SpeakEasy Blog

Seriously Questioning…Christopher J. Yates

Christopher J. Yates was formally a puzzle editor in London, and the author of the debut novel, Black Chalk, a “Best of the Year” selection by NPR. His new novel Grist Mill Road received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly.

Christopher spoke at House of SpeakEasy’s Seriously Entertaining show on January 30th, Caught in the Act alongside Sandra Allen, Elif Shafak, and Michael Wolff. We spoke to Christopher ahead of the show…


Describe your current project: It’s 1977, London, and a punk band that supplanted the Sex Pistols hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

What is your earliest memory involving reading or writing? I wrote a story in school when I was 7 called ‘The Caves of Time’ for which my teacher gave me the unlikely mark 21 out of 20. A few days later, my mother took me into my local indie bookstore to pick out a “prize” for having written this story. There on the shelves, calling out to me, was a book called “The Caves of Time,” the first book in the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Obviously, I snatched it up and have loved bookstores and stories ever since.

What is your favorite line from your current work? Wow, that’s so hard—do you mind if I go for the one that’s been getting most-mentioned in reviews instead? “The reality is there are more than two sides to most stories. Truth is seldom a lens, truth is a kaleidoscope, and I have my truth too.”

What is your favorite first line of a novel? “Either forswear fucking others or the affair is over.” Sabbath’s Theater, Philip Roth.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Persist. It took me ten years to get my first publication offer—and that was in Russia! (But that’s another story, which you can read here.) I was on the brink of giving up several times. I would wish any aspiring writer immediate success, but that might not happen, and it might not be pretty. Persist.

What are you reading right now? A number of books about punk music, for research—Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee for pleasure. I also snuck in the first five pages of Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn, which is next in line, and I can’t wait.

Are there any quotes you use to inspire you? In Knausgaard’s A Man in Love, the second volume of My Struggle, he berates himself for the vanity of having enjoyed being interviewed by a journalist. When it comes to being a writer, I’d say this pretty much sums it up:

“Don’t believe you are anybody. Do not bloody believe you are somebody.

Because you are not. You’re just a smug mediocre little shit. Do not believe that you’re anything special. Do not believe that you’re worth anything, because you aren’t. You’re just a little shit. So keep your head down and work, you little shit.”

Seriously Questioning…David Friend

David Friend joined Vanity Fair as editor of creative development in 1998, after serving as Life magazine’s director of photography. Friend is the author of Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11. He has won Emmy and Peabody awards as an executive producer of 9/11, a CBS documentary that aired in… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Laura Lippman

  Laura Lippman is a New York Times bestselling novelist who has won more than 20 awards for her fiction—and been nominated for 30 more. Since her debut in 1997, she has published 20 novels, a novella and a collection of short stories. Lit Hub recently named her one of the “essential” female crime writers of… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…James Forman Jr.

James Forman Jr. is one of the nation’s leading authorities on race, education, and the criminal justice system, and a tireless advocate for young people who others have written off.  Forman worked as a law clerk for Judge William Norris of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…J.T. Rogers

J.T. Rogers is a playwright whose plays include  (Lincoln Center Theater, then Broadway; National Theatre, London, then West End); Blood and Gifts (Lincoln Center Theater; National Theatre); The Overwhelming (National Theatre, then UK tour with Out of Joint; Roundabout Theatre); White People (Off-Broadwaywith Starry Night Productions); and Madagascar (Theatre 503, London; Melbourne Theatre Company). For… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Julie Scelfo

Julie Scelfo is a former staff writer/current contributor to The New York Times, where her stories about society and human behavior reframe popular ideas and ask us to rethink our basic assumptions. Scelfo has contributed to The St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor’s Guide to American Consumer Culture and her work… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Lev Grossman

Lev Grossman is the author of Warp, Codex, and The Magicians series, the first of which was one The New Yorker‘s best books of the year. The Magicians books have now been published in twenty-five countries. Grossman was both the lead technology writer and the book critic for Time magazine for fifteen years, from 2002… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet and photographer. She received the MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. A Cave Canem and Kimbilio Fellow, she is the recipient of fellowships including Yaddo, Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, The Millay Colony, and others. In 2011, Griffiths appeared in the… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…David Kilcullen

David Kilcullen is the Chairman of Caerus Associates. Before founding Caerus, he was Special Advisor to the Secretary of State from 2007-2009 and Senior Advisor to General David Petraeus in Iraq in 2007. He is the author of bestselling books The Accidental Guerrilla, Counterinsurgency and Out of the Mountains. His most recent book is The… Continue Reading

Seriously Questioning…Ann Brashares

Ann Brashares is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, The Here and Now, 3 Willows, The Last Summer (of You and Me), and My Name Is Memory. She lives in New York City with her family. On September 26th, she will be speaking at House of SpeakEasy’s Seriously… Continue Reading

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