Interview: Chris Ord | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Northumbrian writer Chris Ord releases his fourth novel Shadowfolk, a dark fairy tale, set in the Cheviots that combines his passion for local fables, songs and his home county. The book is in part a modern retelling of the classic Northumbrian song Tam Lin and was shortlisted in Northern Writers’ Awards in 2021. 

We chat with Chris to find out more…

How long have you been a writer and what got you into writing? 
I’ve always loved writing, and it’s been a key part of my work life over the years. I  used to do research and work on policy, and I’ve written a lot of reports, papers, and  strategies. However, my dream was always to write a novel. In August 2015, I took  voluntary redundancy from Gateshead Council. I was inspired by finding a copy of  David Almond’s Skellig on a bench by the quayside in Newcastle. I took it as a sign,  and decided I was going to fulfil my dream. My debut Becoming was published in  September 2016 to widespread critical acclaim and success. It’s a dark dystopian  coming of age story, following a group of teenagers as they plot their escape from  Lindisfarne. I have the writing bug now. It’s my passion and what I do.  

What advice would you give a wannabe author who is attempting to write a  novel? 
Everyone has a story to tell, and I always tell people to find their story and have the  courage to tell it. Don’t be daunted by the mountain. Think of it as a series of  stages. Reaching each stage is an achievement in itself and will spur you to the  summit. One word at a time, that is all. You can do it. Believe in yourself. But keep  trying. Read and write as much as you can. If your first attempt doesn’t work out, try  again. Perseverance, resilience, and hard work are the best skills you can have as a  writer.  

All your books so far are based in Northumberland. What is it about the place that inspires you and makes it a great setting for your work? 
I love Northumberland. I grew up here and have always found it a stunning place  with mystery and drama. It can be wild and unpredictable, and has a sense of danger,  as well as space. It’s somewhere you can get lost and be on your own, and the sense  of isolation and loneliness appeals to me. Atmosphere, mood and setting are key  parts of my writing and there is nowhere better to inspire this. I also love the history,  local fables, and folk music. All of these are important elements of my writing.  

Tell us about your fourth novel Shadowfolk. Despite its mythical themes, is there a real world context to the narrative? 
Shadowfolk is a dark fairy tale set in the Cheviots. The novel centres around a young  girl whose father has disappeared, and her struggle to find him. Aoife and her  mother live with a monster who controls their lives, but a book of fairy tales  provides a link to her past, when she was happy and safe. She is convinced the  stories are her salvation, holding the key to escaping, and finding her father. The novel combines my passion for local fables, songs and Northumberland weaving  traditional folk tales into a harsh unsettling real world. The book deals with loss and  hope, past and present, imagination and reality. It shows the power of stories to  escape, and inspire us to realise our dreams.  

The book is a modern retelling of the classic Northumbrian song, Tam Lin.  When did you first hear that song and why did it strike a chord with you? 
I first heard the Fairport Convention version of Tam Lin when I was younger. I’ve  always loved the song because, though it is a love story, it has a dark, sinister edge. A  few years ago, an American singer songwriter, Anais Mitchell released an album with  a fellow songwriter, Jefferson Hamer called Child Ballads. All the songs are modern  versions of Northumbrian folk songs including a mesmerising version of Tam Lin. I  played the album endlessly, and saw them in concert at Gateshead. It was such a  powerful and moving performance, and it was then I decided these wonderful songs  and Tam Lin, in particular, would be the perfect basis for a novel. It took me a while  to get the story going, but I kept returning to it and I’m pleased I persevered. 

Has this book sparked any ideas for future work? 
I’d love to draw on more of the Child Ballads as a basis for future novels. The stories are so rich, captivating, and timeless. They’re dark stories and often unsettling, but  that appeals to me, as I tend to write more about the dark stuff. Folk singers have  been adapting these ballads for years, and writers are also opening up to their charm  and potential. There has been a trend in writing to reimagine Greek myths in  modern stories. I love this, as they too are powerful and prescient. But we have a rich  cultural heritage much closer to home, and given my Northumbrian roots I’m keen  to explore this further. Watch this space!  

Shadowfolk and Chris’s other books are available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions

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