It's always a great thing when you discover an author and know that you have a series to be getting on with whilst you await the latest offering. So as late comers to the Young Samurai series we were absolutely blown away, so much so we knew that we just had to chat to Chris.
Here, we talk about life, cats and the best way to defeat a samurai, chocolate chip cookies...
Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?
Chris Bradford: I’ve always been driven by a need to ‘create’ - whether that be writing a book, composing a song or producing a film script. I don’t think I have a choice in the matter. Lucky I love what I do and therefore I don’t see it as an affliction, I consider it a gift.
FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?
CB: When I was offered a publishing deal! In fact, I spent most of my working life as a musician and songwriter. I never dreamed I’d be an author. But through the music I was given the opportunity to write a book on songwriting(Heart & Soul: Revealing The Craft of Songwriting) and it was then that I realized I could and wanted to write.
FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?
CB: I’ve now written three short stories – Young Samurai: The Way of Fire for World Book Day 2010, Virtual Kombat for Puffin’s 70th birthday celebrations and NINJA in aid of Stella, a 2-year-old girl with cancer (please help her by donating at www.forstella.org). Through my experience of these, I would say it’s far harder to write a good short story – there’s so much to cram into a limited number of words. But I’m not sure writing a short story necessarily means you can write anything. All I know is that I loved writing them!
FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?
CB: I’d stand right next to them with my samurai sword and gently persuade them their life depended upon it!
In terms of defining Young Samurai, I’d say the series is a non-stop action-packed adventure with something for everyone. Think Black Belt Young Bond, Artemis Fowl with Swords and Percy Jackson with Ninja. That’s how my publisher Puffin describes it.
FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?
CB: Whether you’re into action, adventure, romance, history, Japanese culture, philosophy or heart-stopping martial arts, you’ll be hooked by Young Samurai.
FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?
CB: Two must haves are Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (one of the funniest books ever written) and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (one of the most simple, yet powerful books ever written).
I’m always eager for Stephen King’s next release. For me, he’s one of the greatest storytellers. His book, IT, is terrifying, but Stephen King isn’t only a horror writer; he also wrote brilliant stories such as The Green Mile, Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption.
FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?
CB: When I first came up with the idea for Young Samurai, I knew the end of the 3rd book and the 8th book!
I always plot out the entire story before starting the writing process. I use this plot as a ‘rough guide’ to the book, as often the story will diverge in different directions as the characters take hold and live a life of their own. But somehow the book always ends up where I’d planned it too.
Character profiles are a must. I have a short biography for each, with character descriptions, personal traits and photos. This is how I give ‘birth’ to all my characters. After that, they grow on their own during the story.
FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?
CB: For relaxation, I go hiking with my wife, run every day through the National Park outside our house, and go to martial arts training three times a week – ninjutsu and iaido (the art of the samurai sword).
My last book was Under The Dome by Stephen King (surprise! surprise!). It was pretty good and really engaged you in their world. I couldn’t even begin to imagine writing such a vast and character-filled epic.
FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
CB: Eating chocolate chip cookies while writing. One day I’m sure I’ll suddenly balloon in size from having eaten so many, but that’s why I go running every day!
FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)
CB: I have two cats – Tigger and Rhubarb. Tigger (the boy) is a big softie, while Rhubarb (the girl) is an attention-seeker. See the photo for proof…Rhubarb is the smaller one looking at the camera!
FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?
CB: The next book (4th!) in the Young Samurai series is The Ring of Earth (out in August 2010). In this story, Jack gets to meet the Grandmaster. He was a lot of fun to write! Despite his ancient appearance, this character is the head of ninjutsu and is completely opposite to all Jack’s teachers at samurai school. I also quite enjoyed creating Moriko, a female ninja who becomes a potential rival to Akiko in Jack’s affections…
FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?
CB: I based the idea of Jack Fletcher on a true historical figure – William Adams, a real English samurai in the 1600s. However, for the purposes of my story, I made him a boy instead.
If I’m honest, parts of me do form Jack’s character, his blond hair and his determination never to give up, for instance; but equally he could represent any reader who learns about life through martial arts.
FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?
CB: My main hobby is martial arts, so clearly my knowledge of samurai and ninja skills forms an important part of my writing. In particular, it allows me to describe battle scenes in true detail, so that the reader really believes they’re participating in the fight and taking the punches!
This knowledge also allows me to interweave the philosophy of martial arts into the storyline, so the reader learns about the importance of bushido, ‘the way of the warrior’ – the moral code of the samurai which includes respect, honour and courage.
FT: Where do you get your idea's from?
CB: Inspiration comes from my own life and my travels to different countries around the world. Many of the scenes in Young Samurai have an element of truth in them, whether it be a lesson learnt, a place visited or a problem overcome. The initial idea for Young Samurai developed from the fact that I began learning martial arts at an early age and have always dreamed of what it would be like to be a true samurai.
FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?
CB: Once. I have regular little blocks that I overcome with a run or a walk or a cookie! But once I suffered a month long block due to creative exhaustion. The solution: 2 weeks in South Africa with no computer or mobile phone, and just a bunch of giraffes, lions and cheetahs for company!
FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?
CB: I try to write in ‘blocks’ i.e. 2 to 3 months in a row. I get up at 7am – wash, have breakfast, then go for a short 10 minute walk to wake myself up. Then I will write from 8am until 6pm or until I have completed a chapter. That’s approximately 1500-2000 words a day.
My wife is very tolerant as I often only start to ‘flow’ at the end of a day of thinking and pondering, and I often overrun into the evening. But after several months of 7 day weeks last year, we now have a rule of ‘no work’ on Sundays!
FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?
CB: Oddly, I enjoy listening to country music when I write. Alison Krauss and Tim McGraw in particular. Otherwise, it’s trance or chill-out dance like Chicane or Madonna’s Ray of Light.
FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?
CB: Having worked as an international sales & marketing manager for a book publisher, I had no misconceptions. I just knew I would have to work very hard and not only be a great writer, but a good marketer, performer in schools, PR guru, webmaster, etc. An author nowadays has to be so much more than just a writer.
FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?
CB: “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body” as Joseph Addison (English Writer and Statesman, 1672-1719) once said. I think reading and writing stretches the mind, taking it beyond its usual boundaries, testing its creativity and embarking it on fantastic journeys of the imagination.
FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?
CB: In Young Samurai: The Ring of Earth, Jack Fletcher is in mortal danger.
With no sensei to protect him, Jack is on the run with just his wits and his swords against new and unknown enemies on the treacherous road to Nagasaki and home...
But the Shogun’s samurai are hot on his trail. Barely escaping their clutches, Jack runs headlong into a trap. Kidnapped by ninja and led to their village deep in the mountains, Jack has no means of escape.
Discovering his fate is now bound by the Five Rings - Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Sky - Jack must learn all he can from his sworn enemy.
The only question is who will kill him first – the ninja or samurai?
FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?
CB: 1. My Young Samurai Facebook fanpage - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Young-Samurai/194540491655?ref=ts
2. Oxford School of Martial Arts (a great club, which has the amazing Team Taurus display team) – www.schoolofmartialarts.com
3. National Rail enquiries – to book train tickets for my Young Samurai school tours around the UK
4. The Shortlist competition page – I’m trying to win a flatscreen TV for our house!
5. Isle of Wight ferry booking page – I’m going with my wife and two friends on a short break there in the summer and staying in a teepee!
FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.
CB: No, but I did read Stephen King’s book On Writing (surprise! surprise!). This is a brilliant guide to the art of writing and I recommend to any aspiring author.
FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?
CB: I call it ‘rejection karma’. During my music career, I was ‘rejected’ so many times that when I became a writer, everyone started to say ‘yes’. I’ve not had a single project rejected since I’ve been an author…touch wood!
I think rejection is good – it’s a learning process. Don’t let rejection beat you, learn from it. As I say in Book 1 The Way of the Warrior, ‘seven times down, eight times up’ – persevere!
FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?
CB: The hardest part is always starting – the fear of the blank white page and the knowledge that I have to write 70,000 words or more by a deadline. But once I get going, the writing flows.
The most enjoyable part of the process is discovering where the characters will take the story. I may be the author, but they are writing it and they often surprise me!