Introductions: Rob Chidley
by Ben Whitehouse
The Third Tribe is the first book by newcomer novelist Rob Chidley and he's already attracting attention:
"Be prepared to be kept on the edge of your seats," says GP Taylor, the New York Times bestselling author of Shadowmancer. Rob Chidley's book is "gripping and exciting, The Third Tribe is a must read."
Russ Bravo, editor of Inspire Magazine, said, "The Third Tribe features characters that you care about, writing that engages and involves the reader and a message that is both powerful and desperately needed. Well worth reading!"
You can also add me to the list of people heaping praise on Rob's novel. I really enjoyed it and my copy has already been plucked from the bookshelf & is currently on a bedside cabinet somewhere near Telford.
I fired a number of questions at Rob recently to find out a bit more about him in preparation for the Festival, here are his answers in full.
Tell us about your novel.
It’s called The Third Tribe and it’s my first novel. It is a story set in world where water is a scarce resource and where rain is totally unheard of. It is about Ruth, a desert child from a nomadic tribe and her discovery of the City – the last permanent settlement where peace and prosperity appear to reign through the thrifty rationing of bitter water. But there is a dark undercurrent of violence strangling the City and Ruth hears tales, told in whispers and handed down through generations, of a third tribe who exist beyond the settlement’s boundaries, and of their leader who leaves behind footprints filled with water as he walks.
Where did you find the original impulse to write this novel?
JK Rowling said that one day Harry Potter "came fully formed" into her mind. Ruth dashed through mine, leaving an intriguing trail of chaos and questions, and it was up to me to find out who she was and what she was doing. After I met her, I found there was a long process of exploration to go through to find out all the answers. There was a desert landscape in my imagination, so ‘exploration’ was definitely the word.
Looking at The Third Tribe, what surprises you about it?
The characters seem to have lives bigger than the book’s story, which is ultimately a good thing! People who have read the book say that the main characters climb out of the pages and go off on new adventures. There is more to this desert world than I’ve discovered, and it is as if my characters are independent of me. It feels like some have their own secrets I’m yet to discover. I suppose unconscious processes in my mind have given them larger stories with more to tell, more than I’ve yet realised. It is exciting and a little scary.
What are you reading right now? Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?
For fiction: I’d say Susanna Clark and Bernard Cornwell. Bernard Cornwell’s most famous for the Sharpe stories, but he’s written a lot more including some terrific Saxon-era stories. When reading his battle sequences, you can smell the blood, hear the bones cracking, and feel the swords parting the skin and sinews. Susanna Clarke is equally but differently brilliant. Her stories are more mystical, comical and sinister, and the world in which they’re set has a superb breadth and depth to them. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is my favourite of hers.
For non-fiction: Anne Fadiman is one of the best writers I’ve ever encountered. If you could distil joie de vivre into ink and put it on paper, only then could you say you were as good a writer as Anne Fadiman. Her familiar essays in At Large and at Small: Confessions of a Literary Hedonist make life worth living.
What was the book that most influenced your life — and why?
This is very difficult, because influences are often so difficult to trace and attribute. I was quite a late developer so far as reading went. I even needed extra tuition at one point. So when I borrowed my granny’s ancient copy of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, I felt like I would come of age as a reader, if only I could get through it. To my delight, I didn’t struggle through it – in fact I was swept up by the story like nothing else. Strangely, I’ve not read it since but I have felt it calling me of late.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading — and why?
I’d probably want to tackle Coleridge and Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads and the like, because I harbour a belief that Romantic poetry is best served in good company, with a decent wine and after a hearty walk.
What are your favorite books to give — and get — as gifts?
I have, in the past, tried to make rhetorical points through the books I bought other people. I learned quickly that the best you can expect is a polite thank-you and a cold shoulder. So now I tend to buy books for others that I think they’ll actually enjoy, regardless of whether I think they’re good or interesting.
For myself, I’ve got a bit scared of people buying me books because I have a waiting list of about 40. When people buy you books and then when you see them two weeks later, they always want to know you’ve enjoyed it. I’m probably about a year behind, if not longer.
Give us three "Good to Know" facts about you. Be creative. Tell us about your first job, the inspiration for your writing, any fun details that would surprise people reading the blog.
1) My first job was as an English teacher in a leafy Dorset Grammar School for boys. I had great fun teaching The Charge of the Light Brigade with the aid of a genuine (and genuinely dangerous) 1812 Light Cavalry Sabre. My hope always was that my pupils would leave the classroom with a sense that any book could be picked up, explored and enjoyed.
2) Much of my writing seems to revolve around the question of identity which, the more I look into it, the more it seems to explain much of the joy, pain, brilliance and madness of this world.
3) For my wife’s recent significant birthday, I wrote a spoof children’s story called Mrs Lovely the Music Teacher, and I had it professionally illustrated. It was about a wonderful, supremely busy and slightly maniacal music teacher who turns out to be a robot. It’s a story which has become part of our lives!
What's your favourite way to unwind?
A long, strong combination of early summer sunshine, a pub garden, real ale and all my old University friends.
Rob says that he enjoyed answering those questions and I'm fairly certain that the passionate reading community at Greenbelt will have questions of their own to grill Rob with over the weekend.