Christopher Woodall

Novelist, Short-story writer
Magdalene College, University of Cambridge

Christopher Woodall’s writing springs largely from an initially inconsequential year-long encounter with a group of nightshift workers in south-east France in 1976–7. Until then, he possessed a desire to write and some proven talent but no clear subject: the time-honoured topics for fledgling writers of fiction (family, childhood, schooling, first love, etc) appeared not only devoid of interest but imaginatively off-limits. The industrial night shift, on the other hand, with its disparate band of mostly migrant workers, provided a basis for an ambitious quartet of novels, the first of which, November, was published in 2016 by Dalkey Archive Press.

Over three decades, while working at various more-or-less-precarious occupations, Christopher devoted a day each week, a week each month and/or a month each year to writing. He came to understand that his chosen subject could be done justice only by dispensing with end-driven plot, traditional characterisation and other features of the conventional novel.

The gestation of November and its sequels was advanced by two breakthroughs: first, in the 1990s a way was found to transform the morass of constantly accreting notes and scenes into a structured group narrative endowed with its own forward momentum, deferring if not quite solving the plot problem; second, in the 2000s an approach to character emerged that promised something close to inexhaustibility.

Christopher has also written short stories, twelve of which were published in 2019 as Sweets and Toxins. An early novella, illustrated by Paul Ebdon, can be explored on Christopher’s website.

Christopher Woodall

Fellowships

Magdalene College, University of Cambridge 2020/21