I try to write novels that are entertaining and yet serious at the same time.
I’ve always been interested in how the comic and the profound can combine, often in a single moment : at a funeral, for example, when people make jokes or say embarrassing things.
I was brought up in the village of Cuddesdon in the Oxfordshire countryside, the son of a vicar who was always dealing with rites of passage; birth, marriage and death.
My early reading was listening to parables: the Prodigal Son, the man who built his house on sand instead of rock, the mustard seed. This was combined with the simplicity found in children’s stories with their directness and economy: the art of saying less so the reader imagines more.
My childhood was also a world where tragedy came to the house. I remember being six years old and answering the door when my father was out. I had to remember a message. ‘Kevin Dymock has been knocked off his motorbike. He has internal bleeding. He may not last the night.’
And yet it was also comic. My father’s secretary, Mrs Maguire, said that when her husband left him she swore at him, and shouted out the rudest thing she could think of:
“Harpic,” she said.
This is the strange world I wanted to write about: this combination of the terrible, the comic and the true.
It is at the heart of Chekhov, who even has the nerve to call one of his tales ‘A Dreary Story’ (because he knows it is not- it just seems that way). It’s about an insomniac old man will knows he will never see his daughter again. As he watches her recede into the distance he knows that she will not turn back to wave.
I’m amazed by who we are, how lives unravel and the time in which we live.
‘This is my husband. This is my wife. That is my child.’
It is as if sometimes we are watching our own lives unfold, spectators in our own lives, as in the Talking Heads song ‘Once in a Lifetime’:
‘You may ask yourself well, how did I get here?’
I think I’m writing about the way in which we try to find our place in the world- what, if anything it means and the search for vision, meaning, and understanding.
I’ve wanted to combine this kind of approach with history, religion and love to tell stories that are parables and to think more about what life means- both in its every day detail and when we step back and try to make sense of our lives.
We live, we read, and we write, with both hope and despair.
Life is both mad and true at the same time foolish and absurd, transient and yet pregnant with meaning
By seeking out the heavenly, the true and the profound on this earth and knowing that at the same time it cannot last is, I believe, part of the task of being human. it lets us look both life and death firmly in the face - and decide that it is perfectly acceptable, indeed advisable, to laugh and cry at the same time.