When did you first come up with the idea for Missing Gretyl?
I was taking a stroll with my wife, Solana along the beach in Lytham St. Annes back in 2008 (not long before my first child, Ruben was born). We were told that walking ‘among other things’ might hasten his arrival!
Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
That’s a good question! Well, I was discussing an idea for a short five minute video with Solana. Here’s a quick synopsis:
An elderly gentleman wakes up in his bed and taking his wife’s photo, places it face down on the bedside table. He looks desperately sad, bereaved and at a loss with himself.
He walks into the lounge and it’s in a real mess. Cups, dirty dinner plates and clothing is scattered everywhere. The viewer is drawn into the inner world of someone who is ‘evidently’ suffering bereavement. Every action of the old man is studied in detail and even the most mundane of tasks has significance.
The punch line unfolds when the doorbell rings. He walks slowly to the door and looks through the latch. He then opens the door and his wife walks in. She hadn’t died, as the viewer was led to believe. She’d been visiting a friend for the weekend, and the elderly man had suffered a stroke just after she left – and couldn’t remember anything.
I wanted to build a story around a character that drew you into their ‘inner world’. Solana and I started to ask questions like, ‘What if the wife was really difficult?’ and then we looked at the idea of a battle of the sexes. It’s quite mad really how our thoughts can jump from one topic to another!
Is there anything of yourself or people that you know in Missing Gretyl?
Ha! Well, to be honest there’s plenty! Obviously, for legal reasons (defamation of character, libel etc) I can’t say who is who; though folk are often blind to their own personal traits so I think I may have gotten away with it! I’m quite sure that my mother-in-law will never guess, though a few of my old friends from my ‘naughtier’ days may identify with a character in the book called Sharkie; even if a few now look like Dave Soddall!
Having spent over 8 years working as a church minister until 2007, I have laughed, counseled, wept with and buried many folk. I love people. They at times, frustrate the living daylights out of me, but I still love them for all of their quirks and imperfections.
Studying people is fascinating. I remember sitting once in a shopping centre in Romford, Essex and peering over the top of a newspaper, just watching people. It lasted for over two hours!
How did you set about writing Missing Gretyl? Was it difficult?
I think the best way for me to explain how I approached writing Missing Gretyl is to take a quick trip back to 1998 when I had less than a month left to write a 15,000 word thesis that I hadn’t started.
Many of the students had been planning for weeks before I had even thought about it, so I devised a simple plan. I would spend a week or so gathering information, photocopy notes, borrow library books etc. Then I set myself a target of writing 1000 words per day (which equates to approximately, three and a half pages of A4).
Fortunately, the ‘1000 words a day’ target proved straightforward and manageable for me. This left me time in the evening to play football, watch movies and eat a few late night kebabs – much to the frustration of my wife, who was clearly working much harder on her thesis!
Once I had a blueprint for the outline of the story, I began writing Missing Gretyl and used the same principle from college, focusing on one chapter at a time and setting myself a target of 1500 words each day.
In the early development of the characters, I allowed the framework of the story to shape the actions of the characters. Once I had established the characters, their personalities and characteristics where beginning to shape the scenes.
What is your favorite part of the book?
Truthfully, I don’t have a favourite part. I enjoyed writing all the chapters and for a variety of different reasons. Some are more humorous than others. Others develop the story and pace. There are those that introduce you to the inner world of a certain character, while the direction of the other chapters may be more comical, even slapstick in their outcomes.
What was the hardest part of writing the book?
There were a variety of different challenges that I faced when writing Missing Gretyl. Firstly, there was the challenge of finding time to write. Sometimes I would sit at the keyboard and just draw a blank. That’s when I found it best to walk away, put the kettle on and come back to the laptop.
At different stages of writing (especially after my third rewrite of the book) I found myself rereading chapters thoroughly and noticed just how the timeline, story, chapters and all the facts were able to fit together.
When I was researching subject matter, each day was different. One day I spent considerable time talking to salons or beauticians about what actually happens when someone wants a wig restyled or coloured and what might happen in a waxing accident.
Another occasion, I found myself talking with a charismatic and friendly lawyer in Marbella about the factual aspects of the thousands of home owners (many ex-pats) who received notices from the government that their properties were about to be demolished due to the corrupt acts of employees of the Marbella Council (which was entirely disbanded in 2006!).
Thankfully, with the help of an editor and proof reader, along with my wife and other friends, their observations and suggestions have helped to make a far better book than I could have written on my own.
How personal is your writing?
This is a good question. I’d say, VERY. Though Missing Gretyl is a fictional novel, each character has been carefully thought through. For example, though there is plenty of banter and cheek in the novel, I wanted to tell a story that was well written and funny enough without the need to use repetitious expletives.
The actions of the characters have also been carefully thought through. How does Sharon deal with the tempting ‘eye candy’ before her, called Sharkie? Is Gretyl Trollop really a monstrous old bag, or have we judged the book by its cover, so to speak? What experiences can Albert pass down to the reader as he explores his wartime memories in Korea and how does he deal with several huge changes in his life?
There is no doubt that much of my pastoral experience and desire to bless people (whether with humour or provoking a response of heartfelt compassion) has influenced the novel.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to write a book?
The answer to this question could fill many books in itself. However, here are a few thoughts:
My editor said to me, ‘Get it written and then get it right.’ Don’t worry about constantly checking and rewriting your paragraph. This could sap the life out of you! Write the scene and go back and edit later.
Experiment with your writing. Maybe you could take a character that you have created, and as if looking through the lens of that person, tell the story from their perspective. How might they react in any given circumstance? What is their motivation? If you could have a conversation with one of your characters, what would you ask them and how might they reply?
Obviously I am referring to writing fiction and I think there are a number of things I’d like to draw out, like bullet points:
Explore the BIG questions of:
Why should someone read my story?
Who or what kind of audience is my novel aimed at?
Where can I learn more about the craft of writing? (Web articles, writing groups etc)
When can I find the time to write?
Where is the best place for me to sit down and start writing?
I think it’s important to enjoy the time you research for your story and have fun with your ideas.
Important: Don’t worry too much about spelling or grammar in the early phase of writing. You can tidy it up later. I’d especially recommend a proof reader or editor to help if you are able to fund that level of support for your book.
How do you react to a bad review?
Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of early reviews have been very positive. However, there have been a few who have said, ‘It’s not my kind of humour.’ That is perfectly fine and to be expected, as people’s taste in styles of writing and humour are very subjective and different. I am very thankful for that. The things we love all add to the rich palette of life
Andy Kind, an author and comedian (‘Stand Up and Deliver’ and ‘The Gig Delusion’, both excellent books) once told me:
‘We have no right to be liked. Just because we’ve invested so much in the writing doesn’t mean that other people have to … Like with any book, you have to be prepared that some people (maybe lots of people) will hate it. Not just feel ambivalent, but strongly dislike it. This is what you let yourself in for the moment you started writing!’
Good advice. Humility is required in both our successes and failures.
Are there any other books in the pipeline?
Yes. I am passionate about finishing a story called ‘Little Rev’ or ‘The Collar’ (I can’t quite decide on the title yet.)
Also, the feedback has been so overwhelmingly good so far for Missing Gretyl, that a sequel is in development now. I am delighted to be continuing on with the story – especially as the ending of Missing Gretyl provides so many new possibilities with the story!