Monday, February 08, 2010

Interview with Chris Wardle - Author of The Lighthouse of Mr. Tinfish

Chris Wardle holds a bachelor’s degree in physical geography as well as a Master’s degree for water supply in developing countries from Cranfield University in the UK. Over the last ten years Chris has travelled extensively in developing countries, working on charity projects in poor communities. He has been able to draw on his numerous experiences to inspire his creative works, particularly living for long periods in communities with different cultures in Africa and Asia. An orphaned kitten in Northern Uganda was the inspiration for Mr. Choli’s character in the Tinfish series. He now lives in the UK with Chris’s family (via a few months with a foster family in France to organize his European passport). www.mrtinfish.moonfruit.com


Welcome to The Writer's Life, Chris Wardle. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

A: I discovered my passion for creative writing whilst living in a small village in Cameroon in 1999. It was my first oversees posting and I was a lone volunteer managing the construction of a water supply project. There was no television, telephone, or indeed electricity for that matter. I had been writing a lot of letters home about my experiences and found that I really enjoyed putting pen to paper. As a result I decided to write a short story about the pop band that I had played in at college.

I wrote it on scraps of paper, and found myself cutting out paragraphs from different pages and sticking them to the sides of others with duct-tape. The resulting collage of scribbling needed instructions to navigate. After discovering the pleasures of this creative process I went on to write longer stories about my adventures in Cameroon, and the subsequent places I’ve worked in over the past ten years. A lot of my travels have since influenced the characters and adventures that I write about in The lighthouse of Mr. Tinfish as well as the rest of the Mr. Tinfish Series.


Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

A: The lighthouse of Mr. Tinfish is the first in a series of children's books which follows the humorous adventures of Mr. Tinfish the penguin and his friends as they try to cope with the impact of climatic change in their community. A sudden rise in the sea level is just the start of the problems that the ever-changing climate will bring. Luckily for Mr. Tinfish, the other animals and birds all try to support each other, and Mr. Vinegar the walrus organizes the first of many expeditions led by Mr. Choli the cat to help the colony adapt to the changing conditions.

The initial idea for the Mr. Tinfish series came from the invention of two characters called Mr. Tinfish and Mrs. Cat-biscuit (who were based on what I was trying to get my very fussy cat to eat at the time in order to wean it off roast chicken – unsuccessfully I might add). When my wife asked me what Mr. Tinfish and Mrs. Cat-biscuit did, I told her that they would have exciting adventures and live in a lighthouse. I then faced the challenge of developing this idea into a gripping story, which took considerably longer. However, the concept gradually fell into place, and it inevitably ended up as a humorous children’s book. In the process, Mr. Choli the eccentric and slight difficult cat also joined the cast.


What kind of research was involved in writing The lighthouse of Mr. Tinfish?

A: The theme for all of the stories is related to climatic or environmental change. These are topics I studies in depth whilst doing my first degree and so I had a good background knowledge. I searched out additional information if needed on the net. However, as the books are in no way trying to be an academic commentary, extensive digging in to the most up to date scientific research in the field was not particularly necessary.


Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

A: I have self-published with Lulu.com and have been very impressed with the service they provide.


For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

A: The joy of self-publishing on-line is that once the book is created it’s available immediately. This makes it a very satisfying process. The challenge then, of course, is to try and market it, so that it’s not just your mum who buys a copy.


Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

A: I am currently on a Virtual Book Tour with ‘Pump up your Book’ who provide the on-line marketing part of the agent’s role. I am aware that I have no real marketing skills, and I think that for someone to market themselves is particularly challenging, and it is difficult to be objective. Therefore, it is necessary to get the right help when it is needed.


Do you plan subsequent books?

A: The lighthouse of Mr. Tinfish is the first in a series of four books. The first two are now available through Lulu.com and the subsequent books will be made available in due course. The series may expand further depending on what inspiration comes my way. I am currently toying with the idea of a prequel series which explores the adventures that took place to bring all of the characters together in the first place.


Can you describe your most favorite place to write?

A: Anywhere quiet! I currently live in a street in Phnom Penh where the people opposite have been constantly grinding tiles to cover their apartment floor for more than three months now. How they have anything remaining in there but dust at this point is beyond me. However, as a result of permanent grinding, our apartment is not the most conducive place for working. A number of rural places where I’ve worked have had limited or no electricity and little traffic, which provided a very peaceful environment for being creative in my spare time.


If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

A: A few years ago I travelled up the coast in Queensland, Australia. Along the coast, north of Brisbane, is the ‘Big Pineapple’ which is a giant plastic pineapple and pineapple farm, with a small theme park based on pineapples. As I continued my travels northwards I passed the Big Mango, and a Big Peanut wearing a hat. My wife and I eventually plan to settle in Queensland, so the obvious promotion for us would be a ‘Big Mr. Tinfish’.

Essentially this would be the world’s biggest plastic penguin with a theme park at the back. Rides would relate to his adventures, and the restaurant’s menu would be based on the culinary skills of Mr. Ginger (one of the characters). His cooking becomes a feature in later books and extends to ‘Mackerel Supreme a l’Orange’ and ‘Griddled Mackerel with a lightly peppered rhubarb and orange sauce’, none of which he as the right ingredients for.

Just how popular this would be amongst the diners remains to be seen, but I could imagine myself being greatly entertained by setting it up. Almost as much as writing the book in the first place.


How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

A: Self promotion is vital to get noticed. It’s something I struggle with a little as I am not particularly extrovert. However, if I want my books to be read then self promotion is the way forward.

I am taking part in a ‘Pump up your book’ promotion virtual tour which is due to start in February. The aim is to give the Mr. Tinfish books greater exposure to a more targeted audience. In addition I have developed a website which introduces the Mr. Tinfish series and provides the first chapter of each of the books for potential customers to browse through. Lulu.com has made the book available on ‘eBay’ and ‘Amazon’, as well as on their own site.


What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?

A: I am very lucky as I write largely for my own enjoyment. For example, I’ve been writing a book about my travels for the last ten years for my own interest, with no plans to publish in that time. Also, once I have a creative idea inside me then I have to get it out, whether it’s book I’m writing, music I’m composing, or a drawing. It can be quite difficult to concentrate of other things until I’ve got it out of my system. These two factors mean that I’ve never felt I should give up being creative. I am personally entertained by my creative process and this is the priority. If others enjoy it as well then it is a fantastic bonus.


Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

A: I am a new author myself, who has self-published on-line. However, I have learned a lot from being part of a virtual book tour. It is very clear that to get a book promoted, having it on eBay is not enough, I need help from marketing professionals to give it targeted exposure, and I’m sure this must be the case for most people entering the publishing world.


Thank you for your interview, Chris. I wish you much success!

A: Thank you for your questions. The self-reflection is quite a therapeutic process!