What’s behind your current book?
Live Long & Prospero takes a look at a little-known all-male environment (that of a lighthouse) and turns it upside-down when an outsider comes in with a fresh perspective. In the early 80s in Britain, the political agenda of Margaret Thatcher was beginning to take hold and what became Thatcherism was spreading to all aspects of society- measuring the financial rather than the social value of an activity. Lighthouses were faced with the threat of automation and in my story a group of characters who cannot easily cope with normal life on the mainland have created a bizarre lifestyle, which is now threatened by technological and political change. I was also interested in what happens when someone is allowed to indulge his obsession to an extreme (here the Captain’s immersion in Star Trek). Oh, and it’s full of great jokes.
How do you manage different writing projects?
‘Manage’ makes it sound a bit grand. My brain works (when it works at all) a bit like those plate-spinning acts in circuses. I have at least 10 different stories at different stages of gestation ‘on the go’ all the time. It’s not a sign of genius unfortunately. I just get bored very easily- not a particularly admirable characteristic. I used to find it really hard to make myself concentrate on one project at a time but I’ve solved that particular problem by not doing it. I’m like a little child who is instantly distracted by the newest, brightest, noisiest object that comes into my vision. Right at this very moment, things that are interesting me include: art theft, stand-up comedy, Shakespearean child actors, immortality, allotments, talking to cats, obesity, the Roman occupation of Britain, Leni Riefenstahl and time travel. See what I mean? It’s unlikely all these topics will make it into one single book but these and others will appear in stories over the next few years. This is reading like a justification of why I should be institutionalized.
Do you listen to music when you write?
I have music on constantly, when I’m writing or thinking. Or breathing, basically. There are a whole group of artists/bands that I grew up with in the late 70s/early 80s, who all had some success but then either fell out of fashion or took a musical direction that didn’t work for them commercially or personally. This isn’t so unusual perhaps but what makes this group different is that in the last 10 years or so, they’ve come back. John Foxx, who had stepped back from making music to lecture and produce great cover artwork for the likes of Salman Rushdie and Jeanette Winterson, has released three jaw-droppingly-good albums in as many years and he’s in his mid-60s now. Ditto for Gary Numan (not exactly in terms of age) but apparently consigned to the dustbin of history, he’s reinventing himself again alongside Nine Inch Nails; Pete Murphy (formerly of Bauhaus)- check out his live version of ‘Reptile’; and Thomas Dolby who produced a sublime track called ‘Oceanea’ which I had playing constantly while writing Live Long & Prospero. All these figures are like Kevin Spacey’s character Lester Burnham in American Beauty. When he goes jogging for the first time in ages, he realizes, “It’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself” and that however lost you may feel, “it’s never too late to get it back.” This capacity for imaginative renewal by a whole group of musicians (Morrissey, David Sylvian, The Cure) at any age is a great source of inspiration for me.
Are all your central characters dysfunctional?
Pretty much. Daniel, the 16-year-old protagonist in Luke, I Am Your Father has to face up to being a father, potentially of a disabled child at the same time as wanting to hang out with his mates and talk about Batman. Memoir of a Gothic Girl (fear not, it’s not a real ‘memoir’) by contrast has a female main character, Celine, a sassy teen who decides to ‘go Goth,’ renaming herself Severina as a way to escape trouble at home and school. She starts a diary (like lots of us do) but continues it for a year (like lots of us don’t) and fills it with all kinds of random (and hopefully funny) thoughts about life, all things Goth and the pursuit of a Robert Pattinson lookalike.
I seem to be interested in adults behaving childishly and adolescents trying to work out what maturity is. Probably, if I’m being honest, I think most men are just big kids, especially when they’re in predominantly-male surroundings.
Why do all your books feature a character who hates Chris de Burgh?
Ah, well. It’s not so much that they can’t stand his reedy, monotonous voice or are repulsed by his caterpillar-style monobrow or are alienated by his overbearing arrogance or annoyed by his continual existence as- sorry, what was the question again?
Beatles or Monkees?
Actually not wild about either. Just because you’re the first to do something, it doesn’t necessarily make you the best at it.
And what are you working on now?
Live Long & Prospero also features an extract from Rainbow, my first Middle Grade book, about a psychic cow that can predict soccer scores. I am interested in the whole notion of animals as celebrities (remember Knut the cute polar bear cub in Berlin), as well as the way in which it seems a whole nation gets behind sporting teams sometimes. I’ve been living in Germany for several years now and the 2006 World Cup really showed an entire culture profoundly changing how it thinks about itself (flags being flown for the first time in years). I was also interested in a strong father-daughter relationship and the idea of farming as a collision between business and heritage. Add an animal that is born in a way that is defined as ‘abnormal’ and you have an interesting mix, I think. I’m trying to write books that couldn’t be written by anyone else. And maybe they shouldn’t be.
Any future plans?
Oh definitely. I’d like a future. Preferably one in which I’m writing full-time. I think my current employer would like it too. Definitely a win-win situation all round.
Any last words for your readers?
Sounds a bit final- I’m not on my deathbed yet. Remember Pixellites, as that great philosopher, Mr Bon Jovi once noted, “Keep the faith.”
This darkly comic YA novel, set on a lighthouse in 1983, introduces us to the deeply dysfunctional Captain Church and his crew of social misfits, whose well-ordered universe is turned upside down by the arrival of a marine biologist, who has come to study the local puffin colony. This in turn leads to an encounter with a nasty gang of drug dealers, a surprising undersea discovery and a hamster called Steve.
Available now on Kindle, Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko &Adobe Digital Editions
The following extract is from the first meeting between Principal Lighthousekeeper Church and Chris Newman, who has come to study the puffin colony on the island.