Writing tips, Cornwall and older YA: A Q&A with Chris Vick

KookChris Vick’s debut is finally here! ‘Kook’ sees fifteen-year-old Sam moving to the coast from the big city. Stuck there with his mum and sister, it starts to look up when he meets surfer-girl Jade. Soon he’s in love with both Jade and surfing, but Jade’s obsession is going to lead them into serious danger…

Sounds amazing, right?! We loved it so we had to grill Chris on everything ‘Kook’!

Tell us what ‘Kook’ is all about in the length of a tweet. Love story, set in a world of diehard surfers. Sam meets surfer Jade. She’s trouble.  But trouble’s addictive.  Sam learns to surf, falls in love… and gets out of his depth.

Can you think of 3 songs that go perfectly with your book? Just 3?  I listen to music, while I write.  Songs are like theme tunes to parts of the book. I’ve chosen a couple I referred to in ‘Kook’:

The Chemical Brothers, ‘The Test’
Jade plays this to Sam, when they are first getting together.  The vid is awesome too:

What’s it about? Being at a rave.  Getting in over your head. And it refs waves, too:
I’m seeing waves breaking forms to my horizons,’
All very ‘Kook’.

Moby, ‘When It’s Cold, I’d Like To Die’

Jade sings this to Sam, just after they meet; cycling home from the beach in the moonlight. No spoilers, but… read the book, then listen to the lyrics. It will be pretty obvious why this song goes with the story. A major inspiration.  One of the reasons I wrote Kook.

Broken Twin, ‘ Glimpse of a Time’

‘Kook’, is about a short, intense relationship.  The kind that burns quick, but stays with you forever.  This song (by this criminally little-known Swedish singer), captures that perfectly.

The Chemical Brothers, ‘Under the Influence’

Okay, I cheated.  That’s four.  But this song gets to the heart of being at your first rave/party/festival, as Sam and Jade, are at one point. It’s like the rush of taking a wave too. Play it loud, or not at all.

Not only are you an awesome writer, but you’re a keen surfer too. When did you start surfing? Thanks about the ‘awesome’ :)  I belly boarded in Saunton when I was ten. I did body boarding in India in my teens, then boogie boarding, and finally got on a custom board in my twenties.  It was only when I did the stand-up that I got hooked, but once I was…

We hear you’ve done a bit of travelling to see whales and dolphins in their natural habitat, as well as surf. What made you want to set ‘Kook’ in Cornwall? I visited all those places, for work and surf.  But I’ve spent more time in Cornwall, than anywhere else. I simply know it better.  Also, a lot of surf content (books, films) are very summer- California -vibe.  But my experience is mostly UK in autumn and winter.  There’s a particular atmosphere in that, which I really wanted to write about.

‘Kook’ deals with a few older topics – drugs, sex, violence. Did you ever think of leaving these parts out, or did you feel this was a true teenage experience which shouldn’t be ignored? I never considered leaving them out. For me, it’s about ‘how’ you write, rather than ‘what,’ especially in regards to consequences, and being honest. The content you mention, is part of the surfers’ lives and story, and true to the central themes: love, trouble, danger: and the attraction of those things. The love story is the heart, and those aspects are weaved into that story ‘core.’ It would be a weaker, less honest, book without those parts. A recent blog about 5 tips for writing YA included this: ‘remember that your target audience is experiencing sex, drugs, bad language, and all the other Big Bads you might dream up in their everyday lives, whether they are active participants or not; writing about the teen experience is what YA is all about.’ That’s spot on, in my view.

Are you like the protagonist, Sam, at all? There’s some of teenage-me, or my experience, in Sam: the longing to be part of a gang, falling for the ‘wrong’ girl, being drawn into so-called ‘fun’ then finding yourself in deep.  In terms of character?  Some, sure. But  there is some of me in the other characters, too, especially, the ball of energy that is Skip and the irresponsible idiot that is Rag.

What’s your top tip for beginner surfers? 

  • Be safe. Learn surfing where and when there are life-guards.  Maybe do a course. The guys at Sennen in Cornwall, really know what they’re doing.  And the waves there are great.
  • Do it a lot.
  • Get yourself a big, floaty second hand board.  Forget trying to look cool on the latest Al Merrick. Just get waves and have fun.

What’s your top tip for beginner writers? The obvious ones are: do it a lot, keep going, read heaps, write stuff that’s so-so or even bad (you have to do that to come up with anything worthwhile),  write what you know.  So far, so obvious. These are the tips I wish I’d heard sooner:

  • When people say you’re great; remember you’re just another idiot with a laptop. When they say you’re awful, remember you have a story to tell. And you are damn well going to write that story, even if it’s just for yourself J
  • Be jaw-dropping-ly selfish. People say they don’t have time to write. Writers may not have time for family, girl or boyfriends, walking the dog or watching TV. But they have time to write.
  • Share your work.  Join a writing group or go on a course. Learn to take criticism. Get as much feedback as you can.
  • Most importantly: Work out what you want to say (this may take years) then say it as clearly as possible.

Finally, because we all want to know where the magic happens, send us a picture of where you write. Would that be a picture of the sofa, spare room, bed, kitchen table, train, or café? If you use a notebook and wear headphones you can write anywhere.  Some of us have to.  My favourite place is – surprise – the beach.  So here’s one of a beach I love.


Buy your copy of ‘Kook’ here!

Have you read ‘Kook’ yet? Tell us what you thought about it @maximumpopbooks! 

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Written by Sophie Waters

Sophie is the Head of Commercial at Maximum Pop! Having studied English Lit and Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, she came to MP! to satisfy her passion for books. Sophie is a diehard Hufflepuff and feminist. She's also a huge cat lover, and can often be found rocking her socks off at a gig.

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