Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Best Year Of Our Lives - 10 Questions from Critics Answered

Three months on from the publication of The Best Year Of Our Lives, I thought this might be a good opportunity to address some of those queries which have been raised by various people along the way. Here are the ten that spring most readily to mind:

1. I didn't say that / That didn't happen / Who is that character?

It is very important we remind ourselves that his book is a work of fiction. Yes it was inspired, and heavily, by real people and real events from a particular period of my life but a lot of what happens in the text is pure literary licence, and none of the characters are intended to be faithful representations of real-life persons.

2. The characters are treated too much like adults in language and manner

Well, the things that were important to the characters in the book are treated as though they were important in the script. But should that really come as a surprise? This is a book about young people, doing the things that young people do and thinking the thoughts that young people think. It is written from their perspective.

As for the language used, my memory is pretty clear. I don’t know how eleven-year-olds speak to one another these days but certainly no holds were barred in the 1970s when it came to profanity. I’ve tried not to overdo it and if anything my guess is that it is understated. Possibly the manner in which they converse has been infused with a tad more maturity than would have been the case in reality, but this is a story for an adult audience. I could no more sustain the narrative for 400 pages in adolescent parlance than George Orwell could have written Animal Farm in neighs and bleats.

3. The contrast between the violence and the spirituality is extreme

Indeed, but young people and the things they do are awash with contrast. I take my characters to the extremes of good and bad because there is good and bad in all of us, and nowhere is it more evident than during the process of growing up.

4. How "Christian" is the story?

This was never intended to be a Christian tale per se, just a tale of ordinary young people whose lives were touched by contact with Christianity. I wanted to explore the competing influences that any young people in such a situation would find themselves subjected to, and how in practice they would end up being averaged out.

5. What was the extent of the influence of David Bowie and Steve Harley and in what respects did they differ?

One exciting aspect of Bowie's creative output in particular was his penchant for crossover, or the fusion of different art forms into one collective experience - something he learned from his time in the company of Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground. This in turn inspired me in the writing of this book, in the sense that these creative influences permeate the thinking not only of the lead character but also of myself as author.

Bowie's command at the time in which the book was set was close to universal amongst young males who studied the rock scene. Ziggy Stardust had been killed off but Bowie's most ardent followers had already begun to understand that the artist himself lived on, and had returned in the guise of another character - the Thin White Duke. This was to become a process which would continue for decades but at the time it was still novel, and smart young people like the characters Paul Adams and Jim Gray were just beginning to get it.

Harley's influence was more personal to the two boys. They loved his songs and appreciated his special talent and, because not everybody was necessarily a Cockney Rebel fan, Paul and Jim took ownership of the experience as something which belonged privately to them.

6. Weren't platforms, loud colours and wide flares more about the early seventies than 1976?

Certainly by '76 the glam had begun to fade, but such a unique direction in fashion as was taken during the whole seventies period was never going to disappear overnight, and the followers of trends were always going to find themselves dragging a little behind those whose role it was to set them. Until punk arrived flares and heels were still the order of the day.

7. This is 1976, where are the punks?

1976 was the year the punks arrived to challenge the tank-topped and loon-panted order. This is the story of the challenged, not of the challenger. The last stand of a unique, beautiful but dying culture, majestic to the last but doomed never to return. Punk arrived in Chapter 61, as Paul closed the door behind him.

8. Some of the chapters seem peripheral to the story

People have different things going on in their lives, seldom are they always chasing one dream to the exclusion of all else. I have tried to capture the "ordinariness" of the lives of the essential characters even as they share an extraordinary life experience. Plane spotting, football, fishing, music, the youth club - no matter how spiritually uplifting the age there is only so far that the characters can realistically be lifted from their routines.

9. Paul Adams - hero or villain?

I never really intended him to be either, but you choose.

10.Would you like to make The Best Year Of Our Lives into a film, a song or some other art form?

Very much so, that would be my dream. But film making, painting, music - none of these are talents that I have, so it would be a question of finding somebody who was willing to collaborate. But yes, I can think of nothing that would fulfil me more. I live in hope.

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