Your latest novel 'The Second Life of Sally Mottram' takes place in the Pennine town of Potherthwaite. Did you have an actual location in mind or is the town an amalgam of various towns you know?
Potherthwaite is not based on anywhere specific, and in the main is based on my vague knowledge of towns in the Pennines. The one specific reference that I can trace to an actual town is the reference – I think it’s in the very first chapter – is to the stone houses climbing the hills as if trying to escape from a flood This image came to me from houses I saw in Hebden Bridge, but I have taken great care to ensure that the lay-out of the town doesn’t resemble Hebden Bridge or anywhere that I know. I love making up towns – Thurmarsh (Henry Pratt), Throdnall (Sex and Other Changes).
Sally's motivation in the novel stems from her chance reading of a couple of books detailing the 'Transistion Movement'. Was this an epiphany for you too in the sense it gave shape to a novel which was already in your head? Or did the delving into the 'Transition Movement' give you the idea for the novel?
There’s no clear cut answer to this one. I did know of the Transition movement. I was very interested in it because I care very much about what is happening to our towns, and I was also influenced by a cluster of tweets revo0lving round the actor Neil Stuke, who played C.J. in the Martin Clunes version of Perrin. He was involved in a strong anti-Tesco campaign, and a Save Our High Street initiative. Then, when I went to visit my stepdaughter Kim in the Lotoise area of France, near Cahors, I discovered that she was involved in making a film about local Transition projects, and she had the books, which I dipped into and decided to buy. In fact I didn’t use the books very much, I wanted this to be Sally’s story and Potherthwaite’s story, and didn’t want to tie it in too closely with facts from elsewhere.
Did you or do you find writing from the viewpoint of a woman more challenging than say, writing the characters of Reggie Perrin or Henry Pratt?
I seem to take to it very naturally, and with about two exceptions women seem to be convinced by my women. This is only my second book with a female protagonist. The first was Going Gently. I think this is my best book since Going Gently,so maybe I should try it more often. Incidentally, Sally (and Kate in Going Gently) is not based on a specific person any more than Potherthwaite is.
No arguments here, I believe too that it's your best book since Going Gently. How do you structure your writing day? Do you treat it as a 9-5 job or only write when the muse pays a visit?
9 to 5 is a bit long for me at my age. In fact it always was. Quality is the aim, not quantity. Four hours of truly inventive work is usually about the maximum. I very rarely set the alarm in order to start work at a particular time. Good sleep is never a waste of time and should be interrupted as little as possible. Sometimes I bang some clothes on, sometimes I have breakfast first. I almost always start work before breakfast over a cup of tea, and then carry on, usually for the rest of the morning. None of it, though, is set in stone. A couple of weeks ago I worked all evening almost till midnight – the first time I had worked in the evening for several years. It just came to me that I wanted to, but it didn’t set a pattern. I always say to young writers, if a day isn’t working, give up, do something else. But never do this two days running. It’s no use waiting too long for the muse. Evasive blighters, muses, as Jimmy would say.
Lots of things could have been done differently and better, but I don’t regret anything because I’m happy where I am now, and I might not be here if things had gone differently.
Once the characters are in your head, fully-formed as it were, do you then have trouble jettisoning them when the novel is complete?
At last a really simple answer. No. Sometimes, though, they come back to call on me, and then I’m into a sequel.
And what next? 80 next year (it's okay folks, it's not a secret), do you intend to slow down? Can you slow down? Have you slowed down?! Are there ideas in your head continuously just waiting to be turned into a novel? If so, will there be another?
I will be seeing my publishers next month, and I will be hoping to secure a two book deal. We usually work in terms of two book deals. I have five ideas for novels, and we will talk them through and, I hope, arrive at a decision. I am also presenting one or two TV ideas to various companies. Who knows what will come of them, but I feel more inventive than I have for many years.
And thank you, David for your time and customary good humour. Visit David's website: www.davidnobbs.com