Monika, OpenBooks.com: "Inside Men's Shorts" is a collection of over a hundred stories, but they are very diverse in conception, form, mood. Where does your inspiration come from, how did you manage to create so great variety of ideas?
Christopher Jackson-Ash: Well, my main genre is fantasy. I love writing in my own universe, multiverse actually :), where I can create my own worlds with their individual histories, geographies, and characters. I believe in a multiverse where all probabilities are possible. That opens up the mind to an infinite number of possibilities and removes all of the constraints of writing in either a contemporary or historical context. I guess that freedom allows creativity to flow.
I also have my muse, Kris the Bard.
Flash fiction is a very demanding form, but you seem to enjoy this challenge, in a bit of a sporty way.
Ch. J.-A.: Actually, I don't find flash fiction challenging at all. I love flash fiction as a writing exercise to get creativity flowing before a day's writing. It has to be done quickly, without any planning, just letting ideas flow on to the page. Some editing is required, often to cut out a few words or maybe great swathes of text. One of the great challenges of writing flash fiction, particularly very short flash fiction (100 or 300 words), is to tell a complete story in a very few words. It's a great way to learn how to cut superfluous material and therefore benefits your longer writing as well.
I like to work from a prompt - a word, a short sentence, or a picture. I prefer words, because I find that pictures can be too constraining. Most of the work that is in 'Inside Men's Shorts' was written from prompts provided on a weekly basis by an internet group that I used to belong to. It was deliberately gay themed, but other than that there were no constraints. Some of my work is very serious, because I am concerned about the damage that homophobia causes. We still have an unacceptably high rate of youth suicide in Australia. Much of it is in country areas where gay teenagers think that they are different and alone and that suicide is the only way out. I like to find humour in my writing too, so many of the stories are written very much tongue-in-cheek.
Your other works are children's books and high fantasy. Quite a variety. Do you find something that connects those genres, in general and in your writing?
Ch. J.-A.: I started writing children's books when my children were growing up. They would take a chapter to school and the teacher would read it to the class. The children's response would determine whether I wrote any more :). They were the harshest and best critics. These days, I'm writing them for my grandchildren. I try to keep my children's stuff age-appropriate, relatively simple, but with a hidden moral that they will subconsciously pick up on.
My fantasy however is extremely complicated. I try to write at many levels. At one level, I hope that it is a good yarn for someone who wants to quickly skip through it. At a deeper level, I try to reference many other things that I think are important. It might be myths and legends, other people's writing, geographical or historical clues, today's politics, or just deeply hidden clues that just a few readers might pick up on. I love this when I'm reading. I feel so smart for picking up on some hidden subtlety and I hope my readers feel the same. Some things are not very subtle though. I pay homage to J.R.R Tolkien and Michael Moorcock in my work because they were perhaps the two writers who most inspired me. Moorcock has the eternal city of Tanelorn. My equivalent city is Elannort (an anagram of Tanelorn) and the central Wizards' Keep is called Melasurej - which is Jerusalem backwards.
My fantasy is linked in a way to my sexuality and therefore to my flash fiction writing. I hid my sexuality from everyone, even myself, well into middle age. In the end, I had a nervous breakdown. I came to the realisation that there's no option in being gay. It's not a lifestyle choice. I can no more change my sexuality than my left-handedness, or the colour of my eyes and hair. It's all genetic.
My Hero, Simon Redhead, is very deliberately red-haired and left-handed. He's not gay, but he carries more important genes - those that make him an incarnation, maybe the greatest incarnation, of the Everlasting Hero. He starts out as medical student, sworn to do no harm, and is presented with the opportunity to fight evil and save the multiverse by taking up a great sword and butchering people. The books are as much about him reconciling himself to that contradiction and working out whether fate or free will controls us as anything else. Of course, that is allegorical and equates to my own internal battle to come to terms with my sexuality.
Your characters often have to face a lot of suffering. Do you think that there's more pain than joy in life?
Ch. J.-A.: In the west, in general, we live a very privileged life these days. Our society is based on capitalist principles that make us want more of everything. Yet, we never seem to have enough material possessions and what we have, we often find doesn't make us happy. You only have to look at the poverty and terrible conflicts going on around the world to realise that most of us really have it very good. Of course, there is individual suffering for a variety of reasons, and pockets of deep poverty and neglect even in the most affluent nations.
I found pain quite early in my life and that probably shaped my attitude. I had an idyllic childhood to about age seven. Then my mother died and was replaced, almost immediately, by the archetypal wicked stepmother. For a long time, I believed that I was being punished for something I had done and religion made me feel that way.
I have travelled a lot and I have found that the happiest people often have the least wealth and are more than happy to share the little that they have got.
At a certain point in my life, two important things happened very close together. I came out and was involved in a messy divorce and the business that I had devoted ten years' of my life too failed. I was left homeless and completely broke. All of my worldly goods were in the back of my leased car. It was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to me. It made me reassess my life. I realised that all of my life I had been doing what others wanted. It was time to focus on myself. I adopted a bohemian lifestyle and began to write. I worked just enough to keep body and soul together and allow me to do some travelling. The story that had been in my head, in one form or another, for at least twenty years started to get told. And I met, unlooked for, my new partner. And he's not Kris the Bard.
Everything in life is about finding balance; and that's the other main theme in my fantasy. It is not realistic to expect to go through life feeling only joy and no pain. The best we can hope for is that we get a little more joy than pain. If we look for joy in the simple things, rather than in amassing material possessions we will go a long way to achieving that.
I find it strange that the culture we live in puts taboo on activities connected with creating life, as "dirty". Such a content is "inappropriate for children". The same culture values taking life - guys who killed a lot of other human beings are heroes of history. Fighting and wars are present in children's literature and films. Your fiction covers both, but more or less separately - love in flash fiction, and killing in fantasy. Which of those would you recommend for young readers?
Ch. J.-A.: I mentioned earlier that my life took a dive into abuse at about eight years' old. The way that I dealt with that was to escape into other worlds. That was mainly by reading, but also by secretly listening to the radio. I read many of the adult classics at a very young age. I was most enthralled by science fiction and fantasy, so Jules Verne, H.G Wells, E.R Eddison, and of course Tolkien were among my favourites. By about fifteen, I was hooked on Moorcock. Things were different then. It was easy to read about violence but less so about sex, which was so often couched in euphemisms. I soon realised that it was not my fault that my mother had died and that religion was a false and useless concept. These days, with the internet, children are exposed to sex, via pornography, at a very early age. They are also exposed to excessive violence, both real via the news, and fake via computer games. Is it any wonder that today's youth have so many problems?
If I could write a best-seller for children, I would try to make it say that violence should never be regarded as right. Sometimes, as individuals, we need to stand up to bullies (as Tricky Tristan does) and as nations to go to war to protect our society (as Simon Redhead does). But violence should always be a last resort and be limited to the minimum necessary. Simon takes this approach in the FirstWorld Saga. I would show that all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Tricky Tristan finds that out as he grapples with his developing alien powers. Dr Who most aptly demonstrates that in contemporary science fiction.
I would like to show children that sex is not dirty, is not about power, and is not based on the pornographic view that most grow up with. We are doing children a terrible disservice by shielding them from the truth about sex, while exposing them to the lies of pornography. We have a generation of men who think that women want the sort of sex that hard-core pornography shows. So, my best-seller would try to counter that. It would also demonstrate that love is beautiful between two people of whatever gender or sexual persuasion they may be. It would show that all sorts of families are normal and right. Being loved and respected are the most important things for children.
So, I have taken a long time to answer your simple question. Sex over violence every time, but properly presented sex; and teach children the difference between love and lust and what respect means - both respecting self and others.
"I’m 58 but I feel like I’m 18 again, writing the stories that Tolkien and Moorcock inspired in me." If at age of 18 you knew what you know now, would you make different decisions, take different life-paths? What would be your advice to young people who feel the need to write?
Ch. J.-A.: I never believe a person who says that, "I would never change a thing." It is, of course, a complete waste of time to devote brain-time to wondering about what might have been. Simon travels through time to try to prevent the death of his parents and learns this the hard way. I love time travel paradoxes, by the way, and my writing is littered with them. I could fill a novel with the things I would do differently. If I could say one thing to my eighteen year old self, and indeed to young people now, it would be this. 'Nothing that you think or feel is not thought or felt by many others. You are not alone. Be true to yourself and don't let others force you down paths that you don't want to go. If you have a creative talent, exercise it and nurture it, whether it be music, writing, art, or whatever. You only pass this way once and before you know it, it will be over. Try to find the balance in your life; be generous; be creative; and love. Money and possessions do not bring happiness."
Life is a chain of probabilistic events. We end up where we are by pure chance most of the time. Don't let fate be your guide. Take control of your life. And find balance.
Check Christopher reading his flash fiction!
Our author decided to share with you examples of his flash fiction from 'Inside Men's Shorts'. They are light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek examples, which he hope can be quite funny.
WARNING, ADULT CONTENT! Meaning there's a bad language and gay sex in the stories, so if you are underaged or don't like that sort of thing please don't listen!