Friday, April 11, 2014

Some Delightful Banter

Hello Ladies, Gentlemen and any fish that have a clear view of a computer screen from their bowl. I hope everyone's week was splendid.

Mine was... interesting? There are only so many times in one's life that one gets mistaken for a patron saint. I think it's even rarer to be mistaken for Saint Sebastian (pictured to the right) when one is both alive and female.

Apparently being on mass amounts of meth, and who knows what else, can influence a person to believe that a female standing just over five feet tall could in fact be the patron saint of archers. Who knew?

Also, can I point out the ironic sense of humor the Catholic Church must have had in naming the unfortunate fellow to the right the patron saint of archers? I'm not sure that if I were an archer I would necessarily feel very protected just looking at the paintings of Saint Sebastian.

A quick reminder: The contest to win a signed copy of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" ends this Sunday. All you have to do to enter is write the most terrible opening line to a story that you can think of and post it either on the contest post my Facebook page or in the comments section on the post you will get if you follow this link: Enter

Today on Normally Surreal we are joined by author Chris Westlake who wrote, "Just a Bit of Banter, Like..."

What do you do when your well-established life falls apart? In "Just a Bit of Banter, Like..." author Chris Westlake explores this question with his main character Nick. Nick has a pretty awesome life, a pretty girlfriend, a good job a group of friends, but over the course of a couple of days he finds his situation almost completely reversed.

As Westlake unfolds the story of a young man returning to his native Wales and family, readers are immersed in the story as Nick tries to discover himself, while solving several little mysteries along the way. The author does an good job inserting the reader into the head of the main character as Nick tries to pull his life back together.

Funny, sad, interesting and introspective, readers will certainly find something to love in "Just a Bit of Banter, Like..."

Here to talk about his work himself is author Chris Westlake!

1. How would you describe "Just a Bit of Banter, Like..." to curious minds?

Hi Allison, thanks for inviting me here!
"Just a Bit of Banter, Like..." tells the story if Nick, a twenty-something from Wales who is living the high-life in the city. The readers probably won't like him too much at first. The guy is all image - you know the type - good job, plenty of cash and a trophy girlfriend on his arm. Right from the very first chapter, though, he is on a downward spiral. He catches his girlfriend in an uncompromising position with his best mate, he loses his job after unintentionally sending him an email telling him to shove things were 'the sun don't shine' and before we know it, he is catching the London Paddington to Bridgend with his tail between his legs.

This is where the reader - hopefully - starts to realise that Nick isn't such a bad guy after all. Scrape away at the artificial coating and a sensitive guy just trying to make sense of the world is hidden underneath.

There are a number of overlapping storylines all competing for attention - what secrets is best friend Den hiding? Why have Mum and Nan not spoken to each other for as long as Nick can remember? And where has school friend Sam disappeared to?
The general tone is light-hearted and there are plenty of laughs, but the book does explore a number of more serious issues - the impact of family feud, missing people and dementia.

2. What inspired you to write this book?

Well, I felt the time was right to write a full length novel. I'd spent a few years concentrating on writing short stories and I had won some competitions. It had always been my intention to move on a novel.

Why this book in particular, though? Well, as it was my first book, I wanted to be realistic. I didn't want to write War and Peace. I wanted to get the basics right - involving characters, a good storyline; a book that was enjoyable and entertaining. And I think "Just a Bit of Banter, Like..." achieves that goal pretty well.

3. Your characters seem very real, how much of this book was based off of actual events or people you know?

I'd say the characters are a mix of personality traits from hundreds of different people I've met in my life. But the traits are put in a blender and the people who come out are very different.

4. How much of this book is autobiographical?

Well, in a backwards kind of way, quite a bit. Just like Nick, I moved from rural Wales to London when I was in my early twenties and I guess I was pretty superficial, too. It definitely felt like I was doing well, leaving home and moving to the big city. I've never moved back to Wales, though. I know live in Birmingham, another big city, but a city that is still dwarfed by London. My nan and gramps had dementia, and so that storyline has a personal element. 

On the other hand, I've never had a missing friend, my mum and nan have always been close and my own dad has always been one of my heroes.

5. If you had to choose one of your characters to compete in a three-legged race with, who would you choose and why?

Oh my days, that is an interesting question!

Probably Nick's mother. She has amazing determination; she would do absolutely everything possible to get to the line first. If she is able to stop talking for a minute, of course. Three-legged races are more about co-ordination and team-work than physical ability, and she is a practical, rational thinking woman. We would have it in the bag!

6. If you wanted readers to walk away with one giant takeaway lesson from your book, what would that lesson be?

These questions are getting harder, Allison? :) I think that is quite tough because I made a conscious effort not to send a message. The story is more an observation of life rather than an interpretation of it. I'd quite like readers to reach all different conclusions from reading the book. It is all about prompting them to think for themselves. But then, sub-consciously, I have probably not been completely objective! I suspect some readers may think I'd like them to reconsider what is important in life, that friends and family are much more important than material things. But honestly - hand on heart - that wasn't my intention.

Their Flag Has a Dragon... Points for Wales
7. You are a Welsh author. For those on this side of the pond, what would you most want Americans to know about the Welsh culture?

Welsh culture is very close-knit and unashamedly patriotic. I think this is partly because of the size of the country. We are surrounded by our larger neighbour, England, in every direction. We absolutely love beating England at rugby, which to be fair, happens a fair bit nowadays. Traditionally a focal point of Welsh life has been the pub. There are two main cities in Wales - Cardiff (the capital) and Swansea. A considerable part of the country is rural, with small communities. I think generally we like the rest of the world to know that there is more to the UK than London and no, Wales is not in England! But from my experience, Americans already have more knowledge about Wales than other countries do.

8. How did you get started in writing and what other works have you written?

I always knew that I would write, it was a matter of time. I wrote stories as a kid but then school, University and work all got in the way. And then I decided it was definitely time to pull my finger out. In 2010 I enrolled on an online writers course. My tutor said that I was a very good writer and that was a massive boost. I wrote some letters to magazines and some got published and I earned some extra pocket-money. I started writing short stories and got some published and I won some competitions.

My stories have been published in Fight or Flight, The Heatwave of 76, The Road Home, which can be found at Stringybark Stories. For readers who are not feint-hearted, Sex in Sin City can be found in the xcite anthology Dark Pleasures.

9. Where can interested readers find your book?

To be honest the best place is my website, (yes, I know, very original). It has  details of everything that I have had published and links to where they can be bought. Oh, and feel free to check out the blog!

10. If you had to choose between defending yourself, using only a butter knife, against a fully-grown angry gorilla or be forced to listen to operas played in reverse for 24 hours, which would you choose?

Oh, that's usually the first question I get asked! Joke.
It has to be the opera option. The gorilla option is a lose-lose. Either I end up hurting a gorilla, which I wouldn't want, or I get my butt handed to by a gorilla, which I wouldn't want, either. And my money is on the gorilla. With the opera, it is just 24 hours of pain and then I can get on with life. Unless of course the music keeps playing in my head....

If you want to know more about Chris Westlake check out his website or his Twitter!

As always, you can find me lurking on Twitter (@AllisonHawn), Facebook and Goodreads!

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