Big Red Chair entertains a revolutionary…
There is nothing I can say to introduce someone like Chris Dolley. Colourful? Amazing? Eccentric? Funny? Read on!
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born and raised in Bournemouth, England. I’m an author, a pioneer computer game designer and a teenage freedom fighter. That was back in 1974 when I was tasked with publicising Plymouth’s Student Rag Week. Some people might have arranged an interview with the local newspaper, I invaded the country next door, creating the Free Cornish Army and persuading the UK media that Cornwall had risen up and declared independence (see more below).
In 1981, I created Randomberry Games and wrote Necromancer, one of the first 3D first person perspective D&D computer games. Not to mention writing the most aggressive chess program ever seen and inventing the most dangerous game ever played — the Giant Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum Cliff Top Relay.
(I hasten to add that this are all the real deal and you can google them)
I write SF, fantasy, mystery, memoir and humour. My novel, Resonance, was the first book to be chosen from Baen’s electronic slush pile. Now, I live a self-sufficient lifestyle in deepest France with my wife and a frightening number of animals. We grow our own food and solve our own crimes. The latter out of necessity when my identity was stolen along with our life savings. (see more below).
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At 12 I wanted to be a professional footballer or a comedy script writer, preferably both. I’d dazzle the crowd with my mazy dribbles down the right wing whilst composing a set of killer one-liners.
At 18, I was going off the idea of football – all that training – but writing was looking good. I was editor of the Plymouth Rag Mag and one of my stories resulted in a threat of a law suit from the Scientologists. Apparently they took offence at my story about a man named Eldorado Hubbard who founded a religion offering ‘life after death with the famous actress of your choice’ and a payment plan.
That was also the year I got into a little trouble with the police when, to publicise our charities week, I formed the Free Cornish Army and invaded the country next door. A hoax that took in the UK media and was later written up in Punch. But as I told police at the time, ‘It was only a small country, and I did give it back.’
At thirty I was a Freelance IT consultant five years into a ten-year plan to earn enough money to retire at 35, buy a small farm and write full time. A plan which was to take 12 years, not ten. I was also a member of Insurrectionists Anonymous – an organization for recovering revolutionaries. And I had my gold badge for completing twelve years without invading a single country.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That invading countries was acceptable behaviour for a teenager.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
Only room for two events, I’m afraid. But they were both pretty big.
The first was discovering that my identity had been stolen, our life savings seized and a bank account opened in my name in Spain to take the proceeds. And then being abandonned by the police forces of four countries who all insisted the crime belonged in someone else’s jurisdiction. Enough to drive a person to insurrection, you’d think? But, having foresworn invading any more countries – even Spain – I decided to become a private detective instead and solve the case myself. Unlike fictional detectives, however, I had an excitable puppy and an 80 year-old mother-in-law who insisted they accompany me if I went anywhere interesting – like a stakeout. It was the most surreal investigation ever … but I got a book out of it – French Fried: One Man’s Move to France with Too Many Animals and an Indentity Thief. The book’s done exceptionally well and has made both the US and UK bestseller lists.
The second event was equally surprising. One day four years ago I noticed a lot of hits on my website coming from a BBC site. Being curious, and hoping it was the BBC announcing they were going to turn Resonance into a TV series, I clicked on the link. And found … not a TV series but … my father.
This was a shock. My father died in 1960. I’d barely known him. What was his name doing on a BBC website in 2007?
I read further. It was an interview with an able seaman talking about the war, North Atlantic convoys and the day HMS Bulldog captured the German submarine U-110. My father was listed as one of the eight men mentioned in despatches for their part in capturing the submarine.
I was amazed. I’d known that my father had been mentioned in despatches but had never been able to track down what for. His service record didn’t say – which the MoD admitted was strange, even more so that the despatch was written by the First Lord of the Admiralty – but my father had never spoken of it. My mother had told me that once, after a large amount of drink, he’d started to tell her about something he’d done in the war that had saved a lot of lives but he’d denied it all the next day and insisted she never speak of it again. He died in 1960 and the secret went with him. Until that day four years ago.
I Googled ‘Bulldog’ and ‘U-110′ and found out more. My father was one of the nine men who retrieved the Enigma machine. The machine whose capture led to the unravelling of the German Enigma code. Winston Churchill called it the turning point of WWII. The full write-up with actual pictures (yes, I even found pictures of the U-Boat being boarded) is here: http://blog.bookviewcafe.com/2010/04/17/a-fathers-secret/
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you- – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
Storytelling will never be obsolete. The medium’s changed over the years and will continue to change. The trick for the full time writer is to find a way to still make a living out of it. My first novel came out in 2005 as a hardback from Baen. With the rise of electronic publishing, no one can predict if hardbacks will be around in 20 years. One theory says they won’t, another says they will – with the ebook replacing only the mass market paperback. Truth is, no one knows. Least of all the big publishers who seem to very slow to react – preferring to put more effort in maintaining the status quo than embracing change.
As for putting fiction out on blogs – I’ve tried it, but it doesn’t work so well for book length material as not many people like reading online instalments. Never had much luck with TV or newspapers – I think they still harbour a grudge from my Free Cornish Army days.
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
I’m currently working on the sequel to my very well received Wodehouse Steampunk collection What Ho, Automaton! What could be better than to blend the master of comedy with Steampunk and add a dash of Sherlock Holmes? In my alternative 1905 an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and Reggie Worcester, and his automaton valet Reeves, are gentleman’s consulting detectives. Mystery, Humour, Zeppelins and Aunts!
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
That humour be recognised as equal to drama. Funny films and books rarely win awards. And yet making people laugh is probably the highest achievement that anyone can accomplish.
(I agree with Chris completely. the world can be such a grim place that takes itself awfully seriously. It’s why humourous authors should immediately go to the top of the heap!)
8. Whom do you most admire and why? Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
PG Wodehouse – no one can write a better sentence or produce dialogue that both sparkles and yet feels totally effortless.
Agatha Christie – a genius at plotting who took risks, blazed trails, and turned millions of young readers – including me – into lifelong fans of mystery.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Read often, read widely – in genre and out – and when you find something that makes you go ‘wow’ or throw the book against the wall – stop and analyse why. You can learn as much from analysing bad writing as you can from good.
11.What are the last five websites you visited?
12. What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
My involvelment with International Kittens of Mystery – a secret organisation of small furry kittens that are ready to intervene whenever the planet is in danger. Be it from asteroids or planetary sized balls of wool on a collision course with earth, these kittens are ready. I help fund and train them. You can read about them, and look at the pictures, here (http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/International-Kittens-of-Mystery)
13. If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?
Writing is the mirror of life. It can reflect. It can distort. It can be framed in gold or left unadorned. It can be full length or can fit in your pocket.
Book View Cafe: http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Chris-Dolley-Bookshelf/
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Chris-Dolley/e/B001JRZOM2/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chris-Dolley/e/B001JRZOM2/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1