Published on January 26th, 2012 in Features by Christopher Hamilton-Emery
#TenFactsAbout — Chris Emery
- Names. My middle names are James Frederick, after my paternal and maternal grandfathers — James died the year I was born, so I’ve never really known about my Irish ancestor, but have considered taking Irish nationality. My confirmation name was Michael, which I used happily when I was a Roman Catholic. More than enough names for any writer? No, I took my Scottish wife’s clan name of Hamilton in 1995 — but still write as plain old Chris Emery. To my mother, I’m always Christopher. I’m usually Christophered when I’m in trouble at home. I secretly prefer being called Christopher. In corporate life, I was C-H-E, which reminded me of CJ in The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, the Leonard Rossiter version, this contributed to my leaving corporate life forever in 2002.
- Height. I’m six feet two inches tall. There’s a whole foot in height difference between my wife and I. I can count the hairs on top of her head. She can count the hairs in my nostrils. Never mind hairy nostrils, I now have excellent hairy ears to match. Which I pluck. Vigorously. Ted Hughes had the best hairy ears I’ve ever seen; they were like grey hedgerows.
- Beginnings. I got hooked on writing in grammar school. My history teacher took a shine to my poetry. He was a wonderfully eccentric man with, allegedly, a shocking ginger toupée that gave rise to a nickname. I was writing a series of illustrated poems about, wait for it, wizards and dragons, and he saw something worth paying attention to and recommended the Victorians and lots of metre. Lots of Tennyson, in fact, which he perhaps hoped would stop me from being modern. My first school poem put on display was about an oubliette in Warwick Castle. David Morley, professor of writing at the University of Warwick, endorses my new book.
- Meat. I was a deeply committed vegetarian for over 25 years. In 2008, I visited America with my family and over two weeks fought through 18 inch veggie pizzas each night, bought from Walmart in Cape Coral and elsewhere, until my arteries were pure Monterey Jack and one night I couldn’t face another bowel-staunching mouthful. I ordered a vegetarian pasta dish from a local Italian restaurant on Sanibel Island and on returning to our rented apartment with the steaming food discovered it was, in fact, a chicken dish. To the astonishment of my family, I sighed and ate it. In three days I was eating steaks.
- Depression. I had it bad in my last year in Manchester and thought of ending it all (one poem in my new book deals with lots of imaginary endings). My job at The British Council had got the better of me. Medication and support from my wife got me through it. On referral, my consultant psychiatrist had a nice chat with me, she worked with dangerously violent psychotics in the prison system, we talked about her work in this area and the problems her patients had, their symptoms and behaviour. My symptoms suddenly paled by comparison. A week later, I was on the road to recovery, though it took a year of treatment to see me right.
- Handedness. Along with, roughly, 10% of the world, and Barack Obama and four recent US Presidents, I’m profoundly left handed. I like to think this makes me deeply unsuitable for all domestic duties in the known universe. I’m trying to persuade my wife that washing is (of course) right handed, and mowing and vacuuming and anything to do with appliances, construction, fixing and mending, and kettles. And organising the sock drawer. This ploy has only partly been successful. Goethe was left-handed — this is reason enough for me to be left to my own devices.
- Georg Baselitz is responsible for my life in poetry. I went to art school in Manchester and Leeds and studied Graphics, but specialised in printmaking, which allowed me to move surreptitiously into Fine Art. In my final year, my friend (the painter Dean Bailey) and I wrote to a certain Herr Gretenkort about the possibility of becoming studio assistants to Georg Baselitz at his home in Schloss Derneberg near Hildesheim. Things looked very promising indeed, we spent a term learning German, then it all fell through and my life in the fine arts ended before it truly started. I returned to writing poetry.
- Collections. My first collection of (monumentally crap) poetry had an appalling title, something like, My Eternal Mind of Dust, it was very kindly rejected by Christopher Reid, who did remark that he enjoyed the fact I’d already typeset my submission as a Faber title, circa 1989, and sent him the press proofs. Actually, one drunken afternoon in the Conti Club in Manchester, while the above collection was sitting in Faber’s offices (probably being laughed at, as it ought to have been) I realised that one poem was missing a last line in the rhyme scheme I’d adopted. Mortified, I wrote a final line and posted it off to Christopher with a note on where to insert it. The innocence. My second collection was called Scally, that was very kindly rejected from Arc Publications by David Morley who, twenty years later, rather likes my new book The Departure, see note 3 above.
- Fat. I was chronically obese for a decade, living in Cambridge, where I very nearly went bankrupt twice during the first 21st century British recession and almost lost my home. Eventually, I did have to sell my home in 2011 to save my publishing company and start a new life in Norfolk. However, since leaving Cambridge, I have managed to lose over fifty pounds in weight over twenty-nine weeks with the help of a splendid class of women and one man at WeightWatchers in Cromer. My certificate of achievement for this latest milestone is made out to ‘Christopher’, which I like. My class leader is the utterly marvellous Lisa Fitch, whose name is an anagram of Fiscal Hit. I am not yet slim but I shall never again be obese.
- Pure magic. As an adolescent, I once owned a full set of The Equinox, edited and largely written by Aleister Crowley. I also owned a ceremonial black robe, too, and performed evocations of Choronzon and Asmodeus in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. In 1984, my continuing fascination took me to Crowley’s former home of Boleskine House, Loch Ness, then home of rock superstar Jimmy Page. As I peered through the windows of the house, it was still packed with Crowley memorabilia — I was promptly thrown out of the grounds. I also tried joining the Ordo Templi Orientis in the early 80s, at the time some alleged it was owned by a Brazilian drugs cartel. I received a lengthy questionnaire from Brazil, which asked me if I owned any “yatches” and, if so, “how many yatches” did I own? The “yatch” incident brought me to my senses that there was less to the eye about all things occult and, perhaps, to most beliefs in deities and demons. I sold all my paraphernalia off and concentrated on becoming a serious artist. I also discovered that there’s no end to disbelief, except poetry.