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An Interview With Chris Keil - Author of 'Flirting At The Funeral

Posted on the 30 October 2012 by Americymru @americymru
 An Interview With Chris Keil - Author of 'Flirting At The Funeral
flirting at the funeral by chris keil front cover detail
Chris Keil's long awaited and widely acclaimed third novel 'Flirting At The Funeral' was launched at Waterstone's in Carmarthen on September 25th. AmeriCymru spoke to Chris about the novel and his future plans. Read our review of Flirting At The Funeral

Chris's new novel is published by Cillian Press and is available from Buy it here:- Flirting At The Funeral
An Interview With Chris Keil - Author of 'Flirting At The Funeral

AmeriCymru: Hi Chris and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. You are celebrating the publication of your third novel 'Flirting At The Funeral'. How has the book been received?
Chris: Really well. I’ve been very lucky in having a brilliant new publisher - Mark Brady of Cillian Press - a new star in the publishing universe! We’ve got events lined up in UK, Ireland and Portugal in the near future, and many more in the pipeline. Best of all has been the amazing response from readers - enthusiastic, emotionally sophisticated, alert to language - exactly the kind of readers I write for. Readers have responded to the narrative, to the interplay between characters, but also to the aspects of language that engage me as a writer - to tone, rhythm, cadence, to repetition, half-rhyme, musicality. I can’t ask for more
than that.

AmeriCymru: 'Flirting at The Funeral' has been described as "...urbane, serious but also seriously entertaining writing." How difficult is it to be serious and seriously entertaining at one and the same time?
Chris: Many thanks to Jon Gower for those generous words! Not an easy question to answer. Flirting deals with serious themes, but hopefully not in a heavy-handed way. Life is scary,funny, sexy, sad - often all at the same time - and one of the functions of art is to try to capture some of that texture.
AmeriCymru: The book betrays a profound pessimism about the current political and economic condition of Europe. To what extent is this a major determining factor in the actions of its characters? Would you describe 'Flirting At The Funeral' as a political novel?
Chris: OK. I don’t feel that Flirting is simply a political novel, although it’s certainly about politics, among other things. It’s been called a philosophical novel, and it’s a novel of ideas, I suppose, but ultimately it’s a novel about people, about human beings and their complex, tragi-comic interactions with each other and with the world. I’m not sure that the book ‘betrays a profound pessimism…’ If there’s a single emotional theme, it’s probably more like rage, but the emotional tone is not unified - it’s disaggregated across the range of characters in the book: certainly the terrorist Dave Leaper is filled with venom, but among the central characters Morgan is detached and a little cynical, Matty is… I’ll come back to Matty; and the young film-makers are busy trying to take themselves seriously while having a seriously good time. But of course the melancholy span of history across the last forty years hangs over the book, like the suspension bridge across the Tagus in Lisbon. “The people, united, will never be defeated…” Oh really?
AmeriCymru: Two characters meet each other after years living separate lives; in the interim, they've each enjoyed success but seem to have each come to a point in their lives in which they have to compromise as they get older - how did you develop them and the choices they make and do you think we all come to that point in our own lives and have to make those same choices?
Chris: I suspect that this never sounds quite plausible, but I really find that when the process of writing fiction is going well, the characters develop themselves. What happens to them, and what choices they make, derives from who they are, from their individual autonomies. With each of my books, I’ve probably spent as much time not writing, as writing. When I finally get down to starting the book, I’ve spent so much time thinking about the characters that they hit the page fully-formed, if not running. They’ve existed for a year or two in a fluid, inchoate and unwritten state before hardening into flesh and bone and personality. By that time they make their own choices, or fail to choose, or choose unwisely.
AmeriCymru: Is youthful idealism always destined to fade? Is life nothing more than a series of grudging compromises with mere survival as the ultimate goal?
Chris: No it isn’t! That’s really depressing! Of course, the book suggests that life has the capacity to destroy you - before it kills you, that is - but a person is always implicated in their own psychic destruction, at least to some extent. If your life ends up as ‘a series of grudging compromises’ (good phrase, by the way!) it’s because you weren’t quite brave enough, or passionate, or crazy enough, above all not clear-headed enough, to resist the compromises that fear or insecurity offer. Matty says: “People make choices, don’t they? I choose what happens to me. Or maybe I have no choice. I suppose it comes to the same thing in the end.” For me, those words inscribe her epitaph, metaphorically. Incidentally, it’s been very reinforcing for me as a writer to see the range of readers’ reactions to Matty - who is after all the central character of the book - from fascination, to loathing: intensely positive or intensely negative, but always intense.
AmeriCymru: There are conversations in this book in which it seems as though the characters are speaking to each other at right angles. One character responds to questions and statements about his wife's illness with completely inapposite topics; what is this dialog telling us about these characters and about this story?
Chris: There’s a couple of points I’d want to make about dialog in Flirting. Firstly, it reflects the way I hear people speak, although obviously in a heightened, theatricalised mode - for me, the effect of naturalism is achieved by pretty much the opposite: exaggeration, over- emphasis, over-articulation. What I wanted to capture was the way that I hear people talk: at each other, across, over, down to each other; they hear things that haven’t been said, answer questions that weren’t being asked and ignore the ones that were. And beyond that of course, many of the characters in the book are alienated, isolated from each other and from themselves, trapped in their own speech-bubbles, so to speak.
AmeriCymru: What's next for Chris Keil? Are you already working on another project or have one in mind?
Chris: Yes I do. The next book is going to be a re-imagining of the life of the Roman poet Ovid, transposed into modern times. It’s a story full of possibilities I think. Ovid was the most talented and successful poet of his generation, writing glittering erotic satires, mixing with the elites of Roman society; he was a super-star. And then, unwittingly, he did something to offend the Emperor - people think he must have been complicit in a scandal involving the Emperor’s family - and was banished, forced to leave Rome and live in exile and virtual imprisonment in Tomis, on the Black Sea, in what is now Romania but was then the very edge of the Empire and the known world. “Beyond here,” he wrote, ‘lies nothing.” He spent what was left of his life writing the Tristia - the Lamentations - poems of terrible grief, of obsessive longing for the past. I’m going to set it in the present, and the current working title is “Vodka, Depression and Temazepam.” Only kidding; it’s going to be very pacy - more or less an out-and-out thriller… but with added metaphysics.
AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?
Chris: Yes, I have two. Firstly, Portland is a brilliant city, full of beautiful and talented people, and I aim to be back there in 2013. Secondly - this is for everybody - as soon as you’ve finished reading this interview, find the Amazon button on the AmeriCymru site and buy a copy of Flirting at the Funeral! Do it now!
Interview by Ceri Shaw

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