I first came across author James Christie after my mum heard his book, Dear Miss Landau, discussed on BBC Radio 4’s A Good Read programme [podcast here]. She recommended it to me, and I’m so glad she did. I loved it. The book follows James’s journey from Glasgow across America for a meeting with Juliet Landau, the actress who plays Drusilla in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s a remarkable journey, but all the more so as James suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. His adventure is an astonishing achievement for someone who needs the familiarity of routine and who struggles with social interchange. James’s descriptions of the difficulties he overcomes provide an inspiring insight into what it is like to live on the autism spectrum.
Please join me in welcoming James Christie…
Where do you live, James?
With my vampire flatmate, in my one-bedroom flat in Glasgow’s West End. Well, not exactly. Vampires do not exist but people with autism can think in pictures and when I began writing Drusilla’s Roses, the predecessor and adjunct to Dear Miss Landau (DML), I suddenly got this tremendously powerful emotional “connection” to the character of Drusilla. Drusilla is fictional, but she certainly came to life in my mind and as I am autistic, if I thought about her, I could see her…
Where is your favourite place in the world?
I’d been through California in 1989 as a young man. In 2009 I saw a picture of the California coast (specifically Point Lobos, the state reserve south of Carmel) and knew Thoreau’s feeling of quiet desperation, that I would not see such a place again. Nine months later, I got there. It was like (to paraphrase Stephen King’s words) a convict getting out of Shawshank:
“I hope to see my friend and shake her hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
Being a writer is a great job. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
You might expect me to say the time I spent cleaning toilets at the Welcome Break motorway services, but that was actually one of the more pleasant ones. People make a place and the people there were good.
I think the worst time I ever had in employment is a tie between my first job in the NHS (a ghetto of overgrown hooligans bawling about money while the radio blared and blaming everyone except themselves for their failures in life) and my brief, utterly miserable period as a trainee journalist with D. C. Thomson in Dundee. It was their first attempt at an “in-house” training course and all they very nearly succeeded in doing was putting me off writing for life…
What book do you wish you’d written?
I rediscovered John Steinbeck while writing Roses, and DML was conceived while walking round the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.
While I do not wish to copy any other writer per se, the chapter The Leader of the People in Steinbeck’s first novel, The Red Pony, is close to my heart and was both quoted and paraphrased in DML:
…Bit emotional now. Crossed an ocean and three thousand miles of land to reach her, to reach this place, and now I am come down to the sea and it is done.
That was part of an actual email written just after the meeting on Sunset Boulevard. I nearly broke down while writing it.
What’s your happiest memory?
Most are bittersweet, to be honest, and it would be tempting to fall into cliché and say something like “it was more about the journey than the destination”, but if you really know what it feels like to cross the world for a woman who meant absolutely everything to you, and then to meet her, well that’s about it.
If you could meet anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you say to them?
I think the only answer to that is still and only ever can be: Juliet Rose Landau. My dreams did come true, and that’s who they came true with. That’s it, and nothing can ever touch that. Nothing can even come close.
Slightly more prosaically, about the first thing I asked her was how her ankle was (she’d sprained it a while before) and a while later, a friend was asking me whether I’d be corresponding with any other Hollywood stars. My reply said it all: “I have my Hollywood star, and I want no other.”
What would your superpower be, if you could choose one?
Funnily enough, I already have one! A few weeks before I was due to take ship for America, I found out that most people with autism have something nicknamed the “Peter Pan” gene. We age slowly!
I crossed America with the strength of youth, twenty years after the bloom should well and truly have left the rose. I even looked much the same as I had before.
If you won twenty million in the lottery, what would you do with the money?
I would fix a few things for friends on the quiet and very probably reserve a lump sum for a film version of Dear Miss Landau. DML was originally conceived as a film and I strongly feel should become one. It’s a combination of “Rain Man meets Notting Hill via 84 Charing Cross Road”, an inspiring true story of an elegiac road trip and a culture clash (Glasgow/L.A.), a Hollywood connection and the fulfillment of a dream against all odds.
Any Hollywood producers listening?
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
You have to be clear about what you want to do, pursue it and work at it. You may not succeed. Life is cruel and unfair. But I can guarantee you will not succeed if you approach it with a “yeah, well, I’ll like see how it like goes…” attitude. One reason I got round the world the first time was because I never said to myself “I’ll do it one day”. I said “I’ll do it”. Big difference. If someone approached me today and said “I’d like to travel round the world one day”, I’d simply ask to see his or her ticket. No ticket? No excuse accepted.
Also: Never react too fast – this is my golden rule for dealing with difficult people. Carve it in stone!
Please tell us about your latest book, where we can find it, and where we can find your blog/website?
Rarely, perhaps, for today, I don’t have my own website but I am a blogger for the Huffington Post (UK), also have a blog on the local community site Glasgow West End: Pat’s guide to what’s best in the West, write a thread called Dear Miss Landau on the Buffy fan website SlayAlive and post regularly on the Fans of Juliet Landau group on Facebook.
Chaplin Books has a Facebook page, too, and I would be very grateful if some of your readers would click here to like it.
Thank you for interviewing me.
Thanks for coming, James, it’s been a real pleasure! And if anyone has any questions for James or any comments at all, please let me know – we’d love to hear from you!