PDB: Can you pitch FACES IN THINGS in 25 words or less?
“My second story collection, all written in New Zealand, a variety of genres including food, music, science fiction, fantasy and magical realism, 13 previously unpublished.”
PDB: Which music, books, films, songs or television shows do you wish you had written?
Music: Anything by Thelonious Monk because you can’t argue with the man who said, ‘The piano ain’t got no wrong notes.’ A piece of music I don’t so much wish I’d written as often wish I had playing while writing is the David Sylvian (of Japan) and Holger Czukay (of Can) collaboration ‘Plight and Premonition’. It’s full of the spiralling of winter ghosts and Czukay’s virtuoso twiddling of radio dials lends the promise of creative potential lurking behind the ambience and bursts of interference.
Book: ‘Pilgermann’ by Russell Hoban, for its sheer audacity of vision and the fact that it was (in my view unjustly) overshadowed by his post-apocalyptic Huck Finn, ‘Riddley Walker’. ‘Pilgermann’ is a magical realist’s history of the Crusades as if from the palette of Hieronymus Bosch. It so vividly depicts ancient Antioch that I once dreamt I was an owl flying over its ruins.
Film: Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’ is my favourite film and an important inspiration. It takes true genius to make a funny dystopia, and Gilliam’s interpretation of Tom Stoppard’s screenplay is so detailed and multi-faceted that I never tire of watching it.
Songs: Justin Currie’s ‘No, Surrender’ (part one: https://youtu.be/-4b_dBMfBf0 part two: https://youtu.be/BVmtie4JlPQ) and ‘The Fight To Be Human’ (https://youtu.be/S3jJg3oqlu0 – audio only), which between them encapsulate pretty much everything I wish I’d said about modern life and then some.
TV: ‘Fargo’. I was sceptical before watching a TV extrapolation of a classic film and didn’t expect to enjoy it (in fact, the first time I saw the Coen Brothers’ film I was underwhelmed by it, but Carter Burwell’s theme and musical score crept up on me slowly over the years and eventually the film lodged itself in my consciousness). Season One of the TV show was superbly written and cast. Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and Allison Tolman gave such extraordinary performances that now I’m sceptical about the prospect of Season Two – could the producers possibly pull it off again?”
PDB: Which of your books do you think would make good films or TV series?
“I wrote a screenplay version of my first novel, ‘Liquidambar’ (http://amzn.to/2cDKzM3) – which is set in the world of 12 of Edward Hopper’s paintings – and years ago had talks about it with Weta Digital’s Richard Taylor and Gayle Munro. Richard kindly offered to make a show reel at no cost if I could interest a producer. I tried but needless to say failed.
“My latest novel, ‘Songshifting’ (http://amzn.to/2e1PUu8) – a dystopia set in an alternative world of touring bands gigging under a repressive regime headed by a shadowy impresario – also has filmic potential, but I imagine most writers say that about their most recent work because if it doesn’t come alive in their own heads they haven’t done a good enough job of imagining it.”
PDB: Who are your favourite writers?
“In chronological order of reading: Stephen King for ‘The Stand’, ‘The Shining’, ‘Christine’, ‘Cujo’, ‘The Dead Zone’ and ‘Different Seasons’; Russell Hoban for every one of his novels; Richard Brautigan for ‘Sombrero Fallout’ and ‘So The Wind Won’t Blow It All Away’;
Russell H. Greenan for ‘It Happened In Boston?’; J. P. Donleavy for ‘A Fairy Tale of New York’ and ‘The Ginger Man’; Martin Amis for ‘London Fields’; Thomas Pynchon for ‘Inherent Vice’; Graham Greene for everything of his that I’ve read; Evelyn Waugh for ‘Scoop’; Richard Price for ‘Clockers’ and ‘Lush Life’; and W. Somerset Maugham for ‘The Narrow Corner’.
PDB: What’s your favourite joke?
It would probably be one of Tommy Cooper’s. How about, “This man knocks at his neighbour’s door and the neighbour’s wife answers. ‘Hello,’ says the man, ‘is Charlie in?’ The woman says, ‘I’m sorry but Charlie died last night.’ The man says, ‘Oh. He didn’t say anything about a can of paint?’”
PDB: What’s your favourite song?
“Inevitably this changes over time – music is indispensable to me while working; as my protagonist Rarity Dean says in ‘Songshifting’, ‘A day with no soundtrack is a wasted day.’ I’ve always loved Elvis Costello’s ‘Shipbuilding’, and I even love all the different cover versions of it – from Robert Wyatt’s (https://youtu.be/MoZiOOD0HRU) to Suede’s (https://youtu.be/KDPa6AJMQkw) and tRANSELEMENt’s (https://transelement.bandcamp.com/track/shipbuilding), as well as Elvis’s recording with the late Chet Baker’s trumpet solo (audio: https://youtu.be/pIzcqfvi8RI). Who’d have thought you could write a pop hit about the Falklands War?
“But my favourite song is currently another Justin Currie beauty called ‘Little Stars’ (https://youtu.be/4u_Z1_3i2K4) about the pathos and wonder of weddings. As I’ve said elsewhere, no one writes about love and loss better than the former Del Amitri frontman. He’s a pop Leonardo da Vinci – without the long beard and with a better accent.”
PDB: What’s on the cards?
“I’m almost halfway through the first draft of the second part of my ‘Songshifting’ trilogy, which has the working title ‘Requiem For Stage Diver & Bass Guitar’. ‘Songshifting’ plays against the scuffed backdrop of an oppressive regime and is set in an alternative present or a skewed future in which hats are back in style and musicians have developed what seem to be supernatural abilities – during their concerts they levitate, disappear or induce extreme physical reactions among the punters. The impresario has prohibited recordings and home entertainment, meanwhile administering a drug called Sentimental Hygiene at gigs as a secret form of crowd control. I’ve been told this is implausible by people who apparently haven’t noticed what’s going on in the world right now.
“The second book will be a murder mystery in the same setting and with some of the same characters.”
PDB: Anything else?
“My homage to the ghost stories of the 1920s, ‘Shem-el-Nessim’, is set to appear in Eric J. Guignard’s US anthology ‘The Five Senses of Horror’ this year.”
There’s a ‘Songshifting’ website – a kind of wiki for all the bands and characters that appear in the novel – here: http://bit.ly/2kRAY8r and the rest of my stuff is here: http://amzn.to/23A8gVt
Bio: Chris Bell was born in Holyhead, North Wales. After working as a musician, a messenger for a small London record company, a freelance music journalist and as editor of Soundcheck!, he moved to Hamburg, Germany where he was employed by a guitar company and an independent music publisher before emigrating in 1997 to New Zealand. His short stories have appeared in The Third Alternative; Postscripts; Grotesque; The Heidelberg Review; TransVersions; Not One of Us and Takahe, as well as on the internet. His short story ‘The Cruel Countess’ was anthologised in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (10th Annual Edition), in which his collection The Bumper Book of Lies received an honourable mention. ‘Shem-el-Nessim’ appeared in This Is The Summer of Love, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21 and That Haunted Feeling. His poetry has been published in Workshop New Poetry; Snorkel; foam:e and the New Zealand Listener. His first novel, Liquidambar, won UKAuthors’ ‘Search For A Great Read’ competition.