Patrick Gale, Eve McBride and truth at the Swindon Festival of Literature

7 May

Patrick Gale and Eve McBride

Patrick Gale and Eve McBride

“I come from a long line of priests. I owe a huge debt to the King James Bible. The language got under my skin. My Father spoke like a King James Bible. Today, I’m a doubter,” said novelist Patrick Gale.

“Mental illness overshadowed my life growing up. Our characters can go just like that from mental illness. I think that’s why I became a writer. I could escape into other people by writing.”

He was in conversation, yesterday, with novelist Eve McBride, fellow truth teller and lover of dogs.

“I suspect we both want to talk about dogs,” said Patrick earlier on Twitter; Eve’s Twitter name is 2bluedanes. “I have a dog in all my books,” said Patrick. Eve’s book, No Worst, There is None, explores the healing of grief from all angles, including by dog.

The truth in each book couldn’t be more different. Patrick’s book, A Place Called Winter, sees an affluent married Edwardian Englishman sent to ‘gay Canada’; convicts were sent to Australia and gay men to be homesteaders, he tells us. Eve’s book features a murder of a pre-teen in Canada. Both novels, however, are fictionalised accounts of real stories which happened to their families; in Eve’s case, the murder of a family friend, for Patrick, a great-grandfather.

Despite not being a ‘crime’ novel, No Worst, There is None is a novel that pivots around a crime and has been nominated for a crime novel award. Eve’s mission was to explore grief and the psychopathology of peodophilia; when you understand that all peodophiles have been sexually abused, see the child victim, you feel differently about them, she explained. Patrick didn’t want to see into the unconscious motives of his villain – it made him less villainous, less frightening.

It’s always interesting to hear the process behind the writing. Eve’s novel was rejected 214 times, many of those times, she believes, down to the unusually syntaxed title inspired by a poem on grief by her favourite poet, G M Hopkins. She didn’t give up on account of the many positive rejections (‘we loved it but our list is full’, ‘we loved it but not sure how we’d sell it’) so she kept sending it out and hoping, until Dundurn Press picked it up. Patrick’s favourite writer is E M Forrester: “I just wish he’d had a better sex life.”

Patrick said he’s never had a ‘grown up’ job: “I was a poor novelist then a slightly less poor novelist when Richard and Judy came along,” he said, referring to the book-reviewing husband and wife team with the power to turn mid-range authors into best-sellers.

Both have taught writing. “Keep writing during the submission process. Don’t let everything ride on this novel. And the publisher will be so pleased you have another novel on the go,” advised Patrick. And become a better writer by reading.

An audience member, A Place Called Winter resting on his lap and held in place by a protective hand, wonders why all Patrick’s books have a happy ending. “It’s not so much I like happy endings,” he replied, “I like satisfying endings.”

Patrick Gale and Eve McBride were speaking at Swindon Arts Centre, 6 May 2015, as part of the Swindon Festival of Literature.

Words by Louisa Davison. Photo (C) Calyx Pictures.

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