Publishing and Consultancy
Here at Red Button, we’re delighted to present our fourth title and our fourth fantastic writer, Christopher Russell. Mockstars is a brilliantly funny novel based on the tour diaries of Christopher’s band, The Lightyears. Dubbed ‘The Inbetweeners meets Spinal Tap’ by Alex Marsh, author of Sex & Bowls & Rock and Roll, it’s a true-to-life tale about friendship and chasing the rockstar dream.
Q: Mockstars is based on your own experiences with your band, The Lightyears. What was it that spurred you to write the book, and how much of it is fiction?
CHRISTOPHER: When I was thirteen, I started a band with my best friend George. Our heroes were hair-rock superstars Bon Jovi and so our earliest songs were written mainly on the theme of What It’s Like Being A Cowboy. This takes quite a bit of imagination when you actually grew up in Goring-on-Thames, and ever since then I’ve been entertained by the ridiculous things people do in the pursuit of being considered ‘rockstars’. That’s essentially what Mockstars is about. As for the fiction−reality balance, we have a motto in The Lightyears: ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’ I’d say it’s about 60:40 in favour of reality … but I’ll let you folks decide which bits belong in which category. (Hint: one of the scenes you’ll assume I made up did, rather worryingly, actually happen.)
Q: Mockstars is a comic novel and comedy is perhaps the trickiest thing to get right. What are your top tips for writing good comedy and who would you say are your influences there?
CHRISTOPHER: The comedy in Mockstars is equal parts Blackadder, Monty Python, Hitchhiker’s Guide…, Wayne’s World, Withnail & I, Red Dwarf and Family Guy. And from those sources I learnt (or perhaps stole) the idea that the best humour − or at least my favourite humour − sits in the sweet spot between absurdity and mundanity. So it’s Arthur Dent travelling the cosmos in his dressing gown, or Wayne’s unhinged ex-girlfriend buying him a gun rack for their anniversary, despite the fact he owns no guns (‘Stacey, we broke up three months ago! Are you mental?’). That’s what makes me laugh. That and people falling off stuff, obviously.
Q: Mockstars focuses on characters in their early twenties and has been compared to the hit TV series The Inbetweeners. Why do you think people like these sort of ‘coming of age’ tales so much?
CHRISTOPHER: Humans are naturally sentimental creatures, and we like to be able to compartmentalise our memories into specific boxes (hence the vast numbers of movies focused around the phenomenon of ‘Prom Night’, for instance). The Inbetweeners has universal appeal because almost everyone went to school and, at some point, experienced the sting of teenage awkwardness. And, cleverly, because they’re still just kids, we forgive the characters for being emotionally stunted and obsessed with boobs.
Q: You’re a musician and a writer. Do you feel you identify as one more than the other?
CHRISTOPHER: These days ‘writer’ may have a slight edge, mainly for practical reasons: I can do that on my own, any time, anywhere, whereas gigging with the band involves extracting four grown men from various ends of the country and assembling them in one place without bodily injury or upsetting anyone’s long-suffering other halves. But my career as a writer emerged directly from my career as a musician, so they occupy equal space in my heart. The best thing about band life is being in a gang; the best thing about writer life is being on your own.
Q: You and the other members of The Lightyears have been friends for a very long time. How much would you say they have supported and influenced your writing? And how vital is a support network to a writer?
CHRISTOPHER: A few years ago, one snowy January, George (our lead singer) sat me down and said: ‘This year, I think you should write a book. About me.’ I have a history of doing whatever crazy thing he suggests (the first one being: start a band), and so I did. And, in all seriousness, the book wouldn’t exist without him. In general, the boys have been jolly sporting about my wanton assassination of their characters, and the truth is we’re a band woven together by stories, so the novel is just an extension of that. As for writer support networks, my advice is: get one. When I first tiptoed cautiously into the publishing world, I didn’t know anyone at all, and then I joined the networking collective Byte the Book and within a few months had made connections all across the industry. Indeed, that’s where I met Red Button! Publishing is the friendliest industry in the world and, in my experience at least, everyone’s welcome.
Q: Mockstars will also be released as an enhanced ebook exclusively through the iBookstore. Tell us more about that.
CHRISTOPHER: Mockstars features a number of original songs which slowly emerge from the story as the book goes on. Lyrics appear, ideas develop, and eventually the band begin playing them at gigs. We’ve written those songs in real life and plan to bring them together in an album further down the line. As a precursor to the album, we’ve recorded live versions of some of the tracks with a view to embedding them in an upcoming audio-enhanced version of the ebook. If I’m feeling fruity, I may also pop some Mockstars sketches in the enhanced edition. Watch this space …
Q: Advances in digital publishing mean that many books are now published with audio and video enhancements. What would you say music adds to the reading experience that other enhancements can’t?
CHRISTOPHER: I’m biased, but music is truly unique as an art form. Its ability to transport, engulf and move people is pretty much unparallelled in human experience (with the possible exception of hallucinogenic drugs, but you can’t buy those in HMV). Art, literature, dance − these art forms often divide people across social and cultural boundaries, but I’ve only ever come across one person who ‘didn’t like’ music. It’s a universal currency.
Q: The digital age has totally transformed both the book publishing and music industries. What parallels have you noticed between the world of publishing and the music industry? Do musicians and writers face any of the same challenges in your view?
CHRISTOPHER: When I first emigrated from music to publishing, I did wonder whether I was jumping from one burning building to another, and there are definitely parallels in the challenges facing the two industries. Publishing is on a bit of a time-lag behind music, which is bizarre for me because it’s rather like living in an echo chamber, hearing the same conversations I heard five years ago but in a slightly different context. The most important difference between the industries, however, is that everyone’s really, really nice to each other in publishing. Most of the platitudes you’ve heard about the music industry are true; it can be pretty ruthless and very few people escape it unscathed. Don’t get me wrong − I love the music industry − but it is also a snake-pit, and unless you’re thick-skinned it will chew you up and spit you out. Publishing, on the other hand, will always bake you a nice flan and pat you on the head, even if you can’t write for toffee.
Q: What sort of fiction do you read yourself?
CHRISTOPHER: My favourite novels of all time are American Psycho, Catch-22, A Clockwork Orange and The Picture of Dorian Gray. I am also fanatical about Bill Bryson, and my favourite music books are Kevin Sampson’s Powder, Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and Slash: The Autobiography (did you know that guy once rocked so hard that he DIED in a LIFT? For real, man. Came back to life, kept on rocking. Far out).
Q: What are you working on now?
CHRISTOPHER: I’ve already written the first draft of my second novel, but the content is top secret (my agent, Ed Wilson at Johnson & Alcock, has me under a strict rule of silence). I can tell you that it’s music-related and written for the YA market, but that’s about it, I’m afraid. If I revealed any more, I’d have to kill you. All of you. And I’m busy enough alphabetising my stationery collection as it is.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from Mockstars?
CHRISTOPHER: When I was a kid, my granddad said to me, ‘Find a way of making money from something you love, and you’ll be happy.’ He was right, and in broad terms that’s the message in the book. Mainly, though, I just hope to put a smile on the face of anyone who’s in a band, used to be in a band, wishes they were in a band or has had the misfortune of marrying someone in any of those categories. Also, I hope to encourage men (and women!) of a certain age to venture up into the loft and dust off their old Fender Strats.
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To organise your own interview with Christopher or request a review copy of Mockstars email Caroline and Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org