I was delighted to meet Leslie at the launch event for my latest book, organised by Magic Oxygen publishing – who I’m happy to say have now published Leslie’s novel too. He’s a great guy with an obvious love for literature and the written word and I’m delighted to have him along here to talk about his novel.
I’m romantic and driven, with a love of music, people and the written word.
Tell me about your journey as a writer – how you started and how you have developed.
At university in the late 60s I skipped lectures in favour of taking drugs, absorbing myself in experimental music and reading art books and literature till four in the morning. I ‘discovered’ Webster, Flaubert, Kafka, Rimbaud and Basho for myself. It made me feel special being ‘into’ writers other people had never heard of. But behind my crazy hip mask I was a sexual innocent whose poetry was as narcissistically immature as my public persona.
At the time I wanted to be a writer but I was in too much awe of what F R Leavis called The Great Tradition, so I took to ‘warehousing’ experience, storing my impressions for later use. As in the story of St Augustine, I kept promising to change and sit down to write my novel BUT NOT YET.
There were three landmarks after university. The first was during an MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths’ College, London in the 80s when I realised that inspiration from above wasn’t going to happen. I discovered, by reading the biographies of several writers, that lyrical, flowing pieces were often the result of slow, patient, line-by-line work, going on for weeks or years. It helped me get over the feeling that I couldn’t write because it didn’t come naturally, and so I schooled myself to the business of endless revision. Nowadays, for every word on the page I’ve tried and rejected ten others.
The second landmark was meeting my wife, Sue Hampton, in 2006, and reading her books. Understanding her writing, which has a classic feel, showed me how the extended prose line is more tied together by meaning than poetry. But I knew from poetry that sound makes absolute sense, so I still test for rhythm and cadence, reading ‘out loud in my head’ when I revise. The third stage involved finding an individual voice, blending the literary with the conversational, writing two published novels and starting a third then attending a University of East Anglia/Guardian Masterclass in 2014.
How would you describe your work – its themes and the important things about it?
I write about modern love from tentative and awkward first date to passionate late-life romance. I want to communicate how it feels to be thoughtful and maybe at odds with society and at the same time involved in an intense, challenging love affair or a mistaken marriage. I want to ‘look inside the book’ and show how much the relationships we see all around us have changed during the 20th century, but as an imaginative act, rather than a historical investigation.
The characters and the words I use shape my books. I don’t have a plot in mind, other than a general feel for the people and places I’m portraying. I head straight into the highs and lows of personal experience because I want to show people from the inside, as they are when they’re not ‘presenting’, stripped of inhibition.
Of course I know that a novel can only show a fragment of who we are, so I try to steer the book into challenging and deeply-felt incidents I’ve experienced in order to get to the quick of things. But the books usually get the better of me and lead me into episodes that are equally challenging but belong to the story, rather than me.
I often feel like an escape artist when I’m writing because my characters get themselves into fixes which don’t seem to offer any easy way out. Fortunately something usually comes to my rescue – a symbolic object or a key remark or a setting comes up where something decisive can happen. If it doesn’t then I have to go back and scrub part of the book and start again. If a scene does come together I often find myself going back and writing in pointers to the new element that is going to change the story.
I see writing as a shared journey into the dark with a reflective and transformative purpose.
Purple is the first in a trilogy. It begins with Matthew Lavender’s coming-of-age story, going up to university in 1969 and dating women while hiding his sexual naiveté behind a mask of wildness. His story alternates with his gran Mary describing her tough, harsh 1920s upbringing. Her story offers clues as to why Matthew and his parents are the way they are. The two protagonists come together at the end.
Matthew’s section is deep and lyrical, describing the up-and-down, chaotic and posey business of attraction and repulsion between fired-up young people. It’s also wildly comic when he escapes to a 60s-style commune. But I’ve made sure it’s true to life and not full of hype or nostalgia. Mary’s section is direct and shocking, showing family conflict and rebellion. Her upbringing is intensely individualistic, a theme which runs through the book. But Mary is a warm, likeable character, an accommodator who sees and shares things which go deep. In both stories I’ve tried to create fully-rounded characters who change and develop as a result of what they go through.
Tell me about your journey to publication and how you found your publisher.
The first version of Purple came out with another publisher. It had a different title and was a single-era book, telling the story of Matthew. I was lucky enough to be republished by the wonderful Magic Oxygen, which gave me the chance to rewrite sections and develop a whole new narrative in a different voice, telling the story of an earlier generation.
Where can I buy a copy of your book?
or in person at the events Sue and I are running for The Purple Book Tour, or through Waterstone’s, Foyles and Amazon.
Where can we find out more about you?
If you want to read my creative story from childhood to maturity try the blogs on my website: ‘The Past is Another Country’, ‘It’s the Journey that Counts’, ‘The Way of Imagination’ and ‘My Secret Life’.
I have two pages on Facebook, a) Leslie Tate Author b) Leslie Stuart Tate.
You can find me on twitter @LSTateAuthor. I like to make friends and share stories with other people.