It was such a joy to attend Chris’s book launch last month and I’m really proud to have been involved in ‘Becoming‘. Thanks to Chris for sharing his 2016 with us!
Do you have a favourite moment professionally from 2016?
On September 23rd I published my first novel ‘Becoming’. I’d always wanted to write a book, and after years of reviews and changes at work I was offered the option to take redundancy. I saw the opportunity to do what I’d always wanted and went for it. Some close family members had passed away and it made me realise you have to grab chances when they come.
It was daunting sitting down on day one, but I saw the opportunity to write as a privilege. I create my own worlds every day, and there was something exciting about sitting in front of a blank screen and facing endless opportunities. I hear many writers speak of the tyranny of the blank page, but I prefer to think of its possibilities.
The day of publication was magical. I was fizzing with the excitement of achievement, the realisation of a life’s ambition. There were mixed emotions though. There was the pride and satisfaction, but the apprehension too. Once the book was out I knew I was revealing my creation to others – friends, relatives, and strangers. I was exposing a bit of my soul. It was the time for judgement and thick skin. I tried to keep a sense of perspective. I loved writing ‘Becoming’ and if others love it too that is a bonus. I wanted to write a story that I would enjoy reading, one that engages and entertains, but also challenges and provokes. If I achieve any combination of these I’ll be happy. I’m delighted to say the feedback and reviews have been excellent so far. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response. Interest in the book is growing and after only two months it has a bit of momentum already.
The most rewarding thing has been how many people respect my courage in taking the risk and going for it. I hope that what I’ve done has inspired others to do the same. I’m a great believer in finding what you love and doing it. We see those memes on social media all the time about seizing the day and making your dreams happen. Maybe we see them too often now and they’ve lost their impact. The message is still true though. Just remind yourself and have the bravery and belief to go for it.
How about a favourite moment from 2016 generally?
On a personal level I’ve had a dream year with many highlights. However, I’m a musician and music will always be my first love. Therefore, my favourite moments are the musical ones.
I play the horn in my home village band, Jayess Newbiggin. This year the band were crowned both Durham League and Regional Champions and represented the North East at the National Finals in Cheltenham in September. Those achievements were all something to be very proud of, however, my favourite moment was playing at Sage 1 in Gateshead in support of Mnozil Brass, the world’s leading brass ensemble. Working with the BAIT project at Woodhorn museum we performed a new commission called ‘Reflection Connections.’ It was written by world-renowned brass composer Lucy Pankhurst and involved all the South East Northumberland brass bands – Ashington, Bedlington, Ellington, and Jayess Newbiggin. Our first performance was alongside Mnozil Brass at the Northumberland Miner’s Picnic in June, and we followed this with a second performance at the Sage the next evening. It’s been a personal ambition to play Sage One and it was a joy to give life to Lucy’s magnificent music alongside my fellow band musicians in Northumberland. Life is about making memories, and this was one of the special ones.
Favourite book in 2016?
‘M Train’ by Patti Smith. I read a lot of biographies and music is my first love hence I tend to gravitate towards the memoirs of musicians. Patti Smith is one of rock’s great lyricists and poets, only surpassed by Dylan and Cohen in my view. Her lyrical and poetic style feeds into her gorgeous, seductive prose. She’s led a fascinating life and captivates with her anecdotes and observations. I love seeing how my heroes developed, what motivates them, their flaws. Unlike many memoirs Smith doesn’t sanitise her life, her truth, honesty, and punk spirit shine through. She opens her soul and draws you into her world. Her music is powerful, but words are her true gift. I’ve seen her perform a few times, and was fortunate to see her at Sage 2 a few years ago on the tour to promote the first memoir ‘Just Kids.’ It’s one of my favourite books, and she was mesmerising, mixing readings and discussion with old songs, giving one of the most charismatic and engaging performances I’ve seen. I recommend both her memoirs, but start with ‘Just Kids.’ As for her albums ‘Horses,’ it’s one of the greatest debut albums of all.
Favourite film in 2016?
‘I, Daniel Blake.’ If you haven’t seen this film, please do. It’s a deeply moving, and unsettling film which asks a simple question – is this the kind of society we want to live in? Art is a mirror that reflects life. Sometimes we don’t like what we see, and what we have become. Perhaps it’s easier to turn away and pretend we don’t see. I left the cinema feeling anger and shame. We can be better than this. We have to be.
I struggled to think of anything else for days. There was anger and shame, but also guilt. I didn’t create the brutality of the modern welfare system, but nor have I done enough to make myself aware of it, try to change it. Politics is too often putting the cross on the paper then either gloating or ranting on social media depending on the outcome. Politics should be about people. The people we elect, the people they serve, the people we live alongside in communities. People. Not just you and me, but all of us. Those seen and unseen. We’re all someone’s son or daughter.
The truth is I don’t do enough, but I will change. I want to. The most rewarding things I’ve done in my life have not been for financial gain. I’ve come to learn the simple act of giving is the most rewarding of all. It doesn’t have to be money, often it’s better to give time, or share a skill you may be lucky to have. I don’t know what I will do yet, but the new year beckons with new opportunities.
‘I, Daniel Blake’ is the best of films. It re-energised the anger of my youth. I know that I don’t want to be a part of the society I saw. Nor do I want to sit back and wait for politicians to make the change. They have a responsibility, but so do I.
What was your big adventure in 2016?
The family went to Iceland for two weeks in the Easter holidays. It’s a magical place, quirky and odd, but full of mystery and beauty. It reminds you of nature’s wonder and its danger. The people are dynamic, friendly and very creative. It is a place to feel inspired. One in ten of the population have published a book. There is street art everywhere. Reykjavik is one of the most intimate capital cities I’ve been to. It feels alive and owned by the people. They engage in city life and the atmosphere is unique.
It’s a country being born in every sense. Parts are like the moon. It has glaciers and snow-capped volcanoes, and the earth breathing fire and steam. There are waterfalls with rainbows, and beaches of black sand. We swam in lagoons in meadows, sat by frozen crystal lakes, and drank from mountain streams. We watched the night sky dance with rivers of green. We experienced some unforgettable things, and learnt about an ancient seafaring culture that many of us in the North are descended from. It was something that is very important to share as a family, one of those unforgettable holidays. I will return someday, I’m sure of that.
Any downsides for you in 2016 generally?
The death of David Bowie. It’s hard to put into words how much Bowie means to me. Like so many I was devastated when he died. It was a shock, but it was also perfect Bowie, so beautifully orchestrated. Even in death he was a star. They named a constellation after him. How perfect. Billy Bragg has a theory that Bowie held the Universe together, and everything is collapsing since his death. The world has changed, the stars look different.
It was moving to see the tributes, how much he touched people’s lives. Whether you loved his music or not something you love was influenced and shaped by Bowie. I hear and see it in so much of popular music. He changed everything. He was a true creative visionary and though the term genius is often over-used, of the few that deserve the title Bowie is one.
How do you deal with that kind of loss, of someone you have never met, but has played such a huge part in your life? Someone who has made you laugh and cry, shaped who you are. I did meet David Bowie once. We were in an arena with a few thousand others, but he sang to me, only me, I’m sure of that. We all are. If life is a gift then so is death. It teaches us that life is precious, it shakes us from the mediocre and the mundane, it reminds us to live. It also helps us reflect on the life of the person we have lost, the special ones even more.
The truth is I never knew David Bowie the man, what touched me all those years was the music, the wonderful, magical music. It was the characters and personas, the many different faces. I cried a lot when he died, but I got through it. I found a new beginning, an absolute beginning. Now I celebrate everything I love about Bowie, all that he has given me. When most of us die we will crumble to star-dust, only the love will remain. People like Bowie leave so much more. They touch our soul, help us find who we are. That is why the artists, the poets, the musicians are the special ones. Everyone dies, but heroes live forever.
Are you making any resolutions for 2017?
I love this time of year not just for the festivities, but because I get to write lots of lists. I’m a big fan of making lists, I even write lists about what to make lists about. I also like reflecting, embracing change, and moving forward. My mantra is the Dylan line ‘He not busy being born is busy dying.’ New year is a perfect opportunity to do this and I try to make the most of it every year. So in terms of my resolutions for 2017, my current list is:
- Publish another novel
- Finish the follow-up to ‘Becoming.’
- Win the Brass Band Area Championship and qualify for the National Finals again
- Secure a top five finish in the Brass Band National Finals
- Go to at least 20 gigs
- Run more
- Worry less
The list will change, but that’s a good thing.
What are you hoping for from 2017?
Less death, more life. More positivity and engagement. 2016 has been a year of anger and dismay, but we can get through all this if we try. The world seems to be shifting on the anger of vocal minorities. Meanwhile, there is a growing, silent majority, the passive, disillusioned, and the young. I hope to see more people engage and make the world they want to live in. Especially young people, the future is theirs.