Today I welcome Chris (Christina) Longden, fellow member of Holmfirth Writers’ Group and the author of Mind Games and Ministers, a humorous novel with a political edge, whose heroine Rachael Russell fights to save the women’s shelter she runs and becomes romantically involved with a government minister. On 29 October Chris and I, along with Crooked Cat author Angela Wren (also a recent visitor to this blog), will be reading from and discussing our novels in the Gallery, Britannia Road Slaithwaite HD7 5HE. Today Chris is here to discuss her second novel, Cuckoo in the Chocolate.
Welcome, Chris! Tell us all about your new novel.
It’s drama. With humour. Tackles north versus south prejudice. Plus class bias and socio-political assumptions. Slightly anti-literati – but remaining tongue in cheek. Strong appeal to both male and female, so I am told. Sorry – I’m not selling this very well, I am – BUY IT – IT’S BLOODY HILARIOUS – EVEN MY DAD SAYS SO, AND HE HATES READING BOOKS!
How does it relate to your first one, Mind Games and Ministers?
Same characters – written from Rachael Russell’s point of view as the main protagonist – but ‘Cuckoo’ is about a different excerpt of her life. I spent a long time drafting and editing ‘Cuckoo’ in order that it would appeal to someone who had no idea who ‘Rachael Russell’ is – but that they would truly ‘get’ where she is coming from. I actually found it pretty easy to churn out the words themselves; but the constant re-writing was a much bigger challenge.
To what extent do the novels draw on your own experience. And how much of your protagonist, Rachael Russell, is you?
My early career was in social housing, so every scene that takes placen in a hard-bitten council estate – and juggling the issues that are invariably connected with bureaucracy-filled local authority led politics – felt a tad bit familiar. Similarly, I’ve also spent rather a lot of time with politicians (although not in the ‘clothes off’ dynamic, that Rachael experiences. Honestly!)
I also enjoy arguing a lot as a pastime. Usually with my children, or my husband – if he’s lucky. So I always like to chuck a load of dialogue into my writing.
Who or what has most influenced you as a writer?
There are dozens of writers who influenced me to *want* to write, when I was growing up. But I was never told that it could be a viable opportunity, or even a healthy pastime to engage in. I learned that ‘non fic writing’ – that writing from a business angle – was acceptable. That writing ‘as outreach’ to others, was a wonderfully rewarding and important thing to do. But that ‘creative/imaginative’ writing was not something to think about seriously. So, it was only when I moved to live in the Kalarhari desert, working and living with the San Bushmen, that I suddenly realised that all of these desires and gifts, could be put into good use.
The best writers that moved me the most to pick up my pen, are not household names – and yet they deserve the kudos and awards more than most. I am thinking of the Quaker writer Jan Arriens, of San bushman activist Willemien le Roux and South African apartheid-era journalist, Peter Younghusband. I”ved loved Margaret Atwood for decades, and Barbara Trapido and Elizabeth Jane Howard encouraged me on a personal level – I was very priveleged to receive personal direction from them. Ditto from Bill Bryson and Jon Ronson – a broad church of incredible writers who took the time out to read my stuff and to advise me.
Aside from writing, what other interests would you like to tell us about?
– Writing to prisoners; For 2 decades, I’ve written to prisoners in the UK and in the USA – plus death row prisoners. I had the privilege of meeting Sister Helen Prejean, many years ago – plus Jan Arriens (above) who revolutionised my thinking about crime and redemption.
– Anti-islamophobia; my dearest family members are converts to Islam, or are born into this faith. The horrors and prejudice that muslims in our society face is outrageous. For the sake of my younger relatives, I feel strongly that much of my work should combat this sort of prejudice.
– Poor farmers overseas; I run a charity that helps support them – the Lorna Young Foundation
– Literacy; my daughter is dyslexic, but I have worked hard to get her to fall in love with reading. It *can* be done – and I love to do talks that tell others how to make this happen with kids, or with themselves.
– Running; I just love to run. Never with other people though. I’m rather solitary when it comes to a lot of things.
– Coffee; my family joined with 2 other families a couple of years ago, to set up the now-famous ‘DarkWoods Coffee’ – a high-end roastery based in Marsden.
What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?
What is the one thought that you think of, more than others?
And what is the answer?
Why can’t I live more than one life? This one is wonderful. But I have so, SO many more that I want to try out…
Thanks for dropping in, Chris. Look forward to seeing you on the 29th!
You can find out more about Chris and her books via the following links: