Join Patrick Gale to talk about our June Book of the Month, A PERFECTLY GOOD MAN, TONIGHT, Weds 27 June 9-10pm

(147 Posts)

Patrick Gale is fast becoming a National Treasure. Our June choice, A PERFECTLY GOOD MAN, is his seventeenth book. That alone deserves some kind of gong from the Queen. But it is also his particular style of quiet, intelligent, clear and humorous writing that makes him a very British talent. You always feel as if you know his characters, that they were in your local Post Office just this morning, and you recognize their human frailty and tangled emotions.

Barnaby Johnson, the hero of this month's book, is a priest in a small West Cornwall parish. Each chapter is a snapshot of different people in the parish, at different times of their life, all of whom are connected to Barnaby. Slowly and deliciously, the story unfolds like backwards origami, with secrets and triumphs and betrayals opening out in sequence.

A novel that makes you reflect on many issues - faith, marriage, adoption, mental illness - but most of all, shows you humanity in all its complex, crazy mixed-up wonderfulness.

The book of the month page with more detail about A PERFECTLY GOOD MAN and our giveaway of 50 free copies of Patrick's book will go live tomorrow (Thursday 31 May) at 10am. We'll close the giveaway after 24 hours and pick 50 names randomly, and we'll email you to let you know if your name was chosen within 48 hours.

And if you're not lucky enough to bag one of those, you can get your Kindle edition or your paperback here

We are delighted that Patrick will be joining us to chat about A PERFECTLY GOOD MAN, his writing life and all his previous books, on Wednesday 27 June, 9-10pm. We'll be discussing the book throughout the month so don't forget to put your thoughts and questions up here before the chat.

Hope you can join us...

ProfCoxWouldGetIt Mon 02-Jul-12 09:15:31

Just wanted to thank Patrick for answering my questions, having read his response, I feel guilty as my question wasn't meant as a critisism, probably more indicative of my readign style.

I have just downloaded a few other books of his to my Kindle and passed my book club copy to a colleague who is already half way through and loves it.

Thanks Mumsnet for another great book and expanding my typical readign habbits

Pendeen Thu 28-Jun-12 16:58:41

Damn and more swearings...

Completely forgot about it!

And Patrick was soo nice as well - fancy him saying:

"... I wanted Pendeen to feel like a strong character ..."

How sweet is that? smile

NoraHelmer Thu 28-Jun-12 08:55:35

Thank you Patrick for answering my question and for a very interesting webchat. I will definitely be reading more of your books, and looking out for your tv series smile

gazzalw Thu 28-Jun-12 06:23:25

Yes, thank you for answering my questions Patrick. I too will be going on a hunt for some of your other books!

domesticslattern Wed 27-Jun-12 23:48:59

Thank you very much Patrick for this webchat. I found it really interesting and you took such care to answer our questions.

Papillon3112 Wed 27-Jun-12 23:22:53

I agree. I would quite happily have read more about Dorothys life & was sad when her 'voice' finished speaking. I don't know why but I found much of this novel profoundly sad....not depressing just sad. I haven't got quite to the end so not sure if there is an uplifting moment - I shall soon find out no doubt.

Just quickly to say thanks to everyone too, for making it such an enjoyable and interesting chat and apologies if your questions didn't get answered in the time we had. Do take Patrick up on his offer and send it direct...

See you all for July's bookclub, the page goes live tomorrow around 10am...

PatrickGale Wed 27-Jun-12 22:35:06

TillyBookClub

I wish we could keep going all evening, but I feel we should let Patrick get to his well-earned glass of wine...

Patrick, you have been a complete star and answered everyone's messages with such thoughtfulness. And answered almost all of them, despite the site going offline at the beginning. Thank you very, very much for your time and energy - we really appreciate it.

Looking forward to the BBC series, and can't wait to see what the next novel holds - your ancestor's story sounds fascinating. Meanwhile, living in Suffolk as I do, I am off to buy Notes From an Exhibition pronto.

Good luck with the future projects and please come back to talk about them (your third MN webchat! it could be a record...)

Thank you, Tilly. It's been a delight. Only sorry my connection seemed to be playing up now and then so I wasn't as speedy in my answers as I might have been. And any readers who missed out can always get hold of me and post questions to me on www.galewarning.org.

Night all.

PatrickGale Wed 27-Jun-12 22:34:02

Hullygully

Which novelists do you like and/or admire?

Ann Tyler, Colm Toibin, Elizabeth Taylor, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Armistead Maupin, Alan Hollinghurst, Damon Galgut, Vikram Seth, Vikram Chandra. Lots, really. I'm a bit passive in that I tend to read whatever comes my way - good or bad. I never stop learning about writing from reading, and I find I can learn as much from the failures as the successes. I'm also childishly allergic to cults, so if everybody is raving about a novel I'll probably avoid reading it for a year or two until the fuss dies down. That's one of the good things about Kindles. I try to make a point of regularly reading a dead author, if only to keep the marketing departments in their proper place.

PatrickGale Wed 27-Jun-12 22:30:02

domesticslattern

Looking forward to the webchat!
I finished the book yesterday and really admired the clear, elegant prose style, as well as the sense of place. There were also some excellent turns of phrase: that skill of describing things just so. The characters and plot sometimes seemed implausible though; some places the dialogue felt 'written' rather than spoken, IYSWIM, and certain characters like Modest Carlsson felt like story tale characters not real people. Still, I enjoyed the book, especially the portrayal of the young Dorothy.
Did you write the story chronologically and then divide it and mix it up?

Well I'm glad you enjoyed it despite reservations about the realism. No. I didn't write it chronologically. I'm a bit weird in that not only do I write with pen and ink but I write one character at a time. So I did all Dorothy's chapters then all Modests then all Carrie's and so on. Only at the second draft stage do I then have the huge headache of weaving it all together.

I wish we could keep going all evening, but I feel we should let Patrick get to his well-earned glass of wine...

Patrick, you have been a complete star and answered everyone's messages with such thoughtfulness. And answered almost all of them, despite the site going offline at the beginning. Thank you very, very much for your time and energy - we really appreciate it.

Looking forward to the BBC series, and can't wait to see what the next novel holds - your ancestor's story sounds fascinating. Meanwhile, living in Suffolk as I do, I am off to buy Notes From an Exhibition pronto.

Good luck with the future projects and please come back to talk about them (your third MN webchat! it could be a record...)

PatrickGale Wed 27-Jun-12 22:26:05

Abcinthia

I really enjoyed reading A Perfectly Good Man.

I wanted to ask about Modest. I found him a very very creepy character. His stalking of Barnaby, the obsession with the red book and he just had a dangerous feel to him. It was almost like Barnaby was prey and Modest was a hunter circling overhead, waiting to strike.

I was wondering if this was to make Barnaby seem all the more good and his faults seem insignificant when compared to Modest.

Almost every novel I've written has a character who threatens to break out of the tidy plan I've laid for them and take over. In The Whole Day Through it was the heroine's indomitable mother, in Tree Surgery for Beginners it was the hero's ditto. Here it was Modest. There's a saying that virtue writes white, and I knew from very early on that I'd need some sin in the mix, something a bit nasty, to avoid the risk of blandness or piety. So Modest came about because I needed someone who only passed for good but who only the reader would not be fooled by. I needed to give the devil a voice. And, true to tradition, the devil sang rather well and loudly! Modest demanded more and more space and - because I write my novels one character at a time - I became extremely uneasy and disturbed at having to spend week after week under this horrible man's skin. It got to the point where I realised I was almost rooting for him. And then I got to the scene where he was physically pursuing Barnaby rather than just metaphorically doing it, and I honestly didn't know what was going to happen next.

But basically Modest's role is to make us think about virtue, and the different between seeming virtue and the real thing.

PatrickGale Wed 27-Jun-12 22:17:53

Hullygully

And I'm sorry if I don't sound very nice, that's the trouble with tinternet, can't do the smiles and hedgings that make words more acceptable and palatable... I supposed I am more interested in your views on the trend (that you are unaware of) than to directly bash you up over it.

I'm sure you're perfectly lovely and don't feel remotely bashed up. The trend thing is so odd. Most of us work on our novels in relative or complete isolation so it can be really galling to come up for air at the end of it to find that the novel one thought completely original is actually picking up on something in the zeitgeist.

Jojo Moyes and I had no idea we were simultaneously writing novels that were partly triggered by Daniel James's parents taking him to Dignitas to be killed, until, that is, we found ourselves reading at the same literary salon in Shoreditch...

Hullygully Wed 27-Jun-12 22:14:05

And I'm sorry if I don't sound very nice, that's the trouble with tinternet, can't do the smiles and hedgings that make words more acceptable and palatable... I supposed I am more interested in your views on the trend (that you are unaware of) than to directly bash you up over it.

PatrickGale Wed 27-Jun-12 22:14:03

valiumpoptarts

Sorry, once again I have failed to finish the book, I expect Tilly to kick me out of book club at this rate.
Patrick my question is this, how did you research the character of Barnaby and to what extent did you find yourself being careful not just to write a characture of a vicar? DH is a minister type and when I told him about the book he told me about two people he'd dealt with just that day who wanted to kill themselves. If you did do research on it at all did it change your view of the job?
(Sorry Tilly, I know thats two questions too!)

I'm quite sure Tilly wouldn't kick you out. She's far too friendly and supportive for that!
Okay. Vicar research first. I know a lot of priests and always have, probably because my parents were so very devout (and my grandfather and great grandfather were priests). So I had no trouble finding flesh and blood priests - and, just as importantly, priest's wives and children, I could quiz. I certainly didn't want to write a caricature - as a nation we seem pathetically prone to nervous joking on the subject of faith, as we are about sex - but was also keenly aware both of the heavy burden of comic tradition (viz Trollope) and the risk that a priest as a hero might put a lot of people off. So I made sure I focussed almost more on the work priests have to do outside church services, indeed away from church entirely, as on the interesting question of faith itself. My view of the job remains unchanged; that it's a simply awful one, increasingly, and I can't think why perfectly good men and women continue to lay their heads on the block to take it on as often as they do.

Hullygully Wed 27-Jun-12 22:12:13

Which novelists do you like and/or admire?

PatrickGale Wed 27-Jun-12 22:08:32

Hullygully

I do NOT want to return to Jodi P. The horror.

Neither do I want to watch a narrative simply "unspool", but I do want care about the characters..

tsh and humph

Ooh er. Sorry! Guess we can't all care about every writer's characters every time. I'm often left cold by novels that have my friends in raptures and vice versa. Just one of those things...

PatrickGale Wed 27-Jun-12 22:06:31

ProfCoxWouldGetIt

Just finished the book this morning, and while I enjoyed reading it, I found the jumping around to different stages in different characters lives quite disorrientating, was this intentional?

I agree with the comments about Barnaby being a spectator in his own life, but found it odd that those close to him viewed this trait as a strength, where as I felt it was a weakness and that he seemed to wash along with life threw at him, rather than ever really fighting for something.

I can't help but wonder if keeping Dot a small character was deliberate, because as others have said she seemed to have the potentail to play a much bigger role in the story, was this done so as not to distract us from Barnaby's story?

Sorry to hear you were disoriented. It wasn’t intended to be a lasting effect. I like to make readers work a bit but I don’t intend to lose them entirely!

The main purpose of the jumbling up – as with Notes From An Exhibition and Rough Music – was to heighten the cruel ironies of the things people remember, or misremember, and the things they forget. I can’t speak for other people but I find I rarely live entirely in the present; I’m forever remembering and reliving, so I find the traditional narrative approach to stories – starting at the beginning and running smoothly through to the end – while soothing, can be a bit too cinematic and artificial. And I like it when the reader is the only one in the story who knows the godlike truth, or at least most of it!

I take the point about Dot. I could so easily have written a novel about her. I love her and care about her and have far more patience with her, really, than with her rather hopeless husband. However it was always going to be his story, not hers and her role was always intended to be supportive and longsuffering – like poor Antony’s was in Notes From an Exhibition.

Patrick has very kindly said he'll keep going for another 20 minutes, so we'll see how many more q's we can get through in that time... Cross fingers we don't go offline again...

PatrickGale Wed 27-Jun-12 22:01:48

[quote MaryAnnSingleton] I'm probably going to miss this but wanted to say that I really liked A Perfectly Good Man and love Notes From An Exhibition so it was great to have Morwenna and her father reappearing. I read NFAE first on a beach in Suffolk,which is probably very different from Cornwall but I always associate it with Suffolk,particularly as we came across Barbara Hepworth sculptures at Snape.
I chose it for bookgroup to read and it went down extremely well - the ladies were a bit taken aback by a previous choice of mine which was Friendly Fires - the cottaging was a bit alarming for them (they are gentille country ladies).
Anyway, I long for your next book - is there something in the pipeline ? [\quote]

Glad you enjoyed Notes. I loved East Anglia so don’t at all mind the transferred associations you experience. I wonder if you’ve read my earlier bonkbuster novel The Facts of Life, which is set not a million miles from the places you mention?

My current job is to write an original, three part, gay-themed drama series for BBC2, which is a great challenge and enormously exciting. Reckon they approached me because I don’t like writing sex scenes so – cottaging aside (!) – there’ll be nothing to disgust Tunbridge Wells. But after that I’m itching to start a new novel. Early days – it’s still at the compost heap stage – but it will have something to do with my disgraced great grandfather, who was banished to the Canadian wilds by his faintly terrifying gang of in-laws and made to leave his young wife and baby girl behind. A big departure for me, this, in that both its settings will be well in the distant past – 1910 and 1965. I can already tell the research for the telly series (also partly set pre Woolfenden) is going to feed into it…

Hullygully Wed 27-Jun-12 21:59:17

I do NOT want to return to Jodi P. The horror.

Neither do I want to watch a narrative simply "unspool", but I do want care about the characters..

tsh and humph

Hullygully Wed 27-Jun-12 21:57:14

<skids in at the end, damn meetings>

PatrickGale Wed 27-Jun-12 21:55:23

gazzalw

Another question for me is that as a bloke I feel the male characters are a lot more shaded than the female ones - is that purposeful or just because as a man yourself you are more easily able to portray male angst, moral ambiguity etc...?

Your point about masculine characters is hugely cheering for me but unsettling too. I’ve always taken huge pains with my female characters, precisely because I’m not a woma. In fact with me the risk is always that it’s the male characters who will be underwritten. I hope the women aren’t really as pallid here as you seemed to find them. APGM was conceived as a masculine counterpart to Notes From an Exhibition, which centres on a woman (who is arguably as destructive a parent and spouse as Barnaby manages to be).

yUMMYmUMMYb Wed 27-Jun-12 21:54:08

Not quite finished the book yet but wanted to say that so far it is such an engaging read.I really like the way the book is written, it makes the charactes seem more real somehow. I have your other book - notes on an exhibition - on my reading list. Thanks for a good, easy read. Which of your other books would you recommend and has your writing style changed over time?
This book also strikes me as something good for TV, would yoube happy to have your books turned into TV dramas?

PatrickGale Wed 27-Jun-12 21:51:23

Hullygully

I think as well there is a tension with writing stuff as it really is eg people are conflicted, alienated, cowardly, ambivalent, amoral etc and simultaneously fulfilling the needs of fiction for the majority of readers: engagement, caring and warmth.

Do we read fiction for "real" life?

This is a really interesting point, Hullygully. As a novelist, I want to create characters who feel like real people, with all the ambivalence and conflict real people carry in them, yet I’m always aware that many readers look to fiction for a kind of comfort they can’t find in real life.

I suspect the answer lies in narrative structure. The right narrative structure can deliver the comfort – and I don’t necessarily mean happy endings, I’m thinking more of emotional satisfaction, justice if you like – while the characters can cause a lifelike lingering discomfort or worry. It’s good when readers get angry about a character or worry about what will happen to them next; I think that presses more satisfactory buttons in a reader’s emotions than simply giving them sympathetic people to spend time with. I reckon the important thing in characterisation is to offer up details we can all recognize, feelings we have felt, impulses we may have been tempted by.

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