Our Author of the Week is Hong Kong resident, Philip Chatting, who published his debut novel Harbour Views in May this year.
Tell us a bit about yourself
Ever since leaving home 45 years ago I’ve been fascinated by the distinctions of people and cultures. I’ve lived and worked in a dozen different countries and travelled in many more and from each I have learned something to make my own. The travels would be the raw material for a thousand books if I had enough time. All that I have now is a million miles from where I began as an articled clerk to an accountant in London checking cash book additions and the petty cash floats of country breweries. Since those early days I’ve married in Asia, had three sons, who, like me, view themselves as belonging to the world rather than to this or that place. The salaried job I hold is as Vice President of Human Resources for a marketing export company based in Hong Kong, an important foundation for supporting my family, while my leisure time, with the permission of a delightful wife, is applied to writing and enjoying the theatre, music, walking over the hills, good food and drink, the company of a few friends and watching my sons grow and climb mountains just that bit higher than the ones I scaled.
If you could describe the storyline of your latest novel to someone in just a few sentences how would you entice someone to want to read it?
The story tells how the thread of one man’s existence influences and in this case corrupts the lives of others. His is a malevolent star around which varied worlds, spin in erratic orbit or collide and burn. The characters are drawn from all the communities of Hong Kong, Chinese, Western, South East Asian, rich and poor, Catholic and Buddhist, permanent and temporary. Embracing them is the biggest character of all, Hong Kong in all its contradictions, wealth and vulgarity.
When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve written on and off for years on such topics as management theory and short fictional work, sometimes as a consequence of my work, but more often than not to please myself. Only in recent times have I enjoyed the environment and the luxury of time necessary to the serious pursuit of a full length work. But the desire to write goes back to when I was a child when stories of wonder captivated me.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The best part of writing, or indeed anything else that is a passion, is to get up before dawn and to work without food or bathing the clock round and without a single distracting thought. And then to totter back to bed at close of day exhausted, but looking forward to the total absorption of doing exactly the same thing tomorrow and the day after.
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
By far the hardest aspect of writing is grappling with what comes after. Somewhat innocently I included in the manuscript of ‘Harbour Views’ some lines from a popular song and an eighty-year old play and tracking ownership and copyright for permission to quote through a succession of disinterested New York lawyers with more lucrative fish to fry was an experience I would not wish to repeat.
What inspires you to write?
There is no doubt that a muse sits on my shoulder and the power to tell a compelling story that has an audience wide-eyed sweeps me along. There is more than a touch of the performer in how I would like the book to be received. And, for what it’s worth, one of my pet hates is being interrupted in mid-sentence, or when I’m speaking and about to deliver a story’s punch line.
When working on a new novel, what is the first thing you do?
I remember the story of how Winston Churchill, who had more than a hint of the artist in his genes, sat with a blank canvas in front of him and a paint brush poised above his shoulder and he stared at the white expanse in front of him wondering where to begin. Lady Astor, if my memory is correct, leant over and took hold of his wrist and drew Churchill’s brush in an arc across the canvas and said ‘start there’. So beginning is everything and the rest will follow and, of course, I lock myself away in total seclusion. Any distraction ruins me for the day.
Which Writers do you admire and can you name a favourite book?
The writers I admire are those who tell a good story in beautiful language. If I were to point to one period it would be Elizabethan England, where even the local parson wrote in magical prose. But more recent times has produced their gems such as, ‘Notwithstanding’ by Louis de Bernieres, ‘Moon Tiger’ by Penelope Lively and a little further back Laurie Lee, George Orwell, Graham Greene and E M Forster.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Offering advice after just one major publication might seem a little presumptuous, but the lessons that have worked for me are, practice your art; don’t just dream, get on with it; if the intention is to make a living by writing, know who you are writing for, find others to read what you produce; avoid New York lawyers and, if you share your life with anyone, make sure he or she tolerates your aspiration and makes room for its fulfilment – but that applies to anything that needs serious time and effort.
What are your plans for the future
Plans for the future are pretty simple – I’ll just keep hammering away and enjoy every second’s immersion. I have a book of short stories, which, after a final polish, will be offered to my publisher and the very early start to a second novel, At the age of seventy I’m probably more conscious of ‘times winged chariot’, so I don’t plan hanging about.
Books and the publishing industry are changing faster than anyone thought possible a few years ago and content is cheap, so writing for a living is a hard route to travel, but, in an educated guess, I’d say there are more people than ever before who spend time reading and there is nothing more rewarding than knowing the guy next to you on a public bus is reading your book on ‘Kindle’.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Philip for answering our questions and placing himself under the spotlight.
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