Interview with Simon Dewhurst

Do you finding writing difficult?
Sometimes it's hell and other times it's really easy and I can't always tell why. Just like Churchill said when he was asked the same question, I apply the seat of my pants to the seat of the chair and write - or something like that. The worst time is what he also called 'black dog' when he was overcome with depression. This only happened a couple of times with me when I stared at the screen and couldn't write a word. The second time I just wrote some awful rubbish about how I was feeling and, hey presto, the mental log jam was loosened. If I could criticise my own work, I'd say too that mileage helps - the words begin to flow far more easily as you turn the pages of Broken Lunch. The first couple of chapters after the prologue don't seem to be as, what's the word - fresh - that's it, as the rest.
What made you write this book?
Years ago I got involved with internet marketing and developing websites that needed genuine content. Sometimes I was expected to write three or four articles a day on completely crazy subjects as diverse as 'mobile phones' or 'crane proximity sensors' or 'solid wheelbarrow wheels' These had to be at least four hundred words longs and I was expected to thrash them out five days a week. What the hell do you do? Right at the start I made a decision to make them funny, say whatever was in my head, and just work on my imagination. Nobody was going to read them but they had to be genuine just in case someone did. By the end I'd churned out literally hundreds of these tightly written articles and I was quite proud of them. One of the last ones was 'personal relationships' and I went to town on my two bosses and was quite waspish and rude about them both. One had a sense of humour failure and nearly sacked me. When all that stopped I still had an itch to write and when someone said 'You've had quite a life - why don't you write about it?' and I thought 'I suppose I have' and sat down and off I went. Oh yes, and despite the irony of some of the subject matter, all the Catholic stuff, I actually won a ten shilling postal order in a writing competition when I was ten from the Catholic Times and they printed the story. I'd forgotten that! Perhaps I should squeeze it into Broken Lunch somewhere.
What is your writing process?
Like I say I sit down and write. No, that's not all. I had a day job until six months ago working in a garden and a year ago had three days a week free to write and had a pretty strict discipline. Sit down in front of the screen at eight am, tap away with two fingers for four hours with a break at ten, stare out of the window at the sky, and try to get a thousand words done a day but that doesn't always happen. And then go over it in the afternoon. Also, I'm sure that aerobic exercise helps so I'd go yomping up some hills nearby every afternoon or evening and new stuff would nearly always come into my head. The ten o'clock coffee helped a lot as well.
Some of the exploits in the book seem to be unbelievable - how much is true and how much is made up?
They're nearly all true except the start! Well as true as my own memory tells me! The detailed story in the prologue is made up but based on hearsay that has been handed down. My great great grandfather did meet a ship's captain at the time and he did get very rich that same year. No, everything else is true, but with the anecdotal stuff embellished with the telling.
Did you have a theme in mind when you planned Broken Lunch?
Not really except that I just wanted to make people laugh at the absurdity of life - well the absurdity of just one life. Without telling them on the page, I just wanted them to laugh - quite simple really. Our world shouldn't be about depressing introspection and navel gazing. After all, my generation, that's the people born just after the last war, have lived in the best of times, brought about in part by all those who fought for some sort of freedom, and now I look around and see that we are all somehow less happy than we were. I just wanted to show a bit of lightness. OK, so I haven't led a conventional life and some of it's been bloody awful, but I'm not really into misery.
How do you approach cover design?
Blimey - that's one coming in from the side. Not well enough and it needs to be changed but the one I have I thought epitomised what was inside - me being shouted at but taking it all in his stride, and the frustration of his peers and overseers. I wanted a really well-known cartoonist to design the cover in the same vein but more involved but landed up doing it myself when I went round to his house, which is in my local town and he said he'd retired and adamantly refused to do it! His name is Paul Sample and he did all the Tom Sharpe novels, which were some of the funniest books I've ever read.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Ah that's better! I'd have to go back and read them again as time does change perception and mood. Can I have as my first all the Secret Seven adventures of Enid Blyton? OK. Well the first definite title was King Solomon's Mines that blew me away aged about ten. It was the thriller element coupled if I remember with the romantic tangle. The next was Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall. I never really got into his serious stuff but that book was laugh out loud stuff and was beautifully composed. The fourth was again Evelyn Waugh's Scoop which I must have read five times. It's a short book and very funny as, dare I say it, it deals with the absurdity of life. And talking of the absurdity of life, I'd have to include one of Tom Sharpe's. That I guess would be Blott on the Landscape, which includes most of the caricatured people I have met in my life but even more ridiculous.
Published 2016-11-25.
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