Author Interview with Chris Calder
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Author Interview with Chris Calder

interviewed on Nov 15, 2020 Markfield, Leicestershire, UK
Chris Calder was born in India just before World War 2, and emigrated to England in 1954. He now lives near Leicester in England. After making a living from two Engineering products that he had patented, he retired to France where, aged 74, he was diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer.

During that time around while recovering from the cancer removal operation, he drafted his first novel, "Payback", a thriller based loosely on his experiences in business. Four more books have followed and the cancer is history. He has now relocated permanently to England, happily spending his time writing and engaging with readers.
Q. You were born and raised in India, before moving to England in the mid-nineteen fifties. What difference do you think being raised in India has brought in your life?
What a question! It goes to the very heart of who and what I am. I was born just before the start of the second World War. Looking back now, I know that being raised and educated in India has enriched my life to a degree beyond levels I could have expected, had that not been the case. How many people alive today can say that they have seen tigers in the wild? How many, particularly in Europe or North America, can speak, read, and write a language based on Sanskrit? I look back on my childhood, privileged in so many ways, with memories of warmth and love. Sadly, tigers are no longer to be seen in the wild in Rajasthan.
Q. When did your writing journey begin and what kind of writing did you start with?
There has never been a time in my life when I did not enjoy writing. It was as a boarder in a hill school in Mount Abu in India that my love of writing was nurtured. But it was to be many years later that I became a novelist, at an age when most folks have already retired.

Shortly after retiring to live in France, I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. At the time, my French language skills were not good. Recovering in a French hospital after chemotherapy and surgery, I found myself unable to communicate with the people around me, so I picked up a pen and sketched out the bones of a novel. Called “Payback”, it was based loosely on some of the more bizarre events that I experienced when running my Engineering business. Since then, four more books have followed, and the cancer is now history. I am no longer retired, I have a new profession as a successful novelist.
Q. Talk to us about your growing years and your home. How all did it influence your writing?
My home was in Mumbai, where my parents lived. From 1945 onward, I spent nine months of each year at a boarding school in Mount Abu, leaving in 1953 after taking the Overseas Senior Cambridge examinations. It was a sheltered existence in a remote location. Although in some respects it was tough, I have no doubt that the comprehensive education I received was the solid foundation for the writing career I now enjoy. My favourite subjects were English Language and English Literature, both of which I found no effort to learn.
Q. Give us a background of how you came up with the story of your latest book "Growing Apart". How much of it is fiction, and how much is inspired by real life?
Growing Apart is a work of fiction. The story is about twin boys born in pre-war India, of a clandestine relationship between an English civil servant and a vivacious Anglo-Indian woman. She dies in childbirth and one boy is adopted and raised in India. The other is taken by his natural father to England, where he enjoys a privileged middle-class English upbringing. The story builds to a climax when the twins finally meet again in an explosive scene where the life of one is in imminent danger.
Having lived through the period covered in the story, I am fortunate to have been able to use personal memories to lend credibility to the work. Now in my ninth decade, I marvel at the improbability of the fact that I seem able to recall in detail so much of my happy childhood in India. When writing this book, I had the pleasure of feeling again the warmth of India permeating my bones. That said, the book is not in any way autobiographical.
Q. Talk to us about the life and characteristics of the main protagonists in "Growing Apart".
The main protagonists are David and Edward, mixed-race twins who are separated at birth. At the time when India became a republic, skin colour was not a major issue there, although “non-Europeans” were excluded from a few private social establishments. That changed in 1947 after Independence from British rule. David grows up in India at a time when colour was not a significant issue in the society in which he was raised.

In England, Edward’s situation is quite different. Although he is raised in the comfort of a middle-class home, he finds that his colour sometimes makes a difference to the way in which he is treated. This impacts his life to a degree that drives his ambition, compelling him to excel at school and later to start his own Estate Agency business while still in his early twenties.
Q. The lives of the twin boys and their stories are intertwined. After knowing about each other, what kind of relationship do they share and how does it affect their lives?
Edward is aware that he has a twin brother in India but has never tried to find him. David is a teenager when he discovers, just before he emigrates to England, that he has an identical twin somewhere in England. So they do not really have a ‘relationship’ to share until after they meet again, finally, in an explosive scene when Edward’s life is in imminent danger. The story concludes shortly after, when a close relationship is developing between the brothers.
Q. Your first book, "Payback" is a pacey revenge thriller that twists and turns all the way through. Tell us more about Geoff Summers' revenge story.
Geoff, a designer of electronic control systems for security alarms, is the protagonist in “Payback”. When his vindictive new boss prevents him fulfilling his dying wife’s last request, he exacts his revenge by altering some of the controllers that are for jobs in production. To tell you more would be to create “spoilers”, so I shall leave it there.
Q. Your book "Kismet" portrays how a British politician becomes an ISIS target, after a Muslim businessman is found murdered in England. How does the story unfold from here?
A tough subject. When writing this one, there were times when I wondered how far I could go. Reviews were excellent and NetGalley reviewer author Caitlyn Lynch said: “Despite the subject matter, Muslims are not demonised in the book, which I was half-afraid of, going in. It is made clear by the actions of several characters that radical Islam is not the way of life that most Muslims seek, and the author’s respect for the culture clearly shows through.” And of course the story has a happy ending, so I must have got the balance right!
Q. "My Brother's Keeper" shows how a priest suffers the torture of conflict between his duty and his ingrained beliefs. So, how does he deal with his desires?
In “My Brother’s Keeper” the protagonist, Father Dominic Barratt, is a priest who has a degree in Psychology. He must fulfil the task he has been given by his Bishop, to help in secret other priests with problems. But he has problems of his own, when his former fiancée comes back into his life.

As the main plot had been conceived originally as a possible theme for a television series, the narrative is episodic, with each priest’s problem being a separate issue within the story. Dominic’s own problems and desires are the core of the story and as such, cannot really be explained here.
Q. "Celeste Three is Missing" revolves around how Gregory Topozian seizes his chance to get even with Viktor Karenkov, a corrupt Russian oligarch when the sensational space plane "Celeste Three" disappears, with Karenkov onboard. Tell us more about what follows in the story.
“Celeste Three is Missing” is a revenge thriller about the way in which the protagonist Gregory waits patiently for the opportunity to bring to justice an evil oligarch. The man who is the centre of his focus had murdered Gregory’s best friend in cold blood years earlier. When the man books a flight on Celeste, Gregory devises an audacious plan to bring him down, literally. The space plane has been designed to land only at its base in Arizona.

As would be the case with most good thrillers, to reveal how he achieves this without spoiling the narrative altogether is, unfortunately, not something that I can do here.
Q. What is your thought process when you start writing a new book, and how do you structure your content?
My preference is to write a precis of the complete plot first. That gives me the skeleton and timeline on which to structure the scenes. This leads inevitably to changes as the story unfolds, but it imposes a discipline that works for me.
Q. Do any real-life incidents, people or situations impact the storyline of your books or they are all fiction? If yes, would you like to share some examples?
Actually, although my books are all fiction, the idea for my first book, “Payback”, was conceived as a result of a true incident! Our factory was once invaded by local CID and Scotland Yard’s drugs squad, at the same time! We had been used by a Dutch supplier to forward to someone else, a large heat exchanger that he had filled with happy pills. Without our knowledge of course. Yes, life sometimes is stranger than fiction. The saying is “Write what you know.” So, that’s what I did.
Q. Do you want to share a few of your favorite lines from any of your books or tell your readers about any memorable or peculiar events from it?
One example is to be found in “Growing Apart.” Today, there aren’t many genuine Anglo-Indians left; those born in British India who are neither wholly British nor wholly Indian. On the Monday immediately following India’s first Independence Day in August 1947, two men are on a commuter bus heading for the commercial district in Bombay, as Mumbai was known then. They had been discussing the widespread riots that followed Independence Day. One is David’s adoptive father.
In an atmosphere laden with intimidating menace, his companion remarks ironically, “Welcome, my friend, to the Independent Republic of India.” There was no doubting the heavy sarcasm. “Thing is, we’re not welcome any more. Hindus on one side and Muslims on the other, us smack in the middle. Anglo-Indian Christians. Not English, not Indian. No place to be. And nowhere to go.
Q. Did you incorporate any life messages in your books? If so, what are they?
I write fiction, trying never to forget that readers of fiction expect to be entertained and diverted. My books are all light thrillers, with the exception of “My Brother’s Keeper” which is quite different, and possibly the only one that has nuanced messages in it.
Q. What genres do you enjoy the most- both for writing and reading?
The answer for both is Thrillers. But I am no fan of gory details or unnecessary sex. I believe that the majority of readers wish to be diverted and entertained, something I try never to forget.
Q. Tell us about your upcoming books, any work-in-progress that you would like to share about?
My system is always to have two books as works in progress at the same time. When the muse dries on the main one, I turn to the other. At present I am working on a story with the provisional title “The Indomitable Pie Lady.” The protagonist is a woman called Linda who has everything; a husband who is a high-flying sales executive, a beautiful house and two children. He loses his job and fails to find another. The bad luck continues to spiral downwards when he dies, crashing her car while drunk. Linda has nothing left except huge debts and the decrepit mobile burger van that he bought after selling his car. How on earth can she get out of this? I can say only that all will be revealed, when the book is finished.
Q. What all forms of writing do you pursue, and where do you publish them?
Over the years I have had pieces published occasionally in newspapers and journals. When asked, I am happy to contribute but my main focus now is on writing full-length novels.
Q. What else do you like to do apart from writing?
When I am not writing, I am editing. When I am not editing, I am writing. If I am not engaged in either, I am probably asleep!

I do try to read as much as I can. The physical limitations that come with age narrow the options, but writing remains from choice, my main occupation. And that will be the case for as long as the bits between my ears still work!
Q. What role has your family played in your writing career?
This question gives me the opportunity to acknowledge the incalculable debt that I owe to my wife, surely the most patient person on earth. Fortunately for me, she is a keen reader of fiction, devouring several books every week. She is my first and most important sounding board; I could not possibly function without her. Put it this way: She reads, I write. She cooks, I eat!
Q. At 74, when you were diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer, how firmly had you made up your mind to fight back and win the battle to come back even stronger?
At the risk of sounding downbeat, I have to say that for me at least, it was nothing like a “battle” at all. Of course it is not a good experience to be told that you have cancer, and chemotherapy is unpleasant, but not intolerable. All I had to do was to take the medication and do as instructed by the medical professionals. The genuine bonus was getting the urge to write my first book whilst in recovery, plus being gifted the time and motivation to do it. That was due to good fortune, not mental strength. I was not heroic, just incredibly lucky!

The real benefit was that I learned the ‘nuts and bolts’ of structuring a full-length novel. I discovered very quickly the truth in the saying that storytelling is an art, but novel writing is a craft, one that has to be learned, like any other. It was a steep learning curve, but great fun.
Q. You're in the ninth decade of your life, and must have had a lot of interesting or memorable experiences. We would love to hear some of them from you.
A highlight was, unquestionably, seeing tigers in the wild. It happened twice, when I was a pupil at a boarding school in Mount Abu, India. Another was soaring over the veldt in a glider in South Africa. Yet another, being granted patents for products that I had invented. In a list like this I cannot rule out the cancer thing. It’s done now, totally gone, and it was directly responsible for me taking up novel writing. Amen. Am I not the luckiest man alive?
Q. Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
Yes, I do. I was about twelve years old at the time and it was, frankly, awful. But at the time I was quite proud of it! More I cannot remember.
Q. What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I suppose I am not the only author who finds marketing a pain in the rear. Probably because I am just no good at it. All I want to do is to write. Come on, what else is there? Bottom line? I would rather be a fulfilled writer than an expert in marketing. Go figure!
Q. What do you think makes a book sell, or makes a reader buy it?
Usually, readers buy books by authors whose work they already know. Otherwise, it is likely to be a purchase resulting from the recommendation made by a friend. However, for readers browsing the shelves, it is believed that the important influences are a genre that they are familiar with, the cover appeal and the blurb.
Q. What’s the most moving or affecting thing a reader has said to you?
In a review of my novel “My Brother’s Keeper”, a reader who is a Christian minister said that she found one of the characters “inspirational”. I was touched and moved. But the work is fiction, so I have to shrug and keep my feet on the ground!
Q. What are your favourite three books, and why?
“The Card” by Arnold Bennett, Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the Father Brown books by G.K. Chesterton. (Alright, more than one, so I cheated!) I love them all because they illustrate perfectly how varied and expressive the English language is. My dream is that maybe, just maybe, one day I shall be as good.
Q. Which authors have influenced your writing the most and how?
Victorian novelists, among them Dickens, Chesterton, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. They knew the power of language, and how to use it.
Q. What challenges do you think are faced by writers, what’s the worst thing about the book industry according to you?
Honestly? Paradoxically, I believe that the sheer volumes of books now being churned out has been counter-productive, to a degree. Please forgive me for saying, but I think it has led to the lowering of standards. The solution? Write for pleasure, write because you must. If you believe that writing will make you rich, you are likely to be disappointed.
Q. At QwertyThoughts.com, we are trying to bring authors and readers on the same platform, to connect, discuss and socialize over books. What's your take on this?
When I first stumbled on the Qwerty Thoughts website, I was surprised and delighted at how focused it is on encouraging connections between writers and readers. Long may it be so! I am not someone who stresses over lost opportunities, so I shall get on with building my presence within the Qwerty Thoughts family and as always, hope to contribute more than I receive.
Q. What message do you want to share with budding writers?
Never give up. Never ever give up. Beyond that, just one other piece of advice:
Value what you do and never stop trying to improve.

Comments (5)
  • Loved reading this! Keep going strong and writing more...

    2 . 1 Reply
  • Awesome! Well said : Never give up. No one should.. Never!

    1 . Reply
  • Hi Sheena, good to hear from you. Just keep writing and be true to your own ideals. We are kindred spirits!

    1 . Reply
  • So I just bought your book... Looking forward to reading it!

    0 . Reply
  • "Growing Apart" will be my first read from books written by you. I'll review it once I am done reading it.

    0 . 1 Reply