Monday, 25 April 2011

Interview - Chris Morphew

The Phoenix Files: Underground, the fourth title in Chris Morphew's popular series, is due out in May. You can read a review of the first book in the series here.

What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?

My parents read to me long before I could read to myself, and had excellent taste in kids’ books (A.A. Milne, Beatrix Potter, Alison Lester...) When I first started reading on my own, I developed a bit of a non-fiction obsession (six-year-old Chris was often seen lugging children’s encyclopaedias to school for silent reading time). Then came Roald Dahl, Colin Dann’s The Animals of Farthing Wood series – and then Animorphs, my great introduction to the world of sci-fi and serialised storytelling.

When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?

I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember, but I was always hesitant to label myself a “writer” until I was actually doing it with some kind of consistency. I still do a bit of a double-take whenever I walk into a bookstore and see something I wrote sitting on a shelf among all the real books.

One of the incredible privileges you have as a storyteller is getting to hold up a mirror to the real world and let others see it in a new light. The world of
The Phoenix Files is a dark and broken place, but it’s a place where the darkness and the brokenness do not have the last word. I’d love for readers to come away with some sense – or some hope, even – that that could be true of our world as well.

Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your ‘writer’ microscope?

I certainly read differently now that I’m a writer. I’m quicker to notice clunky storytelling and dodgy prose – but I’m also slower to criticise these things, because I know how hard they are to get right! Sometimes all of that falls away, though. I think the sign that I’m really enjoying a book is when I stop analysing it and just enjoy the story.

Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?

Usually I work the other way – I will quite often read within the genre I’m writing, just to see what else is out there, and to make sure I’m not inadvertently doing something that’s already been done.

Name five authors or books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way.

J.K. Rowling has probably taught me more about plot and character than any other writer I’ve read. I don’t know that I’ve ever been more invested in the fates of fictional characters than I was when I read the Harry Potter series for the first time.

C.S. Lewis has an incredible ability to infuse his stories with a kind of awe and wonder that makes the universe seem more beautiful and profound to me than it did before I started reading. I don’t know if I’m capable of writing like that, but I’m more than willing to give it a shot!

K.A. Applegate/Michael Grant, the authors of the Animorphs series, kept me completely engrossed in a book-a-month series for about four years in high school. I can’t pretend the books were high-brow literary fiction, but I’m sure they’ve influenced my own writing more than I even realise.

Don Miller is one of my favourite non-fiction authors. He’s written quite a bit about the connections between story and life, which has really helped to crystallise some of my ideas about the way I approach my writing.

I have a love/hate relationship with Stephen King’s writing. The journey is always so compelling, but I’m often frustrated by the destination.

If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?

The Bible, because it’s the only genuinely life-changing book I’ve ever read. Or, if I was restricted to fiction, probably The Stand by Stephen King, because it’s a massive brick and I keep meaning to read it but haven’t got around to it yet.

What makes a book ‘too good to put down’?

Characters I can care about, a plot that feels like it’s headed somewhere, an ending I don’t see coming, and something to make me think, without telling me what to think.

What makes you put down a book without finishing it?

Usually some combination of the opposites of a too-good-to-put-down book.

Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?

It’s a toss-up between J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis, for the reasons I talked about above.

What was your 2010 ‘best read’? What was it that made it number one?

My favourite novel of 2010 was probably Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness. Pulling off a really satisfying ending to a trilogy or series is a huge challenge (one that I’ll be staring down the barrel of myself in the coming months), and I think Ness managed to tie everything together brilliantly.

What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods – eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there’s a future for print books?

We’ve already seen how the internet has democratised the distribution of music and video through services like iTunes and YouTube, and I think we’re going to see something similar happen in the book industry. There will still be a place for print books and traditional publishing, but where these have generally been the only viable (or at least the most viable) means of distributing books, I think they’ll be increasingly seen as just one of a broader and more accessible range of options for people looking to get their content out there. Whatever happens, writers will keep writing, readers will keep reading... and I’m happy to just wait and see about the rest.

Born in 1985, Chris Morphew spent his childhood writing stories about dinosaurs and time machines. More recently he has written 12 titles for the best-selling Zac Power series, and is now working on The Phoenix Files, his first series for young adults. Chris lives in Sydney, where he balances his time between writing and casual teaching. He thinks talking about himself in the third person makes him sound like a tool.

To find out more visit Chris's Blog at


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