To celebrate Not the Booker Prize, we’re running a series of articles about the issues the prize has thrown up (here’s the first). We’ve also extended the offer of an interview to all the authors on what we think is a pretty damn fine shortrlist. We’re delighted to say there’s been uptake, and here, talking about his book English Slacker, is Chris Morton.
Chambers is an eighteen-year-old student living in the small town of Bracksea, England. Fresh from his final college exams, he is now ready for what is to be his last summer of freedom, which involves going to parties, smoking dope and getting drunk with all his friends. However, what begins as a seemingly innocent and routine set of social events soon turns into a nightmare for Chambers as a suppressed memory – which may or may not be related to the recent disappearance of his best friend Colin – begins to surface. The more Chambers immerses himself in the distractions around him the more he begins to find that he is losing his whole sense of reality…
Dan Holloway: First up, huge congratulations on the shortlisting – this is set to be a summer as full of fun slowly but all in authentically anarchic style becoming menace as we draw towards vote day. Talk about life imitating art…
Chris Morton: Hi Dan. Thanks for your email. Just to get my head straight I’ve broken it down so I can answer each question in turn here. (Feel free to embellish my answers to make them more interesting and in tone with your article).
Liked your website and the promotion for your authors is great. If I find myself needing to look for or recommend a publisher then I’ll keep you in mind. Should also mention that I enjoyed the video exert from the Dead Beat, which seems like a good book that’ll be worth reading.
Anyway, back to English Slacker and Not the Booker Prize… I’m really happy to be short listed, especially as it has suddenly given my book a lot more attention, more important for me than winning a mug.
DH: I tend to think of slacker culture as a particularly American thing – something to do with acres of, er, grass on college campuses and wide open boulevards. Space in general. The space of the spaced as it were. How conscious were you of making choices relating to that cross-Pond thing?
CM: Well, mmm, to be honest I just wrote English Slacker with authenticity, which sounds like a bit of a crap thing to say but what I mean is that I just went ahead and made it English without worrying about if American people understood colloquialisms and cultural differences. But I wasn’t abandoning an American audience, rather I felt that an authentically written English book would have a kind of charm, or coolness. Like an English band sounding English rather than trying to be American or International sounding. From my experience of traveling and meeting people from other countries I’ve found that England and English culture is fashionable everywhere. So I believed that it would be fine to just go with it.
There are American influences too though. There’s a little bit of Dazed and Confused in there: Having a lot of characters, and incidences happening in subtle ways, especially background stories, and also the sense of fun. The enigmatic Alex and Paul characters too are slightly influenced by Jay and Silent Bob. English films about slacker culture tend to be more gritty and hard hitting. My book does have a darkness about it but it’s subtle and I don’t want to advertise the book as being dark. I want to draw people in with the free slacker image which I agree gives a sense of wide open spaces and college campuses. For me a slacker is lazy but having fun while a dosser is probably at home watching telly not doing a lot.
The title comes from an interview with Blur front man Damon Albarn describing Blur’s eponymous 5th album. He was saying that although the feeling of the album was influenced by American low-fi slacker bands, the songs were still very English.
DH: And you set the book by the sea. Is that to do with space again? We have the Cairngorms but they’re not really lounging around open spaces (though I’d love to read a stoner book set in the Cairngorms) – was the seaside setting forced upon you by the subject matter?
CM: Well, I live in a small town by the sea so that was probably the start of it. I was also aware of how great a beach setting can be though and I did consciously make the sea and the beach an important part of the book. There’s another influence here too: My book is about young people hanging out, chilling, and one of my favourite books about this is The Beach by Alex Garland. I thought that his chapters from the “Beach Life” section of the book worked so well that I had to have at least one beach party in my book.
(Note: had to use my dictionary to look up cairngorms – stones from Scotland it says. Now I’m confused… is Eight cuts from America, Scotland or England?[DH: well I’m based in the unglamorous and unspacious location of Oxford. Our contributors are from pretty much anywhere there’s people – and a few there aren’t!] The beach where I live, and indeed in the book is not sandy, it’s a pebble beach – though the cover is sand; but the cover represents a certain unreality or idealism: notice the lack of tyre tracks).
DH: The final thing on the US/English thing I promise. One of the things I really liked was the characters’ voices. I don’t remember cringing once from a wannabe Americanism or a clunking Anglicism. How did you achieve that?
CM: The voice took literally years to get right. The idea for a spoken word style actually came from listening to a song from a Scottish band called Arab Strap that was a spoken word song called The First Big Weekend. I’m not Scottish though and couldn’t keep up a Scottish accent with any authenticity so I opted with an exaggeration of my own voice mixed in with a few colloquialisms I’d picked up from friends in my area.
DH: This year is possibly set to be unique in coming of age social history as tens of thousands of students eschew gap years to avoid the tuition fee rises. What impact do you see that having on their summers? What kinds of thing will people be writing about the summer of 2011 in 10 years’ time?
CM: You know, I can’t really say for certain. Met a young person the other day and was talking about music and literally he’d never heard of any of the bands I used to like 10 years ago and I’ve never heard of any of the bands he’s into now. (This is actually the main reason why all the Indie bands in English Slacker are fictional). These days jeans seem to be skinny with big arses but if you went back in time and tried wearing the same jeans then everyone would take the piss out of you. Anyway, what I’m saying is that I can relate to young people by remembering what it was like for me but the fact is I’m not young any more and don’t know what’s going on with young people today in relation to contemporary culture. One thing I can say though is that 10 years ago gap years were well popular and tuition fees were pretty high.
Thank you so much, Chris