I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Chico for consenting to be interviewed here on No Wasted Ink. As you can see, Chico has quite a catalog of titles to her name with many more to come on the horizon. I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did.
I am Chico Kidd, author and artist, whose ghost and dark fantasy tales have been published in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and Europe. Over the last few years I’ve been busy with a sequence of novels and stories featuring Luís da Silva, ship’s captain and reluctant demon-hunter. Demon Weather, the first novel in the series, has recently been published by Booktrope; the Portuguese-language rights have been bought by Lisbon-based Saída de Emergência. The next three novels, The Werewolf of Lisbon, Resurrection, and Sinned Against, are complete; a fifth is in progress. The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 13 and Dark Terrors 6 featured three short stories between them. Others have appeared in Supernatural Tales, Acquainted with the Night, Poe’s Progeny, and elsewhere.
My first novel, The Printer’s Devil, came out in 1996 from Baen and was reprinted last year by Booktrope. It’s a tale in the classic English Ghost Story tradition of M.R. James, as were most of the stories in my first hardback anthology Summoning Knells (2000). I also write in collaboration with Australian author Rick Kennett, and our collection of Carnacki the Ghost-Finder stories No. 472 Cheyne Walk was published in 2002 (both Ash-Tree Press).
When and why did you begin writing?
I have been writing for as long as I can remember— by age 10 I was telling people that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Luckily everything I wrote prior to 1979 has vanished into the mists of time. Why, is also easy. I loved reading. I devoured books like a starving book-eating creature. I wanted more books like the ones I loved to read, and spent hours thinking up titles and storylines and designing the covers for them. The earliest thing I recall writing was one set in Narnia, and I also worked my apprenticeship by writing stories in imitation of authors as diverse as Dick Francis, P.G. Wodehouse and Tolkien. There are now many, many more influences on my writing!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Since 1979, when my first published story, An Incident in the City, appeared in the first issue of Rosemary Pardoe’s long-running Ghosts & Scholars series. I’ve had writing jobs ever since I graduated, from greeting-card verses to advertising, but don’t really think that counts. For quite a long time, I wrote only ghost stories, mostly in the tradition of M.R. James. They found modest homes in anthologies and in small press, to which I contributed seven collections of my own: Change & Decay, In & Out Of The Belfry, Bell Music, Bells Rung Backwards, Wraiths & Ringers, and Ghosts, Scholars, Campanologists & Others. Nearly all these stories went into Summoning Knells. And then I got writer’s block, which was completely horrible. And it was cured by Captain da Silva, who barged into a story from heaven knows where and took over my writing life.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
Although Demon Weather is the first novel to feature the intrepid Captain, chronologically it is the 14th of the Da Silva Tales. The preceding stories do not need to be read to make sense of the novel! (Although I think readers might find it fun to find out more about some of the characters’ backstories.)
Luís da Silva is the captain of a barque, the Isabella, in the days when sail is in its long decline and steamships have more or less taken over the seas. He is rather more well acquainted with the night than he wants to be, but the powers that be have different ideas. (These are not the sort of powers that be that make prophecies and steer people towards destinies, but rather the kind that say to themselves “This fellow would be good at doing certain kinds of stuff, so let’s give him a nudge in the right direction,” or even just “Let’s give him some abilities that will make his life suck”.) As Riley Finn once said to Buffy, “It turns out I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse.” And he also has a rather shady past, which in this case comes back to bite him in the shape of a not-at-all-nice sorcerer out for revenge.
Luckily the Captain has allies in the form of a Scooby Gang which includes a werewolf, a man who can fiddle with time, an English antiquarian, a bad-tempered witch and an almost-corporeal ghost, not to mention his very resourceful wife, Emilia, and a young son and daughter who are sometimes more hindrance than help.
What inspired you to write this book?
Well, as I mentioned, I’d had a bad case of writer’s block, but once the dam broke I found myself writing like crazy. I was averaging around 10,000 words a week for a while. And so I zipped though a ton of stories that were like episodes from a series, before coming face to face with an idea that was a lot more complicated and needed the length of a novel to do it justice. I wrote the thing in three months!
Inspiration covers a lot more than that, however. I am inspired by boats and the sea, by the way Joss Whedon blends horror and comedy, by inventing characters and exploring milieus, by the city of Lisbon, by folklore and legend and the sheer fun of writing.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I do, and Rick Kennett has dubbed it “Weird Noir”. It’s Chandleresque, basically, when the Captain is doing the narration. I use a mixture of tenses in the first-person bits, because it’s a mixture of his memories, his thoughts, his actions, and it all makes it more immediate: he’s telling you the story, but it’s happening now in his mind. But I also tell the story from multiple points of view, and try to get personality across by variations in style. I sometimes make use of a version of José Saramago’s style (not many full stops, bit stream-of-consciousness-y). Harris the werewolf’s thoughts are a big part of his personality. There are a few bits of omniscient-narrator stuff where I need to describe something outside of everyone’s experience. It’s all kind of a mixture, I think it’s quite cinematic, with jump-cuts and voice-overs and zooming out and in.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
That’s kind of interesting. I’m usually good with titles, and they often come before I write the story— sometimes a title actually triggers the story. But it wasn’t till about halfway through Demon Weather that I settled on that title. It was called Hunting Souls up to then.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Whoa, no! I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t count demon-slayers, werewolves or even ship’s captains among my acquaintances. Much of the Captain comes from me, I guess, in terms of philosophy at least. But I don’t agree with that old truism “Write about what you know”. If everyone did that, there would be no fantasy or SF at all!
What authors have most influenced your life?
My life? No. My style, most certainly. But I love certain authors without wanting to use anything of theirs: Terry Pratchett, for instance, Ursula Le Guin, Elizabeth Moon, John Connolly. I suppose I have to say that Joss Whedon is the single most obvious influence on the DaSilvaverse, with my diverse gang of supernatural-evil battlers and the mix of action, horror, humor and characters you care about (I hope!) But I am a magpie, I pick up shiny things from all over the place, books, movies, TV, tradition, history, art, my own travels…
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor?
No, I can’t say that there is. I am terrible at following examples, instructions or rules, I don’t idolize any writers, although I do admire a good many. My real-life heroes are people like Aung San Suu Kyi and the late war correspondent Marie Colvin.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
*coughs modestly* I did it myself. One of the first things I do when I have a character who I know will be with me for a while is draw their face. It’s a shortcut to getting inside their skin, until I get used to them.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write what you enjoy. Get inside the skins of your characters. Never stop writing, and don’t be afraid to run with the story.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Welcome to my world— I hope you enjoy the ride!
Chico Kidd’s ghost stories have been published in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and continental Europe. Chico was born in Nottingham, England, and now lives, writes and paints near London.
Demon Weather is published by Booktrope.