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Chris Dolley
conducted by Toni Weisskopf
 
November 2005

p> Chris Dolley was born in Bournemouth, England on September 30th, 1954. Several attempts to educate him were made by staff at Winton and Moordown, Bournemouth School and, finally, Plymouth Polytechnic. But he was too fast, graduating at the age of 20 with an honours degree in Geography. In 1974 he formed the Free Cornish Army, who declared Cornwall an independent nation.The humor Punch called the affair a splendid hoax." After 13 years as a computer programmer for the Home Office, he founded Randomberry Games in 1981, probably the first UK computer game company. In 1995, Chris moved to France, and he and his wife now live on a farm he has renovated in the Normandy-Maine Regional Park. In between the plumbing and roofing at his new home, he appeared in the films Joan of Arc and Sade, though his role in the former ended up on the cutting room floor (he hopefully awaits the Director's Cut). His mystery novel An Unsafe Pair of Hands was short listed for the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award for best first mystery. Baen will publish his first science fiction novel,Resonance, in November 2005.

As with so many writers, Chris Dolley got off to an early start, although his was with a distinctly entrepreneurial cast: "I sold my first comic when I was 9 (to the boy over the road for a penny) and started my first book when I was 12. Thankfully, neither has survived. As for influences, I made a bad decision in my late teens--to read as little as possible. My teen logic ran thus: as I was going to amaze the literary world with the originality of my work, I had to keep my imagination free of other author's ideas. A disastrous plan which set my writing back about ten years. Since then the writers that have probably influenced me most are Dean Koontz and Sheri Tepper.

Before he made his teenage detour, Dolley had been exposed to SF. Among his first SF: "Probably a book of short stories by Arthur C Clarke. But it could have been The First Men in the Moon by H.G.Wells, or even John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids."

Some other, non-sf, favorites: "Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver, Dean Koontz, Ellis Peters, Dorothy L. Sayers, Sara Paretsky, Janet Evanovich, P.G. Wodehouse, E.F. Benson."

For Chris, some of the perks of being an SF author are: "Being able to use my imagination and get paid for it. And knowing that there are no constraints. If you can think it, you can write it." And that certainly shows in his debut SF novel, Resonance.

Dolley doesn't write better at any particular time of day. Like John Ringo, he goes by seasons: "Actually I'm a winter writer. At least I used to be. Living on a smallholding and growing most of our food means that winter is the slack season. So I've tended to think and outline my novels in the summer, write them in autumn and winter, then polish in spring."

Like all authors, Chris can name his favorites among his characters. "Annalise is great fun and a joy to write for. And Graham [the hero of Resonance], too. I had to go much deeper with him and almost turned into an obsessive compulsive myself by the time I'd finished the book. Currently I'm quite attached to Nick Stubbs, my astropsychologist. But that's another story.

"Graham Smith is a difficult one to cast. But, on reflection, I think Tobey Maguire would do a good job. He has the right mix of quirkiness and childlike vulnerability. And a young Jennifer Garner would have been perfect for Annalise. And maybe Christopher Lee as Adam Sylvestrus."

For the invention or scientific leap in understanding he would most like to see made in his lifetime: "A cheap, renewable, clean and plentiful energy source. Though, as someone who spent years commuting many hours a day, instantaneous matter transfer runs it a very close second."

And for his time-travel destination of choice: "Very difficult one. I love mysteries and would want to find out what really happened at so many points in history. Who was Jack the Ripper? Could a time traveller shout out "Duck, Harold!" during the Battle of Hastings and change history...?"

Dolley's experience in the computer game industry did influence his writing, but "not as much as it should have. With hindsight it should have shown me the importance of design and how the earlier you spot problems the easier it is to fix them. I used to have an organic approach to writing in that I'd plot the beginning and the end then let my characters work out the path in between. But characters have a worrying knack of getting sidetracked. And they talk too much.

"Now, I spend a lot more time outlining--mapping out the novel almost to scene level--and, for me, it works much better."

I asked Chris how living in the midst of an alien culture (France) influenced his writing. And I wondered how he got to a farm in France from Cornwall. "I went to a college on the Cornish border and--as you do when you're a student--organised a revolution on their behalf and freed them from British rule for a day. All part of Plymouth Charities week. Something that was picked up by the national press and made headline news in one of the Sunday papers.

"I've noticed that I tend to write about outsiders, people on the periphery of society. And my experiences in France rekindled my love of solving mysteries--although not in a way I would have chosen. Within a month of arriving in France, someone impersonated me, got hold of all our savings back in the UK, opened a bank account in Spain and tried to transfer all the money over. With the police forces of four countries arguing over whose jurisdiction the crime came under, I was forced to solve the case myself. Which I did, travelling back and forth across the Pyrenees, interviewing bank managers and barmen, and tracing faxes until I'd identified the thief and brought him to justice. A harrowing time for a while but very satisfying--I always knew I'd make a good detective!

"As for moving to France that was for financial and meteorological reasons. Where I live now is like a piece of rural England towed south into a warmer, sunnier climate. It's also a joy to garden in-- having a deep, sandy soil that can turn the humblest vegetable into a tasty giant."

For more information please go to: http://chris-dolley.chez-alicei.fr/

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