This is a Q&A with Chris Nicholas.
Chris Nicholas is a twenty-eight-year-old author and blogger from Brisbane, Australia. With over a decade of writing experience, Chris won his first writing competition in 2011, appearing as the winner and panellist of the Heading Northing Young Writers Competition at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. Since the event, he has entered numerous competitions (with varying degrees of success), had works featured on websites throughout America and Europe, run a weblog, published his debut novel, and completed a manuscript for his sophomore release.
How did you first get into writing?
I started writing in my final year of high school. I was seventeen at the time and should have been studying for my final exams, but every time I sat down at my desk to study I would suddenly find myself absentmindedly creating character profiles, plot points and endless pages of horribly punctuated stories.
But long before I was a writer, I was a dreamer. From early childhood, I had a vivid imagination and would construct entire scenarios and worlds inside of my head. Unfortunately, I struggled with the way conventional education taught literature; so much so that my parents enrolled me in after school tutoring because they thought that I was falling behind my classmates.
But I wasn’t struggling; I was bored. Then in my final years at school I was fortunate enough to have an English teacher who pushed me to let my creative impulses shine. Within a few months I went from the barely maintaining a passing grade, to first in my class.
Where and How did you learn about writing? Whether professionally (like at school) or more personally (self-teaching)?
I’m still learning. I learn every single time I sit down at my computer, pick up a pen, or even read a book or magazine. You can never stop learning or you’ll miss the opportunity to see just how amazing you can become.
When I started writing novels I taught myself how to do so. My style was very loose; story lines moved at phenomenal paces, and some of the nuances of what I was trying to achieve were lost in translation. The idea of a slow burning story that created a sense of tension for the reader was so foreign to me that when I showed others my work they’d look at me as if I were insane.
Eventually I enrolled in a University course and moved interstate to pursue my writing more seriously. Six years later I still haven’t finished my studies. I still feel stifled by structured learning and tend to move through my degree in painfully small increments. I’ll finish it eventually, but thankfully I’ve been fortunate enough to carve out somewhat of a niche with what I do in the interim.
What were your early struggles with creating?
Finding my voice. And once I found it, getting it onto the page. One of the greatest mistakes that a writer can make is to try to emulate the voice of their favorite author. If someone wants to read their work they will; but the reader has picked up your work so they want to hear your voice, not your hackneyed imitation of someone else’s.
I have had a couple of conversations with writers lately where they have asked me how I have been fortunate enough to have published a book when I am only twenty-eight years old. My response is always the same: I found my voice and I wrote what I wanted to write. But that didn’t happen straight away. I produced a lot of rubbish first. I tried to take all the things I liked about the works of other authors and force them into my own style, and the result was a horrible mess of conflicting tonality and technique. But once I found out what it is that I am passionate about, things started to click.
What’s your writing schedule look like?
Sporadic. I used to try to adhere to an insanely strict schedule and write a minimum of a thousand words a day (while working full time and studying). Sometimes it was easy; I would get into a great rhythm and produce nearly double my minimum word count. But there were also times when I would whittle away hours struggling to produce something worthwhile. I’d reach my thousand-word limit, only to find myself deleting everything that I had written the next day because it was almost unintelligible.
These days I do try to write every day, and if I get into a rhythm I’ll write as much as I possibly can. But if I’m just not feeling it, and only manage to produce two hundred words or so, then I’ll leave it at that. I don’t push myself to create just for the sake of it and lose the enjoyment that I derive from what I do. On those days where I’m feeling creatively stifled I try to switch up my routine and inspire some creative thinking through different methods. I’ve started reading a lot of online publications, listening to even more music than I already did, and practicing mindfulness.
I used to be a very aggressive person. I wanted to be the greatest writer of my generation and pushed myself so hard to do so. But being mindful of who I am, accepting others, and learning as much as I can about the world around me as ultimately made me a far stronger writer than anger ever could.
How do you keep yourself writing?
I have never considered writing to be a hobby, or a career, or even a passion. It’s a lifestyle. It’s who I am, and it is so ingrained in the way that I move through the world that even when I’m not actively sitting at my computer feverishly typing away, I am still in the process of creating.
I like to challenge myself creatively as much as possible. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in traffic watching the way in which a person walks down the sidewalk and start to create a backstory for them. Or I’ll be watching the evening news and hear a story and feel my mind begin turning ideas over as to how that scenario could play out in a book or a film. I have the gift of being quite visual, so the slightest event can trigger a whole world of possibilities inside of my head.
What this means is that I’m continuously encouraging myself to be creative, and to accept that I’m a little different to the people around me. By the time I do sit down to write I am usually itching to take some of the ideas that I have created in my head and get them down onto paper.
Where do you find inspiration for ideas?
Everywhere. Inspiration can, and should, come from everywhere.
There’s an old saying that says “if you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” I hear people say it all the time when trying assert themselves as creative, intellectual, or astute. But the belief that you could ever be the smartest person in any room is the biggest inspiration killer ever conceived. We are all perfectly imperfect and intelligent in our own ways, and we can all inspire and learn from one another if we are open to the idea that we are not a master of everything.
Take me for example. I grew up in a coastal town and surfed just about every day for years. I also write about a protagonist named Jason Dark. If you were to put me in a room with a man as ludicrously intelligent as Stephen Hawking and ask me to explain the compulsions of my character, or what kind of weather conditions produce the best waves where I grew up, I would be able to teach him something new. But if you were to ask him to explain cosmology to me, I’d probably need a whiteboard, a thesaurus, and a lot of Red Bull just to grasp the most basic of concepts that he mastered decades ago.
We each have our own unique realties and no two people can ever view the world in the same way; which means that inspiration is everywhere. Everybody has a different story to tell and something new to teach you. In fact, some of my greatest feats as a writer have resulted from conversations with friends and family that have started with me saying “I’ve written myself into a corner…”
Small minded people talk a lot and believe that they are smarter than others. Intelligent people listen, and know that every single person that they meet is brilliant in their own idiosyncratic right.
Where did the concept for Midas come from?
Midas is the first in a four-book series based on a modernization of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. When I started writing the story I was a very lost individual. I didn’t have any understanding of who I wanted to be, what the purpose of my life was, or what it felt like to be happy. I was angry all the time and wasn’t emotionally strong enough to ask myself why. Midas came about as a means of questioning religion, and creating a story that I would have enjoyed reading. My parents sent me to a Catholic school and I was taught a great deal about religion from a young age, and while I understood the teachings of tolerance, I still found a need to question everything.
It wasn’t until my mid-teens that I first heard of the Book of Revelations and the Four Horsemen. But I loved the concept of the dividing the world to conquer it, and knew that it could be replicated in a modern-day military sense. So, I created four brothers, Pestilence, War, Famine and Death and I gave them a reason to want to bring about the end of the world as we know it.
How did you go about publishing Midas?
I took a huge leap of faith. I live in Brisbane, Australia and heard about an event called Thrillerfest that takes place in New York City every July. The event features some of the world’s premier thriller writers and allows aspiring authors the opportunity to pitch their works to editors and agents from across the United States.
I booked myself a flight to the other side of the world and pitched my heart out to over a dozen agents, who each thought that I was insane for travelling so far to meet them. Thankfully, the response that I received was overwhelming, making the trip worthwhile. Nine agents and a film production company expressed interest in the novel, and I returned to Brisbane armed with email addresses and phone numbers of potential agents who could represent my work.
Shortly after the event I was contacted directly by a boutique publisher named Meizius Publishing who asked if I would like to pitch my script directly to them. I did. And they agreed to take me on.
How did it feel to know you’d written and finished and published your novel?
Overwhelming. I imagine finishing and publishing a novel is a similar feeling to what one would experience should they run a marathon. After what seems like a never-ending road of twists and turns, you suddenly find yourself standing at the finish line sucking in a huge lungful of air and telling yourself that you somehow made it to the end.
I was so nervous that it took me two days to open the email from the publisher telling me that they wanted to sign me as an author. I had fought so long and hard for an opportunity to see my work in print, and had received countless rejection letters for previous manuscripts that I was fretting being overlooked once again. I didn’t know if my heart could take another Dear John letter stating that my work showed promise, but wasn’t quite what they were looking for. So, I went about my life for two whole days before my partner convinced me to open the email and see what it said.
When I told her that I was going to be a published author she took me out for gelato and wrote me the most beautiful letter about how proud she was and told me she loved me. As silly as it seems, that letter was a defining moment in my life. Even though we are no longer together, I still have the letter and consider it to be my most prized possession.
Your bio says you are a “aggressively creative world eater.” What does that mean to you? Has dubbing yourself that pushed you to be a different way?
Definitely. I went through some pretty horrible times a few years ago. I suffered from anxiety and depression which became so severe that I started having panic attacks and would go days without sleep. My anxiety was brought about because of a fear of death, and my depression because of personal and family issues. But I never dealt with them properly. Instead of speaking about why I felt so low, I bottled up my emotions, became angry, and used my writing as a means of tearing people apart.
I came upon the idea of being an “eater of worlds” because I felt as though the world was eating me alive. I had friends, and family, my health and a million other reasons to be happy, and yet I felt as though I didn’t fit in. I started telling myself that rather than allowing the world to swallow me whole; I would eat it instead. I would write and I would conquer, and people would revere my name. But that was a fool’s mentality. All I did was annoy people, push away my loved ones, and wound up receiving death threats through my website after writing a piece about religious tolerance in which I likened the defamation of a religion like Islam to the criminological “broken windows” theory.
To this day I stand by my viewpoint, which is that if you were to walk past a building with half of its windows smashed in and found a rock, you would be more likely to throw it and cause more damage, than you would be if all the windows were intact. And religion works the same way. The more the media tears apart a religion and characterizes its followers as violent or aggressive, the more likely society is to make the same unfounded accusations, fueling a division and segregation that leads to more violence, when the reality is that we are all connected, regardless of color or creed.
These days I would call myself more of a humanist than a “world eater”; which means that it might be time to update my bio. I don’t feel as though the world is trying to eat me alive anymore, and I don’t carry the same anger in my heart that I did for so many years. I believe in people, and I believe in their ability to do amazing things. And most importantly I believe in myself in a way that the teenager who started writing a decade ago never did.
Lately, you’ve been musing often about love and the concept of soulmates. Where do you expect these musings to lead? Do you think you’ll be writing your next work on love or friendship?
These musings lead to a better version of me. In August of 2016, my partner of two years left me and my whole world fell apart. I had this woman that I loved (and still love) so much that I knew from the moment I met her that she was the woman I wanted to marry and grow old with. But I became so consumed with pushing myself to creative extremes that I often left her feeling let down and alone. When she left everything that I thought was a certainty in my life was suddenly gone, and I was forced to stop and look at myself and realize that my own selfishness had just cost me the one thing that I wanted more than anything: her.
As great as it feels to be rediscovering who I am, seeing my writing succeed and letting go of the pain that I’ve held in for so long, I’d give up everything that I have for a chance just to hold her hand and tell her that I love her one more time. I recently finished producing the sequel to Midas, and after almost eighteen months of writing and editing, the part of the novel that I am most proud of is the dedication page. To be able to place her name in something that means so much to me means more than anyone could ever understand.
She was always my greatest fan; I would write blog posts or scenes and watch as she sat on the edge of the bed and read them with a big grin on her face. She was so intelligent and would tell me when ideas didn’t make sense, or let me know when I had written something special.
There’s no doubt in my mind that she is my soulmate, and to know that she fell in love with a lesser version of me, and that she never gets a chance to meet the man that I’ve become since she left hurts. Because if she fell in love with a fractured writer consumed by anxiety and fear, the man that I am now would sweep her off her feet and make her smile every single day for the rest of her life. But she’s happy, and when you truly love someone, that’s all you can ask for.
Will I be writing my next work on love or friendship? I already am! I’m currently about 25,000 words through the first draft of a love story. I have always wanted to write one, but I have never understood how to construct something so delicate. But losing my partner has shown me the importance of fragility and vulnerability, and what role they play in the relationships we forge. I’m enjoying writing something completely different to my usual style, and having made peace with who I am has allowed me to express myself in a manner that I never thought possible. Chances are my love story isn’t going to go down in history as the next Fifty Shades or Notebook, but I’m going to pour everything that I have into it.