Writing Rites of Passage: An Interview with YA Novelist Chris Vick 

Chris Vick is the author of Kook, (longlisted for the Branford Boase Award) and more recently Storms which came out in April of this year (currently shortlisted for the Premio Anderson). Vick’s novels are known to be dark and dramatic, gripping and heartbreaking; he is self-professedly “obsessed with the sea; the beauty, the danger, the alien un-knowability of the ocean.”

At the Penzance Literary Festival, Falmouth University student Max Colbourne sat down with Chris to discuss his interests, literary and otherwise, and to find out about the inspirations behind his works.

MC: Who are your biggest literary inspirations? 

CV: In my field of writing (Young Adult) David Almond and Meg Rosoff.  More widely; Shakespeare for his insight into what it is to be human, and Hemingway for his clear, direct, brave writing.  

MC: What is your relationship with Cornwall? Which aspects of Cornwall do you gain the most inspiration from e.g. the communities, architecture, scenery?  

CV: I love the people, especially all the surfers I’ve met. We have family and many friends in Cornwall. But I also have a deep connection to the sea and – therefore – the coast. It’s the last great wilderness, it’s always changing. And I think Cornwall is the most beautiful place on earth.  

MC: I hear you’re an avid surfing enthusiast and lover of the sea – does this play into any of your novels e.g. your new novel, Boy, Girl, Sea? Does the nature of the novel portray a certain bittersweet relationship with the ocean in the sense that it is a force of nature and not to be underestimated in its danger?  

CV: Absolutely.  The un-knowability and un-predictable-ness of the sea, the inherent danger – these are themes in all my books. It’s a cliché to say we must ‘respect’ the ocean, but it is so true. That respect works on more than one level; we need to respect it by not tipping endless tides of plastic into it, and by not treating it as an endless bounty of fish.  We also need to respect it, because it’s not something we can tame or conquer.  The sea takes lives. Regularly, even today.  There’s plenty of bones in the sand. 

Chris Vick appearing at Penzance Literary Festival, July 2017

Chris Vick appearing at Penzance Literary Festival, July 2017

MC: Your novels, such as Kook and Boy, Girl, Sea, seem to revolve a lot around young people and their discoveries in the natural world – is this a reflection of your own childhood?

CV: It’s a reflection of my whole life.  I guess it’s particularly pertinent to my teen years and maybe to teens generally.  There’s no more wolves to kill.  But we still need rites of passage, and my books explore how young people make their own.  At least part of this is set in the natural world.  

MC: What advice would you give to young writers looking to start on their first novels, specifically novels in the adventure genre?  
CV: Don’t feel you’ll get it right, first time. And certainly, don’t expect to. Write about what you know and what you love, and use your own experiences, people you’ve known and things that have happened to you as source material. Write in your voice, rather than imitating writers you love (though it’s inevitable you will do this to some degree). Write frequently. Be prepared to share your work and get critical feedback in the interest of making it better. Be honest. 

Chris Vick appearing at Penzance Literary Festival, July 2017

Chris Vick appearing at Penzance Literary Festival, July 2017

 MC: Is there a definitive link between young love and the natural world? Does the beauty of the natural world lay the foundations for love to form? 

CV: That’s a deep question! I don’t know if there’s a definitive link. But I do think a shared appreciation of wilderness, or (in my case) even an addiction to the sea and surfing, can help form a very strong bond between people that maybe goes further than just, for example, liking the same books or music. 

Chris Vick is currently working on his next book Boy, Girl, Sea, about an English boy and a Libyan girl, stranded in a boat, on the ocean. You can listen to the first chapter of KOOK, or to find out more about Chris, visit his website.

by Max Colbourne