My latest interview is with author Chris Watt who is 31 years old and lives just outside the city of Aberdeen, Scotland, although he grew up about 30 miles North of the city in the little town of Peterhead. He is a graduate of the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, where he studied Media Production, primarily trained as a screenwriter. Chris has been working in the city for the last 8 years, as manager of a little second hand bookstore and coffee shop called ‘Books and Beans’.
“Peer Pressure” is his first novel.
Books & Writing: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Chris Watt: I do. In fact, my mother reminds me weekly about it. It was a homework assignment when I was about seven years old. We were asked to write a story about something personal to us and we had to use as many descriptives as we could think of within the piece. Unfortunatley, I took it a little too literally, which meant that my story consisted of sentences like this;
“When my dad got off the plane I was amazed, astonished, surprised, happy, sad…” etc.
It wasn’t the most impressive of starts.
Books & Writing: What do you love about telling a story in book form?
Chris Watt: The reader has such an intimate relationship with the characters. We are inside their heads for the duration and I love that about books. Unlike screenwriting, which was my forte for years, there are no limitations on where you can go or what your characters can think. It’s that friendship between the reader and the story’s protagonist that I really get off on. And it’s so varied. Your hero can be good, like Atticus Finch in “To Kill A Mockingbird” or evil like Alex in “A Clockwork Orange”. We are allowed to be complicit with these people, whether we like them or not.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us something about your book “Peer Pressure”
Chris Watt: “Peer Pressure” is about a mother and daughter and how their relationship is tested by the arrival of a new man into both of thier lives. It has that love triangle structure that many books of it’s type can have, but has one or two twists to it, which make the relationships between the characters just a little more interesting.
Books & Writing: Is the main character Jodie McPhee based on someone you know?
Chris Watt: She is a combination of one or two girls that I knew during my time at secondary school, both of whom I was madly in love with, in that way that most teenage boys fall in love when you’re young and naive. I seem to recall falling in love with a new girl every week. It was really exhausting. In fact, I don’t know how I got anything done back then.
Books & Writing: Where did you get your inspiration from to write this book?
Chris Watt: There were a few factors here. First and foremost, the plot came from the school rumour mill. When I was 15, I remember very clearly, a rumour about a teacher having an affair with a student. As is often the case, the rumour proved untrue, but the truth was no less interesting to me. The teacher was in fact having an affair with the student’s Mother. It seemed such a funny idea to me, ripe with comic potential. It’s a story that could go somewhere dark and dramatic, but really, that story has been told many times before and I found the concept so amusing ( the idea that you have to know your teacher as a person of authority, but also socially ) that the story poured out very easily.
Another factor was the idea of a single mother and her second chance of happiness. I was raised by a single mother and I have very close friends who have had similar experiences to that of Katy in the novel. These women have a voice that needs to be represented by all types of writers (men and women) and that was part of the challenge of writing the book. To try and write in a woman’s voice, to get inside her head, not to mention getting inside the head of her teenage daughter, was one of the main thrusts of writing the book at all. I just hope I’ve done a good enough a job that they come across as relatable.
Books & Writing: What genre would you say this book fits best in?
Chris Watt: I would put it in the romantic comedy genre, with more of a veer into drama in the final third of the book. It has a bitter-sweet element to it that makes it a little more emotionally resonant.
Books & Writing: Are you working on anything new at the moment?
Chris Watt: I’m about two chapters into the next novel. I can’t really say too much about it at the moment, except it’s set in my hometown, Peterhead, in the 1970′s and deals with two couples. It’s a dark, intimate story about infidelity and ambition. Very, very different in tone to “Peer Pressure”.
It’s working title is “Still” and I hope to have it finished by the end of the year.
Books & Writing: Which writer(s) inspires you?
Chris Watt: There are so many, but mainly a writer like Nick Hornby, who manages that wonderful balance of the bitter and the sweet. His books are alive with humour and yet have that human touch that make them sad and honest.
The screenwriter Cameron Crowe has that too. I love his heart on sleeve way of working. I wish he’d write another book.
And J.D. Salinger of course. “The Catcher In The Rye” is my favourite book of all time. It’s simply perfect, I can’t think of a better novel.
Books & Writing: What’s the last book you read?
Chris Watt: I recently re-read “Young Adam” by Alexander Trocchi, which was incredibly refreshing. It’s many years old now, but still feels modern and relatable. I also read “Juliet, Naked” by Nick Hornby, whilst on holiday in Morocco and “The Kite Runner” which broke my heart. I thought it was stunning.
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Chris Watt: It sounds corny, but write from the heart, especially in the beginning. It is so important to know what kind of a writer you are and to stick with it, despite what anybody tries to tell you.
(I realise that that almost sounds like an oxymoron: My advice is don’t listen to my advice! but there is a certain amount of truth in it.)
And always surround yourself with honest people, friends and family that keep your feet firmly on the ground, even if your head is in the clouds. It’s vital.
To give you an example, my editor on this novel was one of my best friends, Linzie Carson (who deserves just as much credit for how the book turned out than anyone!), and she was the best possible choice. She has a huge appreciation for good writing and never once felt the need to sugar coat how she felt when she read any parts of my book that didn’t work for her. Without that kind of honesty, I wouldn’t be talking about the finished product today.
Books & Writing: Where can people go and read your work?
Chris Watt: “Peer Pressure” is available to download for Amazon Kindle.
In the UK, you can find it here at Amazon.co.uk:
In the US/AUS, you can find it here at Amazon.com:
A third of the book’s profits are going to my friend Jennifer’s charity, ‘Janie’s School’, which can be found here:
Please stop by and give it a look, it’s a wonderful charity doing amazing work!
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on internet?
Chris Watt: Since the book came out, I’m rarely offline, but can be found or contacted in these places:
Below is an excerpt from the book “Peer Pressure”
In years to come, Jodie McPhee would look back on the event and put the sad outcome down to three things.
Two: A void in the chemistry that should have been,
Three: A serious lack of click.
Jodie McPhee had taken a liking to Mark Credence about two weeks earlier, but it was only now, during the last period of the final day of term, that she had decided to do anything about it.
She had given the usual subtle signals. Looks. Smiles. Accidentally bumping in to him as she walked past and, finally, a note asking him to meet her in the stationary cupboard before class started.
Mark Credence wasn’t obvious boyfriend material. He was short at five foot four, with untidy hair and, due to a particularly nasty hockey injury earlier in the term, a spine like a buggered bottle. It caused him to veer slightly left when walking and that, matched with a tendency to speak without thinking, had acquired him the nickname amongst his classmates of ‘Credence Queerwater’.
In spite of all this, Jodie had taken a shine to him. She thought he was kind. A little shy maybe, but cute in that ‘I could work on him’ sort of way that girls often looked for in potential boyfriends. There wasn’t a hint of edge to him. This was something that many of her friends looked for and the reason why many of them dated older boys. But Jodie never made choices based on what her friends did. It was one of her many charms. She was smart enough to know that older boys, in particular, were slaves to their lack of concentration, not to mention their raging, confused libidos. She knew she was safer with someone like Mark.
Mark had noticed Jodie too. Like most of the boys at Brushwood Academy, he’d found it hard not to. She was tall, with long, dark brown hair and wide blue eyes. Aunts and Uncles would tell her she was the spit of her mother, something she naturally denied. She had a tendency to show off her long legs in short (but never too short) skirts, and this meant that she was never without one or two admirers during any given week. And yet, even though she was fully aware of these facts, Jodie didn’t just ‘go’ with anyone. She was kinder than most, her good nature meaning that she was never considered a bitch by other girls – a bit of a prude at times, maybe, but never a bitch. And it was just this fact that had peaked Mark’s interest on this particular day.
In fact, if he was honest with himself, he had fancied her for most of the term, but in typical seventeen year old fashion, had abandoned hope after his first attempt at approaching her had gone so wrong. He had planned it out to a fault (even stole some of his father’s aftershave for that little something extra), but this began to fall apart the moment he ‘made his move’. He walked up to her in the school cafeteria and offered to buy her lunch. However, he failed to portray the cool, calm, collective manner he had practised at home, and instead sounded like a business partner offering to pay for their power lunch at the local sushi bar. Despite this she accepted, finding something charming in his innocent manner, but really, she felt a slight hint of pity too. They walked up to the lunch line and joined the queue, as they went along they chose what they wanted, not really knowing what to say to each other instead giving each other shy smiles. Thinking he had made up for his rather odd invitation they got to the till and the total came to six pounds eighty.
This was when Mark realised that he didn’t have any money on him and that he had, in fact, left his wallet lying on his bed at home. Awkward glances had followed between them ever since.
But today was different. It was the last day of term. A long summer lay ahead and Jodie was more aware now, as she had just turned seventeen, that she was without a boyfriend for the next two months. This was unacceptable.
There would be parties to attend, get-togethers to make appearances at, movies to sit in the back row of and, most importantly, gossip sessions to take part in. She surely wasn’t expected to sit with her girlfriends, bemoaning the immaturity of guys, when she had no frame of reference herself. It just wasn’t how it was done.
Hence her summer project – Mark Credence.
Jodie was already in the stationary cupboard when Mark opened the door. They had a good ten minutes before Mr Pritchard would enter and the next class would start and Jodie intended on making the most of that time.
She had messed her hair up a little to give the air of a carefree spirit, someone who was up for a good time. She felt it made her look older, more mature. But frankly, Mark was a seventeen year old boy who would have made out with a crisp packet if it had shown interest and hadn’t really noticed. They stared at each other for a few moments, Jodie with a smile on her face, Mark looking nervous and confused.
If a first move was going to be made, Jodie was going to have to make it – so much for being swept off her feet.
She grabbed him by the arm, pulling his body closer to hers and closing the cupboard door.
Mark froze, unable to focus in the darkness, when suddenly Jodie’s lips were on his. It wasn’t a direct hit, the kiss landing somewhere between his top lip and the bottom of his nose, but, hell, neither of them could see anything, so Jodie felt her aim wasn’t bad. At least their teeth hadn’t clashed. That would have been a real mood killer.
Jodie had heard a story once about a girl that had chipped her tooth while engaged in some darkroom make out time. She had choked on the tooth and dropped dead, right there amongst the developing fluids.
This may have been true, although Jodie wasn’t sure if her school even had a darkroom. It may also have been an urban myth her mother had told her, to keep her away from the kind of boys that like to ‘do things in the dark’, as she put it.
Whatever the truth it was too late now. Jodie had made the first move and low and behold, Mark started to react with something other than fear and innocence.
Suddenly it was all coming back to him. The previous year he had been in a relationship with a girl named Susan, for more than five months, which in school time was as good as marriage, kind of like dog years for teenagers. It had ended in tears, of course but Mark had lost his virginity, which was why it only took him a few moments to get back into the swing of things.
Arms started to move about. Jodie could feel her heart beating faster against her chest, and brought her hands up to touch Mark’s face. She ran her fingers through his hair, an action which actually made him pause for a moment, and exhale into her mouth as their tongues began to touch. And indeed, things may have continued in much the same manner, were it not for the loose change in Mark’s trouser pocket, which due to his over excited libido, was beginning to chafe against his slowly growing member. This is when he panicked.
Jodie felt a sudden pang of nerves. What had happened? Had she done something wrong? Had she touched him inappropriately?
“What is it?” she asked in a whisper, trying to keep the seduction in the air, but Mark’s panic was growing as he sensed that he needed to come up with an excuse or some plausible reason for stopping the cupboard courtship ritual. He knew that ‘the cupboard’ was something of a rite of passage in the school, and that to screw this up would mean a permanent black mark on his record with the opposite sex.
“Hang on”, was the best he could muster as he began to rummage in his pockets, as if the excuse he so desperately needed was somewhere between his loose change and his balls. In the end, all he could find was his i-pod.
“Um, I think you nudged my i-pod.”
Jodie took a step back, less than impressed. Leaning against a shelf stacked with paper clips, she replied,
“Sorry? Your i-pod?”
Mark cringed. Pulling the i-pod from his pocket, the screen turned on, illuminating their faces briefly.
“It’s new”, he stated, as if this was some sort of acceptable excuse. But as the screen went blank, Mark could swear he saw Jodie’s eyes roll as they were plunged back into darkness. Mark took this as his opportunity, and plunged his right hand into his pocket to re-arrange the contents of his boxer shorts.
Jodie moved back in for a kiss and, after a moment or two of fumbling, she found Mark’s lips meeting hers again, this time with a renewed confidence. Their mouths pressed harder against each other, the tongues moved freely and eagerly and, most surprisingly of all, Jodie thought she could feel Mark’s hands at the top of her shirt. She was right. With an eagerness she had not anticipated, he had started to undo a few buttons. Mark had decided to go for broke, heading straight for the main artery of a girl’s last defense against hapless teenage boys: her bra.
Taking this as an open invitation, she decided to rub her leg against his crotch. And then things began to go really wrong.
This time he yelled out “Jesus!”
The embrace broke off once again. Mark lost his balance and fell to the floor with a thud, even taking a couple of boxes of staples with him. Not that he could tell what they were, because neither of them could see anything.
Jodie let out a sigh, while the best Mark could offer was a “Sorry.”
“Yes, you are aren’t you?”
“I’m just…well, a little out of practice”
Jodie reached down and took his hand, helping him back to his feet.
“Just relax”, she said, “and take your time, I don’t mind”.
But Mark flinched, feeling something brush against his leg.
“Did you feel that?”
Jodie froze, not sure if she had heard him right, before allowing herself to answer.
“I mean, was that you?”
Jodie had found her breaking point and decided then and there that this wasn’t going to work. Mark Credence, it would seem, had been a bad choice. Standing before her was not the man of her dreams.
“Who the hell else do you think it was?” “Do you think there’s someone else in here with us? A dwarf perhaps? Or one of the bloody Time Bandits?! I mean, Mark, if you’re not into me, then…”
“I am into you, but this was your idea and…”
“My idea? I seem to recall you making eye gestures back at me during third period French.”
This was, in actuality, a lie. The gestures were in fact instigated by Jodie, and at the time Mark had had something in his eye. It wasn’t until lunch break that Mark had become aware that Jodie had spent the better part of the day trying to get his attention, when he received Jodie’s note of intent.
Not that any of this mattered now, as the argument that raged within the stationary cupboard on that fateful afternoon in June was immediately rendered mute by the beam of light and utter silence that signified the opening of the cupboard door.
Jodie and Mark squinted, trying to adjust to the light, finally finding focus enough to gaze upon the classroom beyond their hiding place and the twenty students sitting in their seats, staring at them.
Worse still, this view was then blocked by the shadow, followed quickly by the physical form, of Mr. Pritchard, the scariest fifty-nine year old Geography teacher you’d never want to be caught fooling around in a stationary cupboard by.
Mark stood rigid, utterly dumbstruck, while Jodie was more concerned with buttoning her shirt back up. The audience of fifth years, meanwhile, didn’t quite know what to make of this spectacle. Some stifled giggles, some seemed genuinely shocked. Mr. Pritchard, on the other hand, gave no such clues as to what was going through his mind. He merely plunged his arm into the cupboard and took Mark by the shoulder, pulling him out of his hiding place and walking him towards the door of the classroom. No words of warning or council took place. No words at all. It was, Mark imagined, a little like taking your last walk on Death Row, except without the execution at the end. Mr. Pritchard merely opened the door and threw Mark into the hallway beyond, before closing the door on him and slowly turning his attention back towards Jodie.
The silence seemed to last an eternity. Mr. Pritchard walked slowly back towards the stationary cupboard and stood before Jodie. His hawk-like eyes peered intensely at her from over the rims of his spectacles. Jodie shuffled nervously, before attempting a smile at him, some sort of white flag of apology. She expected a stern talking to, or maybe even an order to go to the Headmaster’s office. Instead, Mr. Pritchard just closed the cupboard door, leaving Jodie in there.
It would give her time to think. Not that Jodie relished the opportunity. Indeed, in half an hour she would have a whole eight weeks to think, the last thing she had really had planned for her summer. She slid her back down the wall and sat on the cold, un-carpeted concrete of the cupboard floor. She felt something against her hand, and picked it up. As she did it began to glow. It was Mark’s i-pod. Jodie sighed. Beyond the closed door she could already hear Mr. Pritchard beginning to explain the stages of liquid magma within dormant volcanoes. What was the point? In thirty minutes time, no one was going to remember any of it. She knew that the only thing going through any of those student’s heads was what had just transpired within this cramped, confined space.
Jodie knew she would have to work hard this summer to scrape off this painful memory. That somewhere between the sharpeners and erasures her seduction had failed. She sat there and pondered. Was it her? Was it him?
But truth be told, she knew all along it was the i-pod that did it.