By Alix Norman
You can’t see it in his gestures or tone of voice because he’s not the most animated person I’ve ever met, but the excitement of heading off to university is there in Christos’ words.He talks about the other students he will meet, the set books he will read, the courses he will study. Of course, the opportunities of higher education at Glasgow University should hold no fears for a boy who has already published a poetry anthology, and one wonders if this achievement will set him apart from the crowd…
Self-published under the auspices of Austin Macauley, A Knock On A Door is a slim volume containing 12 of Christos’ deepest musings, ranging from the one-liner (‘His Wolf Whistle’: “It is better to die by a Demon’s touch than to survive an Angel’s backstab”) to the more extensive ‘I Fell in Love on a Tuesday’s Twilight’. Dedicated to ‘All the Hopeless Romantics’, it’s “a collection of poems not written for a particular group of people. It is for those who in this unromantic world of insufficient feeling have the eyes of a Romantic person,” says Christos in the author’s foreword.
Perhaps, I think, this bent for romanticism is a direct reaction to the prosaic surroundings in which most of his work was penned. For A Knock On A Door was written almost entirely during Christos’ National Service, while his fellow soldiers were “asleep, mostly”…
“You expect people in the army to be asleep; it’s more common than reading Paradise Lost,” he adds, citing his two main influences as Milton and TS Eliot. “I’m very attached to both of them,” he says, before mentioning that he has no other major inspirations for his work. “I happened to get my hands on Milton’s Paradise Lost,” he says, “and though it wasn’t personal, I was in awe of what I was reading. And the first time I read ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, it was like a religious experience, like Eliot was talking to me really profoundly.”
I’m disappointed to find that Christos hasn’t ever heard of Eliot’s arguably most famous work: Old Possum’s Book of Cats (“it’s a play isn’t it?”) but we move swiftly on, to discuss the joy of reading. “I was a reader, not a writer as a child,” he muses. “I’ve always heard that you have to read 10 times as much as you write, and you have to be able to read the text first to be able to master the writing, so I never wrote as a child.” Not even stories, I ask, in bewilderment. “No,” he says. “It was all about reading.”
It transpires that Christos reads within his genre, taking his inspiration from the set books he studied for A-Level literature. “I always read the school syllabus,” he responds, “not other books. For example, if I had to read King Lear or Macbeth then I would, and I’d also read the critical essays that had been written about them. It would be nice to say that I’d read other stuff” – he shakes his head firmly when I ask about Chaucer– “but I prefer to stick to my genre. I have read Auden, and Dickinson, though I can’t say her poetry was relatable to me,” he adds.
Slightly bemused by this analytic approach to such a colourful, mind-expanding subject as reading, I ask about the writing. He has, after all, written a book… how did that come about? “The first thing I ever wrote for myself was a line of poetry,” he responds, clarifying that this was during his first three months of National Service. “Eventually,” he adds, “it developed into a two-page poem, but it took a lot of time. If it’s not right, I won’t do it. I like people to do one thing and do it correctly. And that’s what I want to do, to do one thing and do it better than anyone else and do it perfectly.”
Which leads us neatly into his future plans. Where does this young, already-published author see his life going? Is this book the be-all and end-all, or does he see a career in writing (or editing) in his path? “I’ve got two versions,” he replies. “I’ll either go back and teach in the American Academy” – his alma mater – “or I’ll be an unemployed writer.” I’m surprised by this admission, since utter confidence has so far been the order of the day, but Christos is quick to explain his thought process.
“I’m extremely old-fashioned,” he says. “It’s more important to write something good than something that’s popular, that will sell; I’m not going to write ‘under the moonlight with a glass of wine’, the banal things. Then the poem ends up writing you: I’m really into processing data and not deluding myself. And, also, I won’t sell out to social media” – Christos refuses to have a Facebook account, and will only occasionally send emails – “like so many other authors. I prefer to write something real, not so that my books would be a movie or something.”
Perhaps, for Christos, the process is reversed, I suggest – from movie to book rather than the other way round. After all, the poem which takes pride of place in his anthology was inspired by the film of The Cloud Atlas. “I saw the movie and it really inspired me: it was very poetic and metaphorical throughout. But to be honest,” he concludes, “I found the book itself [on which the film is based] really complex, so
I’ve left it unread for now…”
Perhaps University will bring the skills necessary to tackle the text, I suggest, as we end our interview. And again, there’s almost a smile from this serious young man: “I hope so,” he nods, as we say our goodbyes and I wish him well. “I hope so”…
A Knock On A Door
By Christos Kallis is available from Austin Macauley publishers (www.austinmacauley.com) and on Amazon UK (www.amazon.co.uk) in both digital and print format, at a price of £4.99