The View From Here Interview: Part 2 of 2 Patrick Gale
Part one of this interview can be found here.
Which of your own books or characters are your favourites and why? And your favourites written by someone else or that you wish you had written?
I love the books I wrote when I was intensely happy – Rough Music, Little Bits of Baby, Notes from an Exhibition. My favourite characters are my brave, badly behaved ones. I sort of live through them. (See early comment about dogs…). I wish I’d written Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea and The Black Knight.
Tell us about appearing on Richard and Judy with “Notes from an Exhibition’. You described it (in Falmouth) as ‘an awful beauty parade.’ What changed for you as a result of making the R&J list?
The first I knew was a phone call from my publisher, very excited, saying it had made it through to the longlist of 20 titles. At this point I had to jump through hoops (as did my publisher) writing a letter to Richard and Judy saying how much getting onto their short list would mean, not just to me but to Penzance etc. I also had to write a chapter by chapter synopsis. There was then a mercifully short judging period – about a month – before another, this time slightly hysterical phone call to say the book had made it through. Just what this meant took most of Christmas, and a lot of phone calls and e mails from other novelists, including my old friend from college, Kate Mosse, for me to realize my life was about to be changed. A film crew came down to interview me a few weeks later. They filmed me in our kitchen, out on the cliffs and around Penzance. Also, bizarrely, they hired a local woman artist – nothing like my character – to represent my character. On the evening the show was broadcast featuring Notes I had to answer questions online for about an hour. Then I just sat back and watched the book’s sales go through the roof. Completely weird and amazing and I now remind myself at least once a week that something like this will never happen to me again. The book ended up being 22nd on the overall bestseller list for the year and the top title on that list from HarperCollins. Thanks to that, Sainsburys picked whatever I wrote next, as a title for promotion in their new book club venture, so the R&J benefits may be continuing for a little while yet.
Some of your (book) jackets were rebranded recently. Do you like the new look and did you get involved in the design process?
I haven’t seen the new look yet but I can understand the sense behind it. Notes sold well so they’re using the Notes jacket as a template for the new ones. I’m very nervous about my new novel’s jacket. All I know so far is that it’s shot in a bathroom…
Can we assume your next book also has a challenging mother? I believe she is something of a naturist, if I recall correctly?
The Whole Day Through has a very challenging mother but rather a wonderful one too. She’s extremely clever, which was a tough one to pull off as I’m not. She’s a type I have a weakness for – brutally honest but basically decent. Very self-sufficient so she detests getting old and having to depend on others.
Do you often hear feedback from your readers? What do they say?
I get about two e mails a day through my website and about two letters a week, which I love as it completes the reading/writing circle. Some of the messages are rude but a lot are very simple and just say thank you, it touched me, more please. A great boon, I can tell you, when you’re having a bad writing week!
You said that you are ‘an obsessive gardener.’ What do you grow? Are you obsessive about anything else?
I grow flowers and vegetables. I love germinating seeds and smuggle a lot back in my socks when I travel abroad. In the recent frosts I’ve just lost a magnificent Moreton Bay Fig I’d grown from seed brought back from Australia and am heartbroken. And yes. I’m obsessive about all too many things. Loading the dishwasher. Loading the washing machine. Alphabetising my spices. What can I say? I work from home…
A Sweet Obscurity has a musical theme. Do you listen to music when you write? What do you enjoy listening to, or playing?
Always. It has to be music with no words, though. I find it a really useful device if I listen to the same cluster of pieces while working on a given story as it provides an unconscious shorthand that lets me return to the same emotional space if the work has to be interrupted for any length of time. I find I only have to read my novels again to remember the pieces I wrote them to, pieces which often have nothing to do with any music described in the text.
You live in Cornwall and have said that you ‘feel claimed by it'. How does your environment affect your writing or settings of your stories?
Yes, I’m heavily influenced by environment but I’m not precious about it. Cornwall is wonderful, especially so at the empty times of year, but I know I’d find the same about Norfolk or Pembrokeshire. I do need the country, though. I’d become a very different sort of writer if I had to live in a city all the time. Going for walks is such a part of my writing routine, as is not talking to anybody for hours on end, which is very hard to do in town.
If you were to share the cooking of a celebrity summer barbecue who would it be with: Nigella, Jamie or Delia - and which guests would you invite?
None of the above. I’d want Simon Hopkinson or the late Jane Grigson. Both cooks who can/could really write. Simon’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories is a classic of the genre and he’s also lovely company. As for fantasy guests ; Stephen Fry, Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep, Ian McKellen, The Endellion String Quartet and then, oh, a novelist or two…
Is there a question you would you like to be asked at interview, but never are?
Those jeans look fantastic on you. Where did you buy them?
I must extend a very warm thank you to Patrick Gale to whom I spoke after an event during Cornwall County Council's Wonderful Words Festival 2008. He was highly informative, humorous and above all, very charming and generous to his audience.
1985 The Aerodynamics of Pork
1987 Kansas in August
1988 Facing the Tank
1989 Little Bits of Baby
1990 The Cat Sanctuary
1996 The Facts of Life
1996 Dangerous Pleasures
1999 Tree Surgery for Beginners
2000 Rough Music
2003 A Sweet Obscurity
2005 Friendly Fire
2007 Notes from an Exhibition
The Whole Day Through - due out 28th May 2009
Gentlemen’s Relish, a second collection of short stories due out at Christmas.
Author photograph credit Mark Pringle