By Dasha Werner –
Chris Ord is a writer and a musician who grew up in Northumberland. He taught English language in Turkey, Portugal and India before returning to England where he got an MA in International Politics. In 2015 he realised his eternal dream of writing a novel, and in September 2016 he debuted in his literary career with Becoming, the first book in the Gaia series. His second novel, The Storm, was published in 2018, followed by Awakening in 2019 which is a continuation of the Gaia series. Since then, Ord has shared his passion among young people by supporting literacy development in schools. His dystopian and supernatural fantasy novels are admired worldwide, and take place in his native Northumberland which he transforms into a mysterious land full of gloomy secrets.
1. You have been to many countries but decided to set the action of your novels in your native Northumberland. What affected this decision?
I grew up in Northumberland and love the county. It’s a beautiful place that never ceases to surprise. You can go to the same beach on a different evening and it’s like you are in a whole new place, especially the colours, atmosphere, and sounds. It’s magical, and has a mystery which I wanted to try and capture in my writing. It’s also a very sparsely populated part of the country. You can get lost here and be on your own very easily. The sense of isolation and loneliness at times appeals to me. It reflects something writers experience a lot whether they seek it or not. The sense of place, the mood and atmosphere are all important features of my writing. Even though I’ve lived and travelled to many countries I feel most at home in Northumberland. Writers are trying to find a bit of themselves through every story and share this with their readers. It’s in Northumberland, my home that I truly find myself more than any other place.
2. The Gaia Series takes place in a dystopian world set in surroundings familiar to many of your readers – Northumberland. Do you think that by moving the action of a novel to our reality increases the value of its message to the audience?
I would agree it can add some impact, but only to an extent. The familiarity of setting the novel in Northumberland has been an appeal to some of my readers, but I guess it’s only those that know the county or live here. The Gaia Series is about the struggles of growing up, and making the transition into adulthood. In that sense, I could have set the novel anywhere, but having grown up and made that transition in Northumberland it was the natural choice for me to base the books here. Readers are drawn to novels set in places they know or live, and I do get a lot of feedback on this. Connecting with your readers is important and as a Northumbrian, the value of the connection of a shared love of a place is a special one. A powerful element of dystopian fiction is the ability to capture an imagined world which is recognisable in your own. It’s creating a feeling in the reader that although this is a distorted and warped reality, it could happen. It is a world we know, but would never want to live in, and the fear is if we are not careful we might.
Striking a balance between the real and recognisable with those scary dystopian elements is an important part of the craft of the genre. It’s important that you choose or create a setting that helps you achieve this as that is the core power of dystopia to unsettle and make you think. Northumberland is the perfect place for me in the Gaia books.
3. Do you think that literature still has the strength to change the views of new generations, or is it limited to entertainment in the era of mass media, television, the internet, and short fiction?
Literature can be very powerful and I do believe it still has the ability to influence and change how we view our world. As a writer you’ve got to believe that, but you have to be realistic too. I see myself as a storyteller and entertainer most of all. It’s about creating a bit of escapism and taking the reader to another world for a few hours. If I can make them think and reflect on the world through the stories I have created that is a special bonus. Some books are game changers though. ‘1984’ is the classic dystopian novel, and probably the most influential book of the twentieth century. It not only changed the way we see the world, but even developed our language with many of the ideas and phrases now in common use. As I said in an earlier question, like all the best dystopian work its power lies in the fact that it describes a believable and unsettling vision of the future with the seeds planted in the present day. I think dystopia has lost some of its impact at the moment simply because reality has become a new dystopia. As Gramsci said, ‘Now is the time of monsters.’
4. Besides writing, one of your biggest passions is music. How do you think it is
connected to your writing career? Does it affect your works?
People often ask me what the most important element of writing was for me. It’s a tough question as there are so many ingredients that are essential – plot, character, pace, mystery. My first response would be a story. For me, it is paramount. Writers are storytellers, our job is to engage, intrigue, challenge, but above all entertain. I admire literary brilliance, but I don’t want to read a book if it is boring. Mood and atmosphere are also vital. It’s what I focus on above all else. Atmosphere is very important in creating that sense of place and emotion, drawing in the reader and immersing them into the world. I have a very descriptive and immersive style as a writer and this is something I enjoy.
Of course, it’s not easy to do. One of the ways I try to achieve this is through music. My favourite music is most often about mood and atmosphere and that is something I want to reflect in my writing. If there is a mood I am looking to capture I think of an album that makes me feel that way. I listen to it obsessively between writing sessions. Words and music are closely linked. There’s a rhythm and melody to sentences that help create the same atmosphere as a song or album. I also love intimacy in music. I want to feel an emotional connection. I want to sense the artist cares. If you’re passionate about something I think it shines through. When you play a piece you have to live it and try and capture the emotion through the expression and colour of your performance.
Writing is exactly the same for me.
So what are those mood albums? With ‘Becoming’ and ‘Awakening’ I would describe them as my ‘Diamond Dogs’ books. If any of your readers are David Bowie fans they’ll be familiar with Diamond Dogs which is a dark dystopian early seventies album inspired by Orwell’s 1984 and Richard Matheson’s ‘I am Legend’ two of my favourite books. With ‘The Storm’ I tried to capture the feel of ‘Pink Moon’ by Nick Drake. It has a bleak, desolate, scary mood, as though there’s the spirit of someone sitting in the room singing to you. It’s fair to say music has a direct and profound influence on my writing.
5. Have you ever experienced a creative crisis? If yes, how did you deal with it? Do you have any rituals or habits that help you during writing?
Self doubt is the most crippling part of the creative process. This, and the fear that someday you may have to share your work with readers. We all have these anxieties and every writer I have met talks about this. My most useful tip on this would be this – at the beginning of every session I write on a post-it note ‘No-one needs to read this.’ I place it on the desk next to me. Once I remind myself I am writing for me then I feel liberated from the fear and doubt. If other people enjoy what I write it’s a bonus, the main thing is that I enjoy the process and all the challenges it brings. Don’t think of the tyranny of the blank page, see only the joy of the endless possibilities. It is your story, your world, your creation, believe in yourself and enjoy it. I also set myself daily word counts. This helps me as I’m a contract manager by trade and I find targets help keep me disciplined. It’s important not to be a slave to them, but it can help build confidence and momentum as you move towards your ultimate goal.
6. What are your future writing plans? Will you continue to write about dystopian worlds and fantasy, or maybe you will surprise your readers with something new?
I’m working on a new novel at the moment. The working title is ‘Shadowfolk.’ It’s a modern fairy tale about a young girl’s struggle to find her father. It’s set in Northumberland and is inspired by the local child ballads and folk tales. The plan is to work on completing the first draft over the next few months. I’ll then park it and move onto something else for a while. When I come back to it for the redraft it’ll be with a fresh pair of eyes which usually helps me to be a bit more analytical.
There are elements of fantasy or fabulism in the new story, but it isn’t a dystopian novel. I see the Gaia Series as my dystopian world, but I’m not keen on classifying literature in genres. I understand the temptation though. Rather than being drawn to a particular genre I start with a scenario and a couple of characters and let the story unfold. There are often a number of issues I am keen to cover, but usually it’s just the way the story comes out. I would say the story is always the primary driver for me, the genre is less important. I try to write stories I enjoy reading.
7. What is your advice to people who dream of a writing career but do not have enough courage? Is it really that hard to publish a novel and gain appreciation on the literacy market?
What have I learned from my journey so far? Here are a few of my thoughts, I’m sure they will echo with many writers. Hopefully, they will reassure and encourage those that aspire to write, but have hit one of the many barriers we all face. Above all I would say to follow your dreams and do what you love.
1. Don’t try to write the next Booker prize or classic novel. Be humble and accept that you probably won’t. If you approach writing with your ego you’ll be crippled by the blank page. Of course, it isn’t the page that’s being brutal, you’re punishing yourself. Free yourself from the staring eyes of others and simply write the most entertaining story, the best you can at that moment. What more can anyone ask?
2. Write about something you love. If you love something the chances are it’ll show and you never know someone else might love it too.
3. Write with a person in mind. I wrote my first book for my eldest son Jake. I wanted to write a story that captured the struggle of growing up, making the difficult and scary
transition into the adult world. Maybe it inspired him to some extent as he is studying creative writing in Manchester. Like everyone, I guess I’d like my kids to follow their hearts and realise their dreams. We influence our kids in more ways than we, or they will probably ever know.
4. Everyone has a story to tell, and I always tell people to find their story and have the courage to tell it. Don’t be daunted by the mountain. Think of it as a series of stages. Reaching each stage is an achievement in itself and will spur you to the summit. One word at a time, that is all. You can do it. Believe in yourself. But keep trying. Read and write as much as you can. If your first attempt doesn’t work out, try again.
The publishing world has changed a lot in recent years. In the past the only viable and
credible route to getting your work published was to sell it through an agent to a publishing company. Agents and publishers are in the business of making money. It’s a commercial environment. They want to see books they believe will sell well in order to maximise the return on their investment. It does require some artistic compromise in exchange for the potential commercial rewards, but it offers access to editors, book designers, printers and distribution routes. Most writers simply want to write and find the thought of all the other aspects of getting a book to market too daunting.
Of course, this option still exists and many writers follow this route and it works for them. However, if you opt for this path you need to be realistic. It is likely to involve a lot of rejection and take lot of time to see your book in print, if at all. Even this is no guarantee of commercial success as you will still have to enter the promotional merry-go-round and work out ways of raising your profile and connecting with an audience.
New technologies, the internet, and social media have opened up new possibilities and there is an emergence of the new ‘indie’ authors. These are writers who want to connect with an audience directly and aren’t daunted by the additional tasks required to get the book to market. These writers are prepared to wear many hats, to project manage, and outsource to editors and book designers themselves. They are cutting out the agents and the publishing companies and becoming their own agents, publishers, and marketing themselves or commissioning specialists in those areas to do specific tasks for them.
This is not the vanity press which should be avoided. Never pay anyone to publish your book for you. I think it more like the independent record labels that emerged to offer alternative routes to provincial music artists. Without these, we would never have heard a lot of regional music which was more varied artistically and gave voice to a much wider range of society. Do you see yourself as more Joy Division than JK Rowling? Both have their fans and audience, but both reached them in different ways.
Print on demand services through companies like Amazon mean good quality books can be easily accessible to readers without the risk of high outlays to the writer. The book is created, and made available, usually online, but you can sell through other avenues too. If readers like your novel they will tell others and your market will grow through word of mouth supported by additional promotional work. Same as it ever was, except the writer is in complete artistic control.
If you’ve written a good quality book that readers enjoy they will let you know whichever route you take as long as you know how to help them find your book. There is no right or wrong route. You need to choose whichever is right for you. It’s fair to say that indie authors have to do a lot of extra work, particularly around marketing to see successful commercial returns, but there is a lot to be learnt in this. Some writers try both approaches depending on the books they write. Some genres, such as crime do well via both, while literary fiction tends to be more established in the traditional route.
These are generalisations though, the key thing is to write as good a novel as you can and aim for quality throughout. This is the hardest part of the writing process, but also the most enjoyable part of the challenge. Once you have a good product, finding your readers is the next fun bit. Above all, believe in yourself and keep writing. Remember that you can only write the best story you can, in the best way you are able to, at any given point in time. You will progress and grow as a writer and the emerging connection with your readers will help in this development. Just keep reading and writing and if you love what you’ve written, the chances are there will be others that love it too. If they do, then you’ve achieved your dream, so have faith in yourself and go for it.
More information about the author, Chris Ord:
Chris has published three books: ‘Becoming’ and ‘Awakening’ are books one and two of the Gaia series. ‘The Storm’ is a historical folk horror story set in mid-nineteenth century Northumberland. All three are available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions.