It’s not often that any of us get the chance to interview someone whose work we really admire but when Patrick shared an Instagram image snapped by this BookEater at the Penzance Literary Festival I saw the chance for a spot of bargaining and grabbed it with both hands. What was only meant to be a couple questions grew into a dozen…and then just one more.
You mentioned previously that you always write longhand in brown ink, Montblanc Toffee Brown ink to be precise, so do you use a particular paper?
Any A4 hardback notebook. Provided it’s lined and the feint isn’t too narrow.
How do you organise your writing day?
I wish! I just try to start soonest to nine as possible and to keep going until the dogs demand their second walk at teatime. I try to avoid the internet’s distractions, including email, and often resort to a nifty free app called Freedom.
Where and how do you find inspirations for the themes e.g. do you have a vague idea before you start, do you plan it out meticulously before you start, do you sit down and let the muse take over?
I’ve no idea. Ideas seem to bubble up. The one consistent thing is that the story I tell has usually been obsessing me for a while and I take about a year of thinking and note taking before I begin writing the novel proper.
What is the single most difficult chapter / incident you have written and why?
Hard to say. Deaths of beloved characters are always hard. I hated killing Petra in A Place Called Winter. In the end she died twice because I found it easier to narrate her death at the end rather than on the night it happened.
How many drafts do you usually do before you feel a book is finished?
Three but there’s usually a fourth that is just little tweaks and corrections.
Are there differences in the way you approaches screen writing and novel writing?
Many. The big difference is that I type my scripts because they have to be so tightly timed. 58 pages in narrow margins is about an hour’s screen time and is painfully few words. But I relish the challenge. It’s still storytelling. The myth is that it’s all about dialogue; actually it’s largely about structure and point of view.
When did you reach the tipping point between feeling an urge to write for pleasure and reaching the conclusion that you could / had to do it professionally?
Very young. I was 21 when I acquired my amazing agent and he took a year to find me a publisher, during which time I wrote Ease. But those early books were very lightweight and underwritten and I was paid about 2500 for each, which wasn’t enough to live off. What it did was convince me to try living by my pen and I was lucky enough to have contacts who found me scraps of reviewing and journalism to pay the bills.
How long does your research normally take?
About a year.
Do you focus on one project at a time, or do you have multiple books on the go?
I could only ever write one book at a time but I seem to have three or four scripts on the go at the moment and I’ve already an idea for the novel after this!
(Ooohhhh now that sounds tempting but we’ll just have to wait and see)
Do you play musical instruments other than the cello?
I used to play the piano quite well and to sing but I gave both up to focus on the cello.
You have a lot of involvement with the literary scene; will you be bringing back the children’s element to PZ litfest?
I’m only the PZ Litfest patron so have no input other than helping nab authors! I’m artistic director of the North Cornwall Book Festival each October and that now has two whole days devoted to young readers. It’s crucial to have a children’s element but it’s very time consuming for a volunteer to organise. I hope this year PZ will have at least a day of children’s events to link in with an orchestrally accompanied screening of the Battle of the Somme in the evening.
What authors do you read for pleasure?
So many! Always grab new ones by Sarah Waters, Colm Toibin, Barbara Gowdy, Anne Patchett, Sarah Winman and Stella Duffy, who I’m thrilled is coming to PZ this summer.
No.13 – Bakers Dozen – tell us about your garden at Trevilley……(Patrick is obsessed with the garden they have created in what must be one of England’s windiest sites and which includes England’s westernmost walled rose garden, and he deeply resents the time his writing makes him spend away from working in it.).
My garden will be open to the public in aid of the two book fests I’m involved in, on June 25, so you can all find out for yourselves
And if you want to find out more about either of those 2017 literary fests then here are the links;
Penzance Literary Festival July 5 -8th www.pzlitfest.co.uk
North Cornwall Book Festival October 5-8 www.ncornbookfest.org