Chris Harrison has just published 'Toten Herzen Malandanti,' his second book in the Totenseries about the vampire rock band Toten Herzen:
1. Was your childhood happy?
One third of it was. One third was spent at school, which I loathed, one third spent asleep, and the final third I was free. When I remember that bit, the final third, I only remember day trips and castles and beaches, amusement arcades at the seaside, games like Subbuteo and Top Trumps, music and television. Every evening was a warm summer evening, every holiday was a heatwave, every winter hummed with the expectation of Christmas. If you take away school my childhood was virtually idyllic. My brain must have some kind of filter that has completely blanked out my schoolday memories, thankfully none of them stain the images of childhood.
2. Are you an only child?
No, the youngest of two. I have an older sister. My mum and dad come from large families. If I added up all the cousins, uncles, aunts and their kith and kin they'd fill Wembley stadium a hundred times. And I would only recognise about three of them.
3. Do you play a musical instrument?
Every instrument you can name, I can play it*. I've been making music for about ten years now. I started with electronica (hamfisted attempts at trance), right up to the present day recording the music for Toten Herzen. The only thing I don't do is sing. I was out walking alongside the River Ribble a couple of years ago, in a very isolated location, and tried a few lines of a song I'd written. I was tempted to take out an injunction against myself prohibiting me from singing.
*All the instruments are virtual, recorded on computer! I can't actually play a real instrument and can't read or write music. Someone on Youtube once heard a song of mine and said it was refreshing to hear people use real instruments. I had to confess and break the awful truth to her.
4. You say on your Smashwords interview that 'Toten Herzen's backstory came out virtually complete as though somebody had transplanted it overnight.' George Frederick Handel said he was 'visited by the angels' and wrote The Messiah in one week. Like Handel, would you also say that you had experienced a paranormal occurrence?
I'm not sure paranormal is the right word, but sometimes the human mind works in a supernatural way. Some stories are contrived in that the author sits down with a blank sheet of paper and invents a set of obstacles to be overcome by an invented set of characters. Very rarely does an idea form by itself, but when it does you have to stand back and let the various sediments settle.
I think it helped in that I've been interested in rock music for thirty five years, so the way bands come and go, rise and fall, get together and break up was already deeply embedded in my subconscious. It was like finding a very rich seam waiting to be mined. All I had to do was follow it and add the vampire/hoax spin on the story and out came Toten Herzen. But how I came to discover the mine in the first place is still a mystery.
5. Tell me a bit about your second book 'Toten Herzen Malandanti'.
It was originally called The Lost Valley. Toten Herzen follow up their comeback tour with the comeback album and Rob Wallet, the band's publicist, arranges for them to record at an isolated privately owned studio in the Lake District. He has ulterior motives for doing this and it isn't long before word gets out where they are and the band ends up on the radar of a corrupt network of covens centred on Bamberg in Germany: the Malandanti. It all kicks off when vampirism goes head to fangs with witchcraft and black magic, throw in an outrageous bit of opportunistic litigation from an American diva and you get another typical year in the life of Toten Herzen.
The theme of the second novel is loss and searching. Everyone is looking for something in this novel: childhood happiness, legendary status, privacy, world domination, a purpose in life, escape from reality. From an emotional point of view this was a very difficult book to write and in spite of the humour it's a very dark novel. I think the third novel will be a lot lighter, more riotous.
6. We aspiring writers have to find a way to deal with rejection. Does a rejection letter send you into a deep depression, or do you chalk it up to experience and move on?
I've come to see rejection as the default setting, so a rejection is expected. There are a million and one reasons for rejection, there's no point getting upset about it. That's the nature of the business, especially when you have the equivalent of a million people applying for one job vacancy. In the 1990s I had a manuscript 'called in' by one literary agent. She rejected that one, but asked to read the next novel I wrote, which I rushed and blew the opportunity. It's as much a numbers game as anything. Writing is an offshoot of the entertainment industry and we know how fickle that is at letting people through the door.
7. What makes you stay in (in your words) 'the heat and bedlam of a suburban housing estate; the kind of necropolis where souls come to die?'
In a word money. The value of this house means if I sold it I could only buy a similar house on a similar housing estate or move to a cheaper area like Mogadishu or Chernobyl. Suburban housing estates started out as an idealist solution to a post-war housing crisis. Now they're nothing more than internment camps. They're empty soul destroying places and if anyone disagrees ask yourself this question: if you had the money to live anywhere would a suburban housing estate be your first choice?
8. Do you enjoy your job, or would you like a change?
A few years ago I had a near-perfect job. It was creative, it got me outdoors, I had a degree of autonomy managing my workload and the employer was very good. I work freelance at the moment, which is tolerable, but a bit fragmented. There's satisfaction when a project is finished, but at the moment it's a bit 'isolated.' There needs to be a greater sense of accomplishment in the long term.
9. When you're not working or writing, how do you spend your time?
Making music, walking around the Lake District or parts of Lancashire like the Trough of Bowland or Pendle (Pendle witch country). During the winter months I go watching Fylde rugby union and stand on the terraces with a group of old nutters: ex-RAF, ex army, ex-this that and the other with dodgy knees and failing memories. At 48 I'm the baby of the gang.
10. What is your favourite film?
Do you know I was out walking along the Kent Estuary last week and asked myself this very question. I think it would be a tie between Amadeus and Brotherhood of the Wolf. Amadeus for its sheer quality of production, script, photography, acting (F. Murray Abraham is one of my favourite actors) and of course the music. Brotherhood of the Wolf is epic storytelling and the final ten minutes are probably a demonstration in how to conclude a story of that scale and depth. Fascinating, captivating, eerie and magical in equal measure.
11. What is your favourite song?
Crikey, the answer changes with the weather. At the moment it's a song called Weil du da Bist by a German singer songwriter called Das Gezeichnete Ich. I have what I call a 'nostalgia list' of songs I listen to when I'm writing or designing. There are a few songs on there by Burt Bacharach (The Look of Love, for example) and a couple by the Carpenters (Goodbye to Love is one). But I could also mention Destinazione Paradiso by Laura Pausini, The Bull by Jake Thackray, Shine (Club Mix) by Talla 2XLC or Ghost Love Score by Nightwish. I have very wide ranging tastes, which means I can't pin down one song and say that's the best thing ever written. And a song can be transformed when performed live. Metallica's Seek and Destroy live in Seattle (1989) would put that song on the list.
12. What is number one on your bucket list?
That would have to be a visit to Everest. I don't have the ambition to climb it, but to maybe reach a point where you can see it. Mountains for me are the most important elements of the earth and I'd like to see the highest one.
13. Do you feel part of an in-crowd, or do you prefer to stand on the outside and observe?
I don't like the idea of in-crowds, it suggests a superiority or arrogance, and usually manifests in a sheep-like mentality where everyone waits to see what everyone else is doing. In-crowds breed subservience and not answering back, but they're too idiotic to see beyond their own vanity to realise they're being conned by a smirking trend setter somewhere.
14. If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?
I'd become a Swiss goat herder. Live a subsistence lifestyle in the Alps. That's if such things exist. Goat herding has probably been digitised now.
15. Which of your possessions means the most to you?
I've been thinking about this question since I read it. The things that mean most to me are an accumulation of seemingly trivial things. My vinyl record collection, which I never play; my camera, which records all the things that become aide-memoires, and my car, which is like a horse in that it goes everywhere I go and shares the experiences I have. I don't like selling cars because it feels like I'm selling a friend. Anything that connects me to the past is important.
16. Has your acerbic wit ever landed you in trouble?
No. I don't think I've ever landed in trouble because of something I said or wrote. Maybe it's time to change and go all Katie Hopkins. Become a professional arsehole; they seem to get on in life better than the rest of us. In my first job I nearly got sacked for missing a deadline after arguing all afternoon about religion, but I don't remember the argument involving acerbic wit.
17. Where in the world do you prefer to spend your holidays?
The Lake District in Cumbria. Prague was also extraordinary when I was there in 2001. Anywhere other-worldly or fantastical will do for me.
18. Are you religious?
A few years ago I read an interview by Shashi Tharoor, an Under-Secretary General of the UN. He said 'even an atheist can be a Hindu,' which I thought was curious, so I looked into Hinduism and found the concept of Brahman very close to what I believed at the time. That we're all just fundamental bits of a universal entity, fluctuating and flowing. I don't buy Wainwright's line about heaven looking like the Lake District with folk floating about on cumulus clouds. I think we go back to being a collection of superstrings drifting through a superstring universe.
19. Have you ever visited Dove Cottage, taken photos, and looked for Wordsworth's ghost in one of the pictures afterwards?
I'm more likely to photograph Dove Cottage and Photoshop a ghost into the picture. I'd like to organise a hoax one day! Get people wondering about the reality around them.
20. What is your biggest regret?
Going to university. Listening to advice to 'get an education.' Gets you nowhere unless you have a double-barrelled surname and a pack of labradors. I should have got meself a white van and a trade. If a young person asked me for advice I'd tell them to ignore all advice!
Thanks Chris for agreeing to be interviewed, and for providing such entertaining answers to my questions.