Birdhouse in your soul

Posted on January 16, 2009


By Darran Anderson

Darran Anderson: The Bird Room has a refreshingly honest focus on the darkest aspects of love – the anxieties, contradictions and intrigues that make it seem like a form of mental illness, you’re not a Mills and Boon man then?

Chris Killen: I guess in some ways I have quite a pessimistic idea of ‘love’. Or, not exactly pessimistic, but that it is something finite. One of the ideas of the novel was to present a relationship that was ‘damaged’ or ‘faulty’. That seemed like a ‘truer’ version of a relationship to me than one where two people meet, everything is fine, there is some sort of complication, and then everything is fine again. A Mills and Boon style ‘happily ever after’ relationship hasn’t happened in my life, and I don’t really expect it to.

DA: One of the major themes of the book is self-destruction, that urge in the back of the mind to do terrible things or just let things unravel. Where do you think that desire comes from?

CK: I’m not sure. I think my plan with the novel was to try and pose questions as opposed to answer them. I think there are usually a number of different factors working subconsciously – often in opposition – behind any conscious decision or desire. I think people are sometimes drawn towards things which harm them for various different reasons, and those reasons differ, depending on the individual.

Will and Alice in the novel have different reasons for being drawn towards self-destructive behaviour, and also they probably aren’t fully aware of these reasons, or able to articulate them if they are.

DA: Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

CK: J.D. Salinger was the first writer I read that really had an effect on me, when I was about 15. Suddenly reading became something really exciting, even more so than music and films.

I found other writers that made me feel the same way, at various points in my life: Charles Bukowski, John Fante, Richard Brautigan, Knut Hamsun, William Saroyan, Raymond Carver, James Salter, Tao Lin, Lorrie Moore … those are roughly in chronological order, I think. It sounds a bit pretentious, but I guess I wanted to try and write something that made other people feel excited about reading too.

DA: In common with your predecessors Richard Brautigan and Knut Hamsun, your writing seems to avoid the rational in favour of a much more complex view of humanity, even bordering on the surreal. Would that be a fair assessment?

CK: That is a very, nice elegant way of putting it. You have made me feel humble and good and like I want to buy you a pint or two. I don’t know. I admire both those writers an awful lot. I feel I learned a lot about writing and about ‘seeing things’ in a certain way by reading them. So, um, yes. A fair assessment, I think.

DA: There’s a sense of the inherent dishonesty of human beings in The Bird Room; characters have internal censors, their thoughts and deeds rarely match up and no-one seems to ever really show themselves to anyone else. You get the feeling that without all these hidden desires and white lies, there’d be the threat of chaos. That without slight deceipts, society might fall apart. Is it a view that you share?

CK: Yes, I think so. No one likes the idea that they are being lied to, but I think if everyone always told the ‘complete truth’ the world would be very different. It might not be ‘anarchy’, and it might not ‘fall apart’ exactly, but I think it would be an even more ugly and hurtful place than it is currently. I don’t know. I’m becoming paranoid that I’m sounding very pessimistic and a bit pretentious in these answers.

I just think it’s interesting that no one will ever really know another human being. Not really. Even if you think you know ‘everything’ about a person, they still might pick their nose or something in private.

DA: Your blog day of moustaches has the feel of an antiquary or a curiosity shop filled with strange photos, fictions and ruminations. What are your favourite finds, literary or otherwise, on the internet/life/elsewhere?

CK: I like: This Japanese cat website – this thing is amazing. I never get tired of looking at it. I like how ‘resigned’ the cats look, and I like the contrast between their serious faces and the ‘fancy costumes’. The Infinite Cat Project – I guess I just like looking at cats on the internet. Ola Podrida, ‘lost and found’ (music video) – another thing I think I will never get bored of watching. If I make a new friend, I will probably send them a link to this video at some point. I’m sure a lot of Dogmatika readers will have already been to these sites, but I really like Bear Parade and Ass Hi Books. I find it very exciting that such original writing is available for free on the internet.

The Crested Norwich Canary. This is my favourite small bird, mainly because it is so odd looking. There are some good paintings of it by the artist J.W. Ludlow, which make it look even more weird. And I wrote a ‘wikipedia’ entry on it on my blog a while ago. I like the painting The White Cat by Pierre Bonnard. I like this band an awful lot. And recently I have been finding out about and watching these kinds of films.

DA: The Bird Room is released and is so successful a range of toy action models are made of Christopher Killen. The merchandising department wish to know what your superpower is or would be?

CK: “Social Awkwardness Man.” I have the following abilities: To stop a conversation dead. To accidentally alienate myself/others/everyone. To sense that someone within a 100-mile radius is either not being included in a conversation, or being spoken about, within earshot, in a derogatory manner (however I don’t the ability to do anything about it except cringe).

DA: The Bird Room is released and, due to widespread public condemnation and book burnings, you are banished from the 21st century. Where do you go?

CK: I don’t know. Um, just back into the 20th century? I would go to San Francisco in the early 1960s, where I would be minus-twenty-years-old, and float around as a small speck of inverted light in the City Lights bookstore until Richard Brautigan came in, and then I would follow Richard Brautigan around the city as he went and bought groceries and had failed love affairs and wrote poetry and things.

DA: Do you have any scars? If so how?

CK: I don’t have any really huge or interesting scars. (I thought about making the answer to this one up.) I just have a slug-shaped one on my arm, underneath my elbow, from a ‘bike riding accident’ when I was about 10 or 11. I cut my arm open and got grit in the cut and went round to a friend’s house that was nearby and the friend’s mum put a piece of masking tape over the cut and it got infected and went green for a while. And I have one on face near my mouth that looks like a dimple, which came from falling onto something sharp, face first, as a small child.

DA: Beyond your writing, you regularly work on other projects including The Miniature Swans and flash films. How are those progressing?

CK: I haven’t done any flash films recently. I’m getting worried that I might have forgotten how to use the programme. But I want to use it to do an internet cartoon, soon, hopefully, with my friend Socrates Adams-Florou. The cartoon will be called Daddy’s Made a Pancake! I have ‘big plans’ for The Miniature Swans this year, too. I want to turn it into a ‘real band’ kind of, but maybe only play like one disastrous gig. I want to record an album, and also maybe a ‘Christmas EP’ (to be ‘released’ this summer). ‘Released’ just means probably making some CDRs and giving them away for free on my blog or something.

DA: What’s next?

CK: I’m starting as the Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Manchester in February. I’m looking forward to that – I will have a little room, I think, which I can sit in and write. And the main thing: I want to finish a readable draft of my next novel, Indoor Fireworks, asap.

Darran Anderson is co-editor of Dogmatika and 3:AM and author of Tesla’s Ghost.

Posted in: Interviews