Today I am happy to present another chance find of mine: Chris Westlake and his lovely book: “Just a Bit of Banter, Like: A heartwarming, feel-good novel with plenty of laugh out loud moments”
The book was released first a few years back. I didn’t even live in Wales but found the tone of the book charming and hugely entertaining. Now the book is back with a new cover, so here’s my review and an interview with Chris from back then.
“Just a Bit of Banter, Like…” by Chris Westlake is a warm hearted, funny and charming book with some serious and depper tones.
It describes the downward spiral and recovery of a young Welsh man in London when he discovered his girlfriend and his best friend in bed together. Katie was the perfect girlfriend and it takes him some time to get over his problems.
He moves back to Wales, where he is confronted with some ghosts from his past and where he finds out that you cannot run away from your problems. Gradually through a string of small events and baby steps his life starts to turn round again.
Told in a warm and very dry humorous way the book is funny, upbeat and philosophical in one. The friendships Nick has in London and in Wales and the harmless “banter” (from the title) between them is very entertaining and has some great one-liners and it also has a very authentic feel. It helps that I not only live near the Bristol Channel but also have a Welsh partner; but beyond the setting and the specifics, the book has a wonderful message that is beautifully delivered.
This is not a action packed fast read but a very accomplished slow burner with more than meets the eye. A great read.
Hero to zero and then…? Experience the world as seen through the eyes of Nick Evans, a young city-slicker with a trophy-girlfriend on his arm. Fast-forward just a day and he’s caught his girlfriend in an uncompromising position with his friend, accidentally sent a rude email to his boss – and he’s on his way home to South Wales with his tail firmly between his legs, unemployed and single.
Mysteries galore and family saga await him. What secrets are taunting his best friend Den? Why have Nan and Mum not spoken for as long as Nick can remember? And whatever happened to childhood friend Sam, who mysteriously disappeared just after A-Levels and has not been seen since…? Enjoy the journey as Nick desperately tries to unravel the mysteries and piece his life together, often with darkly hilarious results…
Just a Bit of Banter, Like is a life-affirming novel where Nick discovers what is truly important to him. The novel is frequently heartwarming, often dark but usually funny. There are scenes that will tug firmly at your heartstrings and others that will make you laugh out loud.
Chris Westlake has written a second novel, At Least the Pink Elephants are Laughing at Us, and a short story collection, Now the Party is Finally Over. Chris has started his third novel, which he promises will contain all the darkness and hilarity of his current books!
Hi Chris, thanks for joining me today, please tell us a little about yourself as a person and your life:
As a person, I like to think that I am a down-to-earth, easy-going kind of guy. That’s what I strive for, anyway. It is not always the case! I like to draw a line between my creative side and my practical side. I work full-time as a team leader in a public-facing role. I like playing football and I have recently joined a tai boxing class, although most of the members of the group are much more committed than I am! I have wonderful wife, Elizabeth, who I’ve been married to for seven years.
Tell us a little about your writing
My writing is mainly restricted to the weekends, where I hole myself away in the library with just my laptop, earphones and big flask of coffee. I loved writing as a child, from the age of seven. I wrote long, rambling stories about monsters and football teams and roller-coasters. I loved creating new worlds with infinite possibilities! My mum and grandparents read the stories and excitedly told me how good they were. I knew then that I would be a writer. And then I stopped writing. School and university and work got in the way. I know. Excuses, excuses. Practical life seemed so much more prominent and urgent. I always knew that I would start writing again, I just did not know when.
Four years ago I decided that the time was right. I enrolled on an online writing course. I thrived on the feedback from the tutor, just as I had from my family as a child. I had a few letters published in magazines and earned a little money.
Then I won my first competition. That was an amazing thrill. My short Story, Welsh Lessons, won the Global Short Stories Award 2010. I came first out of about 600 other contestants. And then The Heatwave of 76 won the Stringbybark Erotic Stories Award. I had about seven stories published in e-book anthologies. I thought it was the right time to start a novel. I am still exploring genre. It is in no way my intention to be restrictive. My writing is intended to be enjoyable, to make you think and to be original. If I achieve this then I do not see why I cannot write across many genres.
One thing I have been consistent with is location. My competition winning stories were based in coastal South Wales, where I was born and brought up. I now live in Birmingham, and with every passing day I’m away that I am a day further away from my original roots. Setting my stories in Wales feels good and it feels right.
Tell us about writing and publishing JUST A BIT OF BANTER, LIKE
I started writing Just a Bit of Banter, Like at the beginning of 2012 and it took me near enough twelve months to complete. Most writers make a clear separating between research, planning, drafting and editing of a novel, but it is inevitable that the stages overlap. The story had a rough plan and further research was needed to iron out the final details. Drafting is the most frustrating stage. The temptation is always there (and I think most writers will agree that the temptation is very strong) to tweak every word as you go along, because it is difficult to leave words alone that you are not entirely happy with) but this way you end up writing hardly anything!
I had to keep telling myself, over and over like a mantra, that it will be better after the editing stage! Editing is the most satisfying stage because it is where you reap the rewards for all your previous effort. I designated at least three months to the editing stage and it was worth it for the end result.
I didn’t enjoy trying to get my book published through mainstream. The Agent and Publisher websites remind you in no uncertain terms that they have thousands of applicants and take on just a few. It felt like Mission impossible IV, or whatever number we are up to now. I knew that my cover letters and synopsis were good. I took time tailoring them to the individual Agent. But most submissions seemed to disappear into a black hole. I did receive some responses, and they were all appreciated. A few were personal with some really positive feedback but stating that unfortunately my genre did not fit.
After about five months I secured Mirador Publishing, which is an independent publisher. I did pay a small fee for the publicity and marketing of the book, but it was worth it to finally have my book in print. Once I secured a publisher the process was enjoyable and exciting.
How has the book fared so far?
Just a Bit of Banter, Like has very well received. Everybody who has read the book has enjoyed it. The biggest compliment is when readers enjoy my writing style, because that is the platform for everything. The biggest obstacle is getting read in the first place. I have been amazed by the number of authors competing for attention. Unless you are a recognised author or celebrity it is very difficult to generate interest. I have worked very hard at this, from having articles published about the book in the local newspaper and magazine to keeping in contact with other authors and readers on social media sites.
I think it is important to have a balance though, and again this can be difficult. Sometimes you need to know when to stop publicising your previous book and spend more time writing your next book!
Tell us about JUST A BIT OF BANTER, LIKE and its characters
The characters in Just a Bit of Banter, Like are crucial to everything. The twisting storyline and the surprise ending all goes to waste if the reader doesn’t care about the characters. I try to ensure my characters are rounded with personality traits readers recognise from everyday life. Den is the guy gifted with looks, intelligence and personality, and yet scratch the surface and none of this is really important to him. Nick lives this perfect life in London with a fancy job and fancy girlfriend and yet there is so much more to him than the superficial shell he hides under. Deep down, though, the central characters are all decent people and I hope the readers will them to do well.
Who are your influences?
My writing is inspired by writers such as Irvine Welsh, John King and JK Salinger. I read a wide variety of books not only for enjoyment but because I think you can pick up so many different things. Nowadays I definitely read as a writer. I observe how writers build up scenes, create tensions and develop tensions. I am also rather critical when they don’t do these things!
What are your current projects and ambitions?
At the moment I am working on the drafting stage of my next novel. Yes, the frustrating stage! I am keeping with the Welsh setting. This novel is based primarily in the depleted coal and steel community of Merthyr Tydfil and the seaside resort of Porthcawl. It covers different eras, from the 60’s to present day. I love modern history, and so the research side both fascinating and challenging. Although I am working hard on the story, I want it to be right, and I am not setting any timescale other than it will definitely be completed by the end of 2014!
I aim to be working on a novel at all times and, realistically for me that equates to about one novel per year. This year I plan to write some short stories, too, as I appreciate a year is a long time and I want to maintain interest in my writing. I will be spending some time creating and updating a website with details of the stories. I have short-term and long term aims. Long-term, I want to improve an aspect of my writing with every book and to keep building my readership. I would love to be on the bestsellers list but think it would be much better to write books I am proud of that is appreciated by a loyal readership.