Friday 29th May 2020 sees the ebook publication of Chris Kelso’s Science Fiction collection, Vistas. This is a real coup for DEMAIN. During the pandemic (and keeping to social distancing rules!) Dean and Chris sat down and talked about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome Chris, this is an honour…can you tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.
CHRIS KELSO: Many thanks! I’m a 32-year-old writer and editor from Scotland, but I also teach secondary English. I became a writer, or started writing at least, after I read Lanark by Alasdair Gray. Lanark blends surrealism and realism, art, and literature, in a way I’d never seen before - and it really opened my eyes to the multimedia experience of the novel. At 23 I had my first short story published in the Evergreen Review (a derivative little pastiche of Burroughs in Hell) and that sort of gave me the confidence to try to sell longer work. I suppose I became a writer to prove something to myself. That I could contribute something.
DP: I love Lanark. I will admit it took me a little while to get into it but I persevered and yeah, I really love it. We both have a fondness for Burroughs too...can you tell us about Vistas?
CK: It’s a science fiction collection. I took my main inspiration from writers like Harlan Ellison, Philip Jose Framer, and Joanna Russ. I consider myself a genre writer, and at times I like to blend tropes and conventions, but this is a real SF book. Most stories are set in space or some fantastic land, and incorporate some sort of techno-babble, allusion to time travel, or the babysitting of bad machines. I consider this to be my last short story collection (for a long time at least) so it’s nice to leave a farewell love letter to a genre I love.
DP: And that’s another reason why we’re honoured here at DEMAIN – thank you for allowing us to publish your ‘final’ collection. Did you have to do much research when writing the stories?
CK: [In general terms I do] research, usually technical detail – the mechanics of an object, the practical terms for this and that. For example, when I was writing The DREGS Trilogy [Black Shuck Books] I did a lot of research into the Dark Web and serial killer profiles. I recently finished my first non-fiction book, Burroughs and Scotland so there was a lot of digging involved trying to unearth information on a largely forgotten/unexplored period of WSB’s life.
DP: I’ve seen that DREGS is already picking up some great notices – well done and definitely can’t wait to read Burroughs and Scotland! Did you find any of the stories in Vistas particularly difficult to write?
CK: I found the story T/ROLL a challenge because it was written in a reddit forum-style. It was more fiddly than difficult, but putting in a lot of attention to the characters’ reddit profiles meant I was more engaged with the piece as a whole.
DP: What would you say is your biggest success creatively so far?
CK: I’d say The DREGS Trilogy is my most immersive and successful book – in terms of what I was trying to achieve. Whether it becomes a financial or critical success remains to be seen (although Jim McLeod at Ginger Nuts of Horror has done a lot to promote the book). It seems to be reaching the right audience and hitting the mark so far, but these things can fall apart so quickly, especially with a work as confrontational as DREGS. I wrote a story with Carole Johnstone for Black Static magazine that was nominated for a British Fantasy Award, so I suppose, when it comes to community acknowledgement, this has been the biggest success. It really depends on your definition.
DP: Indeed it does. Jim’s a good guy and when he gets behind you he really does so again, well done. What books (or authors) do you read and would you say they have had an influence on you as a writer?
CK: I read so much. Alasdair Gray might be my most important writer. I have my roots in the Beats (Burroughs in particular), but I love Ellison, Bukowski, Butler, Selby Jr. Bret Easton Ellis, Iain Sinclair, J.M.Coetzee, Philip K. Dick, Patricia Highsmith, Kathy Acker, Sam Delany, Dennis Cooper, the list is endless. I’d say they all influence me, more in terms of style than concept. A lot of writers I know have influenced me, people like Graham Rae, John Langan and Seb Doubinsky, Dave Jeffrey, Laura Mauro, Steve Finbow or Hal Duncan. I’m reading a great book called My Shadow Book by Jonathan Rothacker that’s as good as anything I’ve ever read. Mauro’s Naming the Bones is incredible, as is Graham Rae’s Soundproof Future Scotland. All these people are in my immediate community and they all keep you on your toes. Remind you to keep pushing yourself.
DP: That’s sound advice. I would say that a lot of your work (which I’ve read anyway) is quite ‘weird’ – what is ‘weird’ to you?
CK: I suppose the writers who inhabit a number of categories are of particular interest. Writers like Dennis Cooper or Poppy Z. Brite are writers who can write in the guise of literary fiction but imbue their work with horrific and weird moments – Carole Johnston does this well in her short fiction. The cumulative effect is of an uncanny, almost cosmic existential dread. I think about House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski or VanderMeer’s, Annihilation as strong examples of truly weird fiction.
DP: I’m definitely a fan of House Of Leaves and have recently read a couple of Cooper’s novels – very intriguing. In terms of upcoming (whenever that may be right now) books or movies – is there anything that piques your interest?
CK: Sure, I mentioned My Shadow Book already, but it’s really absorbing. Seb Doubinsky’s The Invisible is calling out to me. I have Priya Sharma’s, All the Fabulous Beasts to read next and can’t wait. I also have Alan M. Clark’s Jack the Ripper Victim series to get through, as well as Dave Jeffrey’s A Quiet Apocalypse – and am equally excited!
DP: From a DEMAIN point of view thanks for mentioning Dave’s A Quiet Apocalypse! What is Chris Kelso afraid of?
CK: Spiders! I’m afraid of spiders. Spiders were a prominent feature in my work until recently. In the Slave State, there was a quarter in the 4th dimension with huge man-sized arachnids waiting, who spun webs across bridges and skyscrapers and ate people. That’s literally a recurring nightmare of mine.
DP: Me too! Creatively is anything you haven’t yet done?
CK: I’d like to write more non-fiction and screenplays - and maybe try writing another comic book. It would be amazing to write a 2000AD strip one time. I’ve been so immersed in that world over the course of my young life, I know I could do it justice.
DP: That’s brilliant – looking forward to seeing that. So, the elephant in the room: how are you handling the current lockdown, what’s your routine, is there anything different you are doing that you wouldn’t usually?
CK: I’m teaching my classes remotely, so engaging with students is my primary focus. I’ve been making resources and enhancing my CPD (Continual Personal Development) profile. I find the odd moment to add footnotes and references to my Burroughs book as well, which has been strangely relaxing. Aside form that I’ve been reading like a maniac, watching Netflix, doing mini-workouts, and spending time with my fiancé. I think you need to make time for things you enjoy during lockdown, but also to push yourself.
DP: Yeah, it’s not an easy time is it…finally then Chris, can you tell your readers something surprising about you?
CK: Probably that I’m a soft-hearted vegan.
Thank you so much for your time and the best of luck with Vistas.
If you would like to connect with Chris direct: