Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Patrick Gale


Patrick Gale's novels cover topics that most writers steer clear of – Alzheimer's, bipolar disorder, Quakerism and gay love affairs, to name but a few. In his latest novel, The Whole Day Through, he writes about naturism, venereology and how to handle an ageing parent.

“I don't know why I include science or medicine in my books because I'm completely unscientific,” he says. “Perhaps it's an inferiority complex as my brother and sister are doctors!” In this novel, the mother is a naturist. “I needed a plot device that made it impossible to put the mother in a home,” he explains. “It also tallied with the emerging theme of honesty and vulnerability - when you take your clothes off you can't hide anything.”

Patrick lives near Land's End on a farm with his partner, Aidan, who drew beautiful illustrations for Patrick's novel, Friendly Fire. “He's horribly gifted!” Patrick says proudly. “I'd love to collaborate with him on future books, but publishers are unwilling to pay for anything extra which is such a pity. I think illustrations add to your pleasure of the book.”

Last year Richard & Judy's Book Club selected Notes from an Exhibition, gaining Patrick 100,000 new readers. “In a way it was like my first novel,” he says. But this has meant high expectations for his next novel. “I'm very worried about second album syndrome,” he says wryly.

Patrick describes The Whole Day Through as “a bittersweet love story. Several people said I couldn't do a Brief Encounter style story because of the therapy culture now that believes we have the right to be happy. I don't quite believe that, but my challenge was to come up with a story of two modern people who think they should do the right thing.”

What will strike a chord with many older readers is Laura, who looks after her 78 year old mother, riddled with osteoporosis. Patrick drew on his own experiences tending his mother after his father died. “What fascinates me is how our social behaviour is going to have to adapt. More and more single people are looking after elderly parents and also wanting a love life – how do they cope?”

The mother in this novel is a keen gardener; an interest that was passed on to Patrick from his own parents. “It's a visceral pleasure – weeding gives me an intense sense of calm and pleasure.” And of course, it's a good antidote to the solitary, sedentary and slow nature of writing. “With a pair of secateurs and a trowel you can make a difference in a few hours, whereas with a novel it takes much longer.”

Patrick is also a talented musician and chairman of the St Endellion Summer Festival, held annually in Port Isaac. He performs in amateur orchestras as a singer, pianist and cellist, and sings with the choir at the St Endellion festival, all of which takes up a lot of time, but is another necessity. “Music is like my life blood,” he says slowly. “I have a permanent soundtrack running through my head. It evokes expressions that are beyond words; it draws things out of you.”

Another vital part of Patrick's life is his adoptive Cornwall, but living on a farm, he is well aware of the real Cornwall. “It's been so mythologised and romanticised that it's fun to play with the gap between the romantic idea of it and the reality of it,” he explains. “On a practical level it's a very useful device – you can bring a Londoner to Cornwall and expose their follies.”

Patrick is clearly contented with his life, combining a mixture of writing, farming, music and gardening. “I come from a family of pessimists, but I've often thought that I'm a depressive with an optimist's habit,” he says with a smile. “If you're aware of the different sides to your personality you can see when one is getting the upper habit. Novelists get to know themselves very well – you don't need therapy!”


Patrick will appear at the Du Maurier Festival on May 14th 2009
The Whole Day Through is published by Fourth Estate, May 2009
Gentleman's Relish will be published in December 2009

CT May 2009

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