think I’m happy with how they end (though I’m sure things can always be improved, not matter how happy you might be with them).
15. If you weren't a writer, what would your 'dream' occupation be? Well, I wouldn’t say that I am a writer – I’ve written a couple of books, but it’s not how I earn my living and I consider myself a novice. So I’d say that being a writer would actually be my dream job. Other than that, I’m not sure – perhaps a goalkeeper, as it would suit my personality. In a way I was a goalkeeper from when I was ten years old to when I was about thirty, but only in amateur teams, and I think I would have liked to have been a professional goalkeeper for a few years, flying through the air. 
16. If your book was a film, who would you cast for the lead character? I’ve never really thought about that – perhaps a twenty-year-old Daniel Day-Lewis, but with his hair styled like a 1940s Italian.
17. Why are books important in your opinion? As a reader, I think principally for enjoyment, the pleasure of reading, of being taken into other worlds and other lives which (hopefully) seem as real as the one you’re actually living in. And of course books can teach you a great deal, can expose you to many more voices, and many more views of the world, than you could possibly encounter otherwise. I have to admit that I really don’t read as much as I should, which probably means I’m more ignorant than I should be! And for a writer – at least from my perspective – I think books are important for the same reason: they take you into another world in which everything can seem to you just as real as the world you’re really living in, and in many ways this can be liberating.
18. What are you reading right now? As usual, I have several books on the go – not because I’m a voracious reader, but because I read so slowly (usually re-reading every word of every sentence) that I sometimes forget which book I’m reading at any particular time and end up starting another one (or two, or three). The ones I’m part of the way through at the moment include Eric Newby’s Love and War in the Appenines, Forgotten Voices of the Great War, John Horne Burns’ The Gallery (about the Americans in Italy in WW2), H.V. Morton’s A Traveller in Italy, and Alan Moorehead’s Eclipse (an eye-witness account of the Allied invasion of Europe). I’m reading these really as background for what might be my next couple of books.
19. Which authors do you particularly admire? I recently re-read J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country. I haven’t read anything else by him yet, but on the basis of that book, I would say I definitely admire him – his evocation of time and place, and the sense of nostalgia. I remember enjoying books by John Irving – particularly A Prayer for Own Meany. There was a time, when I was living in Spain, when I read a lot of Ernest Hemingway (I liked the vulnerability in his writing, despite the macho bluster). Also H.E. Bates, Julian Barnes, Kafka, W.B. Yeats, John Stewart Collis, among others.
20. If you had a superpower what would it be? While it would be laudable to cure all the disease in the world, or something similarly philanthropic, I think I would choose something more selfish for my own personal super-power – the ability to fly. One of the things I like about my day-job is that it sometimes gives me the opportunity to be up above the world in a plane. I like the peacefulness of it, looking out of the window and daydreaming, knowing that for a few hours your life is out of your hands and there’s nothing you can do about it. But to be able to just take off from your own garden, your own roof-top, and go like a bird where