I don’t know what other writers feel when they are asked this perfectly fair and reasonable question. I tend to have a version of the blurb available in my mind when I try to reply, a bit about how the book came about, and whether its genre is ‘tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, historical-pastoral, etc, etc.’, to abbreviate Polonius. I’m happy to talk to you about what happens in my books. But if you want to know what one of my books means, you’ve got me there.
I don’t set out with a theory or a message or an attempt to convert anybody or anything. In fact, I have a strong dislike for fiction that preaches. My impatience with Lawrence and Hardy is a case in point. My litmus test here is whether there is a discernible sense of humour involved. So if you’ve guessed that Bunyan makes me yawn and Swift makes me giggle, you’re on the money.
That’s not to say that my writing is meaningless, or I hope not. I want the meaning to be up to the reader. My own thoughts and feelings (and prejudices) are in there, obviously, but they are not consciously implanted in characters who represent my worldview. I have been reading Kingsley Amis’s letters and was impressed by his advice to an aspiring novelist: ‘I shouldn’t worry about central ideas and such; if it works properly a central idea will emerge even though you may not be conscious of having put it there.’ Exactly. Tell the story. You may not have control over anything else.
It’s over a year since Martin was published and some time since I last blogged, but I have not been idle. Over the last few days, I have been working on a major edit of my second novel, Humphrey & Jack. It’s about Youth and Age and a friendship which leaps the divide – and it’s a comedy. I’ll say no more for the moment, except that I have been blessed by priceless editorial advice from both sides of the Atlantic. It will appear early in 2019.
Cherries, a collection of five short stories, has been receiving a final polish. It will be available for eReaders on October 31st, and as a paperback on November 5th. I really enjoyed writing these tales. There are lots of details about them in the ‘Books’ section of my website.
I was going to rest after these labours but somehow I’m already six chapters into a third novel called The Northern Elements. Earth, Air, Fire and Water are represented by an exhumation, the view from the top of a factory chimney, arson and a drowning. It is set in my native Blackburn in 1890 and 1960. In each of the time periods, five boys are ‘larking’ about. Their adventures are connected by the elements.
The five boys in the Fry’s chocolate bar at the top of this post have nothing whatsoever to do with the story at all. It’s just that I could really eat one now with this glass of Rioja.