2014 Reading Passport Featured Writer Patrick Gale was born on the Isle of Wight in 1962, raised in Winchester, where he studied at the Pilgrims choir school and Winchester College, and went to read English at New College Oxford. He lives on his husband’s farm near Land’s End and is a keen gardener and cellist. He is a director of the Charles Causley Trust and the Cornish arts and spirituality charity, Endelienta. He chairs the North Cornwall Book Festival which takes place at Daymer Bay each October half-term and is secretary of the Penzance Orchestral Society.
He has written fourteen novels, including the bestselling Rough Music and Notes from an Exhibition. His fourteenth novel, A Perfectly Good Man, won a Green Carnation award and was a favourite recommendation among Guardian readers in the paper’s end of year round-up. His two collections of short stories are Dangerous Pleasures and Gentleman’s Relish. His next novel, A Place Called Winter is published by Tinder Press in March 2015 and he is currently writing a three part original, gay-themed drama called Man in an Orange Shirt for BBC2.
The Reading Passport web team caught up with Patrick for a short interview:
If you could recommend just one book from your world, which would it be and why?
Of mine, I’d recommend Rough Music. Fifteen years on, I’m still quietly proud of its structure and it offers multiple ways in or different readers – male, female, gay or straight, young or old – before shaking them up nicely. Of someone else’s, I’d recommend Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, which remains one of the best accounts I’ve ever read of a one parent family malfunctioning. Rather than offer a straightforward abuser/victim scenario, she uses the novel’s structure to show how these stories are fractured multiples with neither easy solutions nor simple truths. It’s also scorchingly funny…
Do you have a particular reader in mind when you write?
Never. But I hope, who ever they are, that they’ll pay attention. It’s very depressing to hear people say that they read to relax and to fall asleep; what writers want to hear is that reading makes readers so keyed up that they can’t possibly sleep until they’ve read another chapter!
Can you discuss three books of any genre which have inspired you in your own writing?
Barbara Gowdy – a wonderful Canadian novelist, published an incredible collection of short stories called We So Seldom Look on Love which was a big influence on me. It’s packed with wisdom and humour but also shot through with moments of comfortless darkness. Sometimes we need to look in the fiction mirror and see only blackness reflecting back at us; sometimes that blackness is a great comfort. Read Gowdy now if you haven’t already discovered her work.
Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the Cities series is now a cosily established modern classic but when it first came into my orbit, when I was just starting out as a novelist, it was still hugely subversive. It showed me that, if you want your fiction to change the way people think, you need to give space for views and beliefs other than your own. It also showed me the importance of tone. Armistead’s narrative voice is that of a well brought up southerner – courteous and thoughtful – which is how he can lure even nervous readers into finding themselves calmly getting acquainted with concepts like transsexuality and sex toys.
Colm Toibin, like Damon Galgut, is one of those novelists who seem to gain much of their effect through the words they cut out, so has always served as a corrective inspiration to me – seeing that I’m chatterbox and an overwriter by inclination. I hesitate to read either writer for fear of being utterly demoralised but I found Brooklyn as near to perfection as anything I’ve read. Its tone is as tightly controlled as its poor heroine’s emotions and – as in Mansfield Park – the feelings he depicts seem all the more volcanic for being conveyed in such quiet language.
What book are you reading now?
I am currently devouring Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. It’s an enormous novel and I’m not quite sure where it’s going but the ride, which has so far taken in a terrorist bombing of a museum, a well-heeled Manhattan apartment, and a downmarket, threatening Las Vegas suburb, is hugely enjoyable. It’s all told from the viewpoint of an emotionally bruised teenage boy and she catches very precisely that teenage male register of regretful fatalism and hormonal weariness. Brilliant stuff.
What advice would you give to readers who might want to try something new?
Try stepping right outside your comfort zone just for once, maybe reading a detective or a science fiction book if that’s something you normally avoid or a novel which seems to be aimed at the opposite sex. Reading is like any exercise in that its muscles get flabby unless they’re challenged occasionally. If that’s too much of a shake-up for you, dare to read something old. Old books – and I mean books over 75 – which are still in print, must have something good about them. They tend to be cheap and they give you the added satisfaction of letting you sidestep the forces of fashion and marketing! On Kindle, they’re frequently free.
What projects are you working on just now?
I’m just wrapping up my latest novel, a fairly epic historical novel about a married man who discovers he’s gay and is forced to start a new life in the Canadian prairies. Meanwhile I’m working on several ideas for television – a gay drama series for BBC2, an original drama series about the emotional baggage of 40 somethings and, just possibly, an adaptation of either Wilkie Collins or Mary Stewart.
Read more about Patrick at www.readingpassport.org
Pics by Dan Hall and Adrian Lourie