Interview with PJ Whiteley
I am delighted to have PJ Whiteley back on my blog. His new book, ‘Marching on Together’ was published last month and I asked him all about it.
As you know I thoroughly enjoyed reading ‘Marching on Together’ when it was a work in progress. For the benefit of my readers can you tell me a bit about it please?
Thanks Sonya. Marching on Together is about belonging, family and memory, with a hint of romance. A short description would be: ‘Last Orders meets Fever Pitch’. It follows six Leeds United supporters, two of them brothers, on a sojourn to Bruges and the Flanders battlefields in August 2014, for the centenary of the start of the First World War. Yvonne, a central character, has cause to reflect on how a sporting controversy from 1975 continues to haunt her. She was caught up in some post-match violence after a major final, then a transport strike; the combination knocked her young life off course, for reasons that become clearer as you read the book. At the age of 56 in 2014, she has the opportunity to reflect, but also, finally, to move on.
Where do you get your ideas from?
I love to combine depth and humour, and to have characters reflect on the most profound matters in quite mundane settings. Other writers can do war, murder and tragedy; I’m more fascinated by how a seemingly small turn of events can alter our life course, and even how we view the world, a bit like in the movie Sliding Doors. Sport and a sense of identity and belonging are also fascinating themes for me.
Are you a sports fan?
Yes, and I like to explore the comedy and tension that can lie when one person is devoted to a sport and their significant other is not! In Marching on Together I invert the stereotype because Yvonne is the obsessive football watcher and her husband becomes disenchanted, and feels left out. In Bruges, she has a bit of an argument with a German football fan, but then discovers he loves the band Genesis, and they bond over that. Plus, she fancies him.
What do you hope readers will get from ‘Marching on Together’?
I’ve had some very positive feedback, and strong start to sales; I think people engage with the characters. There’s drama in the fine line that can separate good and bad fortune in life – whether it’s on the football field or in your love life.
What would you do if one of your characters knocked on your door?
They wouldn’t dare: I know too much about them 😉
Can we look forward to more books from you?
Yes. I will write books for as long as I’m breathing. The third novel is called The Rooms We Never Enter, and it’s a spin-off from Marching on Together; it’s a romance, and there’s only a little sport this time!
Can you describe Urbane Publications in twenty words?
Urbane Publications is an innovative, independent publisher that dares to publish original voices and empowers authors. It deserves success.
How has social media helped you?
Facebook and Twitter are essential for an author, when you don’t have a huge publicity budget. You can build a readership, and engage with existing readers.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about writing?
From my first magazine editor Roy (can’t remember his surname), in 1988: ‘Tell such a strong story, in such an elegant style, that the reader doesn’t notice it’s written; they’re just caught up in the narrative.’
If you had a second chance at life would you still write books?
Yes, and I would start at a younger age.
Who are your favourite authors?
I love a lot of the greats: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens. I’d like to give special mention to two very underrated post-war British authors: David Lodge and David Nobbs, whom I’ve sought to emulate in combining humour and depth. Javier Marias is an astounding author, so is Donna Tartt and Louis de Bernieres.
If you were only allowed one book on your bookcase what would it be?
La Peste, by Albert Camus, still the finest novel I’ve ever read: poetic, beautiful, bleak in its description of the harshness of fate, yet heart-warming in its portrayal of human friendship, funny and astonishingly profound, philosophically and politically.
‘Marching on Together’ is available to buy from:-
Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/marching-on-together/
‘Close of Play’ is available to buy from:-
Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/close-of-play/
Website – http://www.whiteleywords.com/
Twitter – @Felipewh