Author Interview Times and Places

  • How long have you been writing?

Throughout the nineties and a couple of years beyond, I wrote a diary and so have a record of what I was thinking and doing every day. I think this discipline helped develop my writing skills, but, besides a few poems and one short children’s story, I only really started writing about five years ago: again children’s stories. I wanted though to write a novel: “Times and Places” is the result!

  • What is your favorite genre to write?

I like Jonathan Coe’s style of strong observational humour tinged with plenty of pathos, even a little light gothic horror. I have tried to write similarly, though his books are more political, mine I think more spiritual… I’m not saying mine is as good!

  • Which genre have you never tried before, but would you like to try out?

For the immediate future I can’t see myself writing anything other than children’s stories and humorous, thought provoking, accessible novels. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with knowing what you like as a writer and focusing on that, at least initially. A lot of top authors stick to what they know – Stephen King and horror, John Grisham and legal dramas. I do though admire writers or any artists who successfully try new genres… perhaps one day, but I’m not ready for it yet… articles maybe?

  • Please tell us about your book.

Fergus and Sylvie are a late middle aged couple who lost their 24 year old daughter a decade previously. Fergus has grown anxious in the intervening years and they take a three week cruise to help him relax. In fact, his vivid imagination and a series of bizarre events only bring his anxieties to a head. The book allows me to observe cruise life and the eccentric characters – to love and loath – who inhabit it, and there’s lots of that observational humour and pathos, as well as exotic destinations.

In alternating chapters we flash back to important moments in Fergus and his daughter’s life: these take place in a range of “times and places”, including the Isles of Scilly, Slovenia and (my home area) the Chilterns. I also take Fergus to Lancashire on retreat to think through his feelings and his faith, but the story asks rather than answers spiritual questions and readers can make up their own minds. Overall, I hope the natural settings in my story provide a softly spiritual feel to a poignant, humourous read.

  • Which character was your favorite, and why? Which character was your least favorite, and why?

I think I would choose Fergus himself as my favourite. He is both deep thinking and deep feeling, slightly detached from the world, and a little vulnerable. I don’t have a least favorite character: the joy of a cruise ship is that, along with the novel’s main protagonists, I was able to create a whole host of colourful side characters, most of whom are very likeable, but a few less so – a trio of boorish men, cruise staff who try too hard to sell extras – but even they add to my overall story, so I regret nobody.

  • What was the hardest part about writing your book?

Two chapters of my thirty two chapter book describe Fergus’ visit to that silent retreat. While I knew what I wanted to say and so these chapters were not difficult to write, the decision to include them was quite tough. They are accessible, maintain the humour and leave readers free to think Fergus quite deluded if they so wish… but they do crank up the spirituality and I knew that this wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea and that the rest of the book would work without them. For me though, those chapters are at the heart of the story and so I bit the bullet and kept them in: some things are worth the risk!

  • What is your writing routine? Are there things you absolutely need to start writing?

I need nothing except my PC and quiet. I wrote “Times and Places” in about five months: hours and hours writing at weekends and lots of time writing in the evenings after work too. But I found that, once I started, I became immersed and time flew, though every now and then I would get stuck and several hours would pass just on one sentence. That was frustrating. Then of course came months and months of editing…

  • How long did it take you to write your book from start to finish?

From first word to publication day took 26 months.

  • Can you tell us about your editing process?

I completed my first draft and reread it on screen several times, performing what I naively thought was a fine tune, before printing it out. In fact this was just the start. My Mum was an English teacher and remains an avid reader, so I showed it to her and then polished it through a number of versions before I showed it to a handful of friends. One in particular came back with very helpful comments and – I think then seeing how serious I was – my Mum cranked up a gear in terms of her scrutiny of the text. Three or four more versions followed before I finally sent it to The Book Guild. Then the copy edit/proof reading stages began. I still made a few textual changes, but was amazed how inadequate my punctuation had been, so most edits were simply lots and lots and lots of commas, and breaking up a few longer sentences, or changing words I had used twice in quick succession. Finally I signed off the proofs. I can still see sentences I could have tweaked, perhaps should have, but eventually you have to let it go!

  • Is this book part of a series? If so, how many installments do you have planned?

No, I want this to be a one off. Though I do hope to start a second novel with a different subject in the next few months. I have some ideas…

  • Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Start writing. Some people feel they have to have a fully fledged book in their head, or at least a complex plan and outline. This puts them off. Perhaps in the past you did, but now it is easy to edit what you have written. The key is to start based on an initial idea and then see how you go: you can polish the text and fine tune (even perform major surgery on) the plot later, if necessary you can start again, but you’ll never write a book unless you start.

  • Why should everyone read your book?

There is something in it for everyone: humour, romance, pathos, spirituality, the natural world, even light gothic horror. I think, above all, it provides food for thought and I believe most people have their reflective moments. But don’t worry! As I’ve said, I was determined my book left it to readers to reach their own conclusions, you can enjoy the book whilst reaching very different ones from Fergus. I believe my book is quite unique, I can’t think of anything too like it, so I hope people who enjoy a thoughtful, poignant read will give it a try.

  • If you could meet three authors, dead or alive, which authors would you choose?

Representing older fiction I’d choose Emily Bronte or Thomas Hardy because, in Wuthering Heights and Tess, they wrote the two classics I genuinely enjoyed (I must read more!) Representing children’s literature would be Road Dahl (I so nearly did meet him once) because he had fantastic imagination and saw the world in a unique and colourful way. Then, representing modern fiction, it would be Jonathan Coe, though nervously, because I like his books a great deal … I once profoundly admired a musician and, when we fleetingly met, he or she didn’t profoundly admire me: in a flash their music was ruined. I’d hate the same to happen to “What a Carve Up!”, “House of Sleep”, “The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Simm” and many others…

  • What inspired you to write your book?

It’s a mix of four things:

I went on that silent retreat and it was eye-opening to experience what happens to the mind when it is taken out of the busy world. Things were clearer and I became aware of the mental junk that I was carrying around. Of course it is tough to hold on to such perspectives for long once you leave. Anyway, I wanted to send Fergus there to think his own issues through.

Then, I went on a cruise and, as I’ve said, it struck me as an ideal setting for a novel: trapped with people you wouldn’t usually mix with, travelling between exotic destinations on a beautiful ocean, the cruise company an open goal for satire too.

I lost my father many years ago and it still hurts, I wanted to try respectfully to explore how much more painful it would be to lose a child, even an adult one. Fergus reflects on all the tragedies there have ever been, remembering countless: “photos of innocent, cheeky little faces staring out of newspapers, taken before some wickedness befell them.” Somehow this helps him put the death of his adult daughter in context, as he reflects how “she had lived and she had lived well… nobody could ever take that away”.

Finally I love wildlife and the natural world, I wanted to share some of my favourite places, and the animals I’ve seen which inhabit them.

  • Are you working on something at the moment? If so, can you tell us more about it?

I’m really just trying to market “Times and Places” at the moment, though I am still writing short stories, the latest was “The Juggler of Poisonous Frogs” for my goddaughter’s seventh birthday! However I do have very initial ideas for a second novel, so I’m hoping there will be one…

Times and Places

Ten years after his daughter Justine’s death, an anxious Fergus embarks on a cruise with his wife. On board, he meets a myriad of characters and is entranced by some, irritated by others and disgusted by one. These turbulent feelings, combined with a sequence of bizarre events, only lead to his increased anxiety.

In a series of flashbacks, Justine enjoys an ultimately short romance, a woman concludes she killed her and an investigating police officer is drawn into her idyllic world. Fergus, haunted by poignant memories, withdraws in search of answers.

Back on the cruise, Fergus reaches breaking point, fearing he has done something terrible. By the time the ship returns, his world has changed forever.

“Times and Places” spans Atlantic islands, the Chiltern countryside, Cornish coasts and rural Slovenia, all of which provide spectacular backdrops to a humorous and moving tale of quiet spirituality.

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Author Bio

Keith was born and brought up in the Chilterns, to where he returned after studying French at university in Aberystwyth and a subsequent spell living in west London. He has a love of nature, both in his native Buckinghamshire countryside, but also in Cornwall and wherever there is a wild sea.

Keith has been lucky enough to spend time living in France, Spain, Belgium, Serbia and Croatia, as well as being a regular visitor to Germany, and languages were the only thing he was ever half good at in school. Since graduating he has worked in government departments, but between 2005 and 2008 he was seconded to the European Commission in Brussels and, thanks to a friend from Ljubljana he met there, has travelled regularly to Slovenia, getting to know that country well.

Keith’s other great love is music and he plays classical and finger picking blues guitar, though with persistently limited success. He has always enjoyed writing, including attempts at children’s fiction, and in 2016 he began work on his first full book with “Times and Places” the end result: an accessible, observational story, mixing quiet spirituality with humour, pathos and gothic horror, and setting it against a rich backdrop of the natural world.

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