Join Rachel Joyce to talk about January's Book of the Month, THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, on Tuesday 29 Jan, 9-10pm

(222 Posts)

January is all about making fresh starts, new plans and wildly unrealistic promises. Most of us fall by the wayside within days. But not Harold Fry. The hero of our Booker-longlisted, January Book of the Month, THE PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, is a retired and unhappily married pensioner living in Devon, who receives a letter from an old friend in Berwick Upon Tweed telling him she has cancer. He writes a reply, but on his way to the postbox, he decides that this is not enough. He must walk to Berwick in person, there and then. Only this, he knows, will keep her alive. And so begins a remarkable journey through the roads, cafes, tourist centres, towns and lanes of Britain. Along the way, a cast of diverse characters support, encourage and empathise with him, eventually turning into a cult following. Meanwhile, Harold's own memories begin to bubble up, and resolve the regret and sadness that have blighted his marriage and his relationship with David, the son who dramatically left home.

An exploration of grief and regret, as well as a celebration of love, faith and hope, this is a charming, moving and peculiarly British book.

Our book of the month page has more details about THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY. You can get a paperback or Kindle edition here.

We are thrilled that Rachel will be joining us to discuss the book and answer any questions about THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, the Booker longlist and her writing career on Tuesday 29 January, 9-10pm.

Hope you can join us...

Excellent advance questions, everyone - thank you. I've forwarded them all to Rachel and looking forward to her answers when we kick off tomorrow night.

Has been particularly enjoyable having such a wealth of discussion, pre-author chat. Just want to encourage everyone to feel free to talk about the books throughout the month (know it is hard with spoilers, particularly with February's GONE GIRL, but hopefully we can do it without giving too much away)

See you 9pm tomorrow...

lilibet Mon 28-Jan-13 19:34:33

Hi Rachel

Thanks for coming to mumsnet and thanks for writing such a thought provoking book. I was bought it for my birthday in May and have pressed it on several people since then, who have all loved it, including my husband.

What differences did you find in writing for radio and writing a novel, did you picture the characters in the same way? I never really connect with a book or a radio play unless I cast the people in my head, if I can't find a face for a main character, chances are that I won't get along with the book. I cast everyone in Harold Fry! (if you need my services for any movie or tv adaptaion, I can be contacted through mumsnet wink )

jennywren123 Mon 28-Jan-13 20:28:49

Desperately trying to finish the book before tomorrow!!!

RachelJoyce Tue 29-Jan-13 06:12:19

TillyBookClub

Excellent advance questions, everyone - thank you. I've forwarded them all to Rachel and looking forward to her answers when we kick off tomorrow night.

Has been particularly enjoyable having such a wealth of discussion, pre-author chat. Just want to encourage everyone to feel free to talk about the books throughout the month (know it is hard with spoilers, particularly with February's GONE GIRL, but hopefully we can do it without giving too much away)

See you 9pm tomorrow...

Just doing a small test! Looking forward to speaking to you later..

gazzalw Tue 29-Jan-13 07:10:19

You can tell you're a parent up and working at 6.12 amgrin

MummyBarrow Tue 29-Jan-13 09:42:49

Really looking forward to seeing Rachel talk tonight. I have been a huge fan of Harold since I first heard about him last year. An unputtdownable read.

I also managed to meet Rachel after hearing her read from the book in Cirencester last year.

I won't post any spoilers but Rachel knows why this book really struck a chord with me and why I passionately love Harold.

here's to 9pm!

gazzalw Tue 29-Jan-13 10:17:57

Sounds intriguing, MummyBarrow....

I've had a long think about this and I think 'journey' novels are possibly the ones I find most interesting and easy to read. An entirely different type of novel to The Sisters Brothers, but it's that same emotional and physical roll-out with the array of different characters, all of whom impact on the one(s) doing the journey....

I definitely felt I was sitting on Harold's shoulder for the entirety of his journey and loved most of it.

Belo Tue 29-Jan-13 10:31:37

For only the 2nd time ever I've finished a book in time!

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and agreed with the other posters that it picked up its momentum as it went through.

My questions/comments are... I didn't guess about David. It came as a shock to me in the same way that finding out about the husbands death in We need to talk about Kevin did. Was that book an influence on you Rachel?

I would like to have heard more about Maureen - she seemed to have come on quite a journey herself, but it would have been nicer to have had her turned into a fuller character. And, Rex, it appeared that he was only there to try and pull Maureen out of herself. Was there a reason that you didn't expand these characters, and give them more of a role?

Jossysgiants Tue 29-Jan-13 11:28:57

gaelicssheep I know it's a while since you posted your comment, but just wanted to say after finishing the book last night I was left with the same ambivalence as you, for the same reason. I am also interested in Maureen- while Harold was the one walking, Maureen was the one who had a stronger journey in my view. She was the one who had stepped away from their lives, more than he had.

gaelicsheep Tue 29-Jan-13 13:01:43

That's interesting Jossygiants, I was starting to think it was just me! I have to go away for a few nights with no internet access unfortunately, but I will look forward to reading this thread when I'm back! Enjoy yourselves everyone. :-)

RSVP Tue 29-Jan-13 15:34:23

Thanks a lot for the copy!

Hi Rachel,
I am very much enjoying reading the book, but haven't managed to finish it yet. I do have a question though and I hope it makes sense:

'he felt he had already broken an unspoken English rule in asking for help' (p.62, emphasis added)

I think that's absolutely spot on! Why do you think that is? Especially as there is no shortage of offering help, e.g. the woman did help Harold....

I am not English but DH and his parents are. Of all cultural differences this one is bugging me most. Why is it so wrong to admit being in need?

Eirwen Tue 29-Jan-13 15:49:50

Thank you so much for the free book. I didn't get around to starting it until the snowy weekend. The evening we had planned on the Saturday was cancelled due to the snow so I sat down and began reading in late afternoon. I couldn't put it down ! I finished it at 3 a.m. on Sunday and it has been on my mind ever since. It reminds me of some 'not talking' within my own extended family after a bereavement, sadly, which carried on unresolved for many years.

Like Gazzalw, I was with Harold all of the way, feeling the pain of every blister and of all the past wasted years. Both David's suicide and Queenie's sad state of health came as a shock. I would love to hear more of Rex and the nurse and maybe some of the other pilgrims. Any thoughts of a sequel?

Thanks for a fantastic book which I will recommend to anyone who is interested.

fifide Tue 29-Jan-13 19:37:04

Once again I am only half way through! After a slow start I am just beginning to enjoy Harold's journey. The moments of human interaction as Harold makes his way are bitter sweet and very touching. I am looking forward to reading more.
I won't be here for the chat (fearing spoilers!) but thank you Rachel for writing the book and hope it goes well tonight.

Belo Tue 29-Jan-13 20:43:54

I've been thinking about this more during the course of the day. I like the way that Harold learns to communicate with his wife again by his interaction with strangers. I think that is very true. You can start afresh with new people, you don't have the history. The people whom he met helped build his confidence and enabled him to be himself with Maureen.

gailforce1 Tue 29-Jan-13 20:51:01

Hi Rachel. Thank you for coming to chat to us. I would like to ask which authors or books do you choose to read?

jennywren123 Tue 29-Jan-13 20:54:41

I've just finished, with 15 minutes to spare! I really enjoyed learning about Harold and loved that he was so "British" - wearing his shirt and tie, not wanting to talk too much about his feelings and generally being over-polite and maybe a bit of a pushover because of that.

I didn't enjoy the section with the other "pilgrims" joining him as much as the lone parts of his walk. It annoyed me that he allowed them to distract him from his walk. I would like to know what happened to Wilf though.

I was hoping towards the end that we would find out more about Queenie and her life before and after working in the Brewery. I thought she might have been a sister of Harold's that he didn't know existed.

Thanks again for a lovely read - very enjoyable.

MummyBarrow Tue 29-Jan-13 20:55:20

Is Rachel here yet? is she here yet?

<plonks self on sofa with a glass of wine>

Hi Rachel. Hope you are well.

Evening everyone,

Bookclub 2013 has certainly got off to a roaring start - 134 posts and we haven't even begun the actual chat yet...

I am delighted that Rachel is joining us tonight to talk about her writing, her inspiration and the events that led her to write THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY.

We already have many questions to get through, so off we go...

Rachel, firstly, thank you very much indeed for taking the time to be here. And many congratulations on a beautifully written, moving book. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you...

gaelicsheep Tue 29-Jan-13 21:00:15

I made it after all!

RachelJoyce Tue 29-Jan-13 21:02:32

TillyBookClub

Evening everyone,

Bookclub 2013 has certainly got off to a roaring start - 134 posts and we haven't even begun the actual chat yet...

I am delighted that Rachel is joining us tonight to talk about her writing, her inspiration and the events that led her to write THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY.

We already have many questions to get through, so off we go...

Rachel, firstly, thank you very much indeed for taking the time to be here. And many congratulations on a beautifully written, moving book. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you...

Hello, everyone. Thank you for inviting me to be part of this. I’m admitting to you now that I have never done it before – so please bear with me. I have read through the whole thread very carefully, though, taking in all your comments - and I promise to answer as frankly and simply as I can.

As for those first two questions, my favourite childhood book might have to be The Didakoi by Rumer Godden. I read it again with my youngest daughter recently and she was enthralled. I loved reading as a child. I was unhappy sometimes and very willing to believe in things I didn’t know.

As for writing advice; don’t give up. That’s my advice. Keep going even when you want to shout or cry, you are so frustrated with it. For me, writing the book was like being Harold. (And I often saw my journey as parallel to his.) It stands to reason that if you keep going, you will get there.

RachelJoyce Tue 29-Jan-13 21:05:08

modernbear

Received a copy yesterday morning. I could not put it down. Consequently, I have just finished it. It is good that I have an understanding husband. By the end I was in tears. I lost both parents quite young in relative terms. My mother to cancer. I know I would have walked a million miles to keep her alive.

I wonder if writing this particular work allowed Rachel Joyce to come to terms with something in her past, in some way mirroring Harold's literal journey?

Hello modernbear, I have been very open about the fact I began this story when I found out my father was dying from cancer. I knew I would never tell him and also knew he would not live long enough to find out. I was right about both things. So yes, the story was my way of dealing with my wild and complicated grief. Even though I didn’t quite see it at the time, it makes sense to me now that – as I was losing my dad – I wrote about a man who tries to keep someone else alive.
I am sorry about your parents – but I suppose at least we both understand in some way what the other feels? The book has never replaced my dad, but it helped me to move from a very painful place.
I still miss him terribly. I wish he would walk into the room right now.

RachelJoyce Tue 29-Jan-13 21:07:35

Hullygully

Hi Rachel,

I have thought about your book quite a lot, what puzzles me is that it is an interesting idea, pilgrimage as redemption etc, but the characters are, to me, less than fully realised. Harold is a bit more drawn, but Maureen is a cardboard cut out and I have no picture of her at all. She exists solely in relation to Harold's redemption. You may of course disagree!

I wonder if this is because of radio, or because Harold is to stand as an everyman? Or both?

Did the idea come before the characters? It feels more idea driven than character.

Hello Hullygully, I am sad you feel the characters are cardboard and cut out – but of course I’m not going to agree with you..! I feel that the big detail is in the smallest things. Personally I don’t like books that ‘tell’ me too much. I want to find out for myself about the character, within the context of his or her interaction with other people, their environment, etc. We can’t all like the same thing, though. That’s why we must never stop trying to tell stories, I think.
For me the characters were there from the start. I heard, saw, and felt them very clearly. I didn’t think of any of them as representations of anything but I suppose it isn’t my job to see them in that way.

CuriousMama Tue 29-Jan-13 21:09:57

Hello Rachel, I adored TUPOHF. Cried buckets and still feel weepy when I think of it. Dp also cried especially when he read their son had died. I did have an inkling to be honest.

I'd like to ask if you have any tips on the structure of writing a novel? I'm tempted to buy a writing kit but not sure if I really need one? I did buy one before but lost it in a house move but hadn't really tried using it. Or maybe I should carry a large notebook around and take notes?

I'd rather be a script writer but would love to attempt a novel.

Good luck in your future and look forward to your next works smile

RachelJoyce Tue 29-Jan-13 21:10:03

whatphididnext

Hi Rachel.
I really enjoyed your book, thank you. I am looking forward to reading your next one.

I love stories that illustrate the quiet desperation of ordinary lives.

I thought your use of the net curtains in relation to Maureen was clever.

Why did you not expand more on Rex's situation? I felt there was enough there to have his story running parallel with Harold's story.

Hello whatphididnext; and thank you.

As a matter of fact, I wrote a lot more of Rex and in the end it had to go because I felt the story had to keep moving forward. But Rex has one of the key lines in the book - the one about grief, about the fact that it is a hole at our feet and at first we keep falling in, but in time we learn how to walk round it - and for me he is pivotal in helping Maureen to understand Harold and accept the past. He's a good man, is Rex.

But it isn't his book. I think he would understand that.

RachelJoyce Tue 29-Jan-13 21:12:02

DuchessofMalfi

I finished reading the book last night. I liked it, but didn't love it. I didn't see the twist coming at all. I was miles off, pondering whether Queenie was going to turn out to be Harold's sister after all and he'd never known grin grin.

Anyway, I thought that Harold's reasons for his pilgrimage were rather flimsy to begin with but which deepened as his journey progressed. Perhaps that is, in essence, what a pilgrimage is - a time for personal reflection.

I felt the novel wasn't just about Harold's journey. We saw Maureen gradually discover more about herself, come to terms with her grief, and learn to move on. In some ways, she had the greater emotional journey, to return to the love of her husband.

My question for Rachel Joyce is, as it is a novel essentially about personal reflection, do you think that would translate well into film or do you think that it's meaning would be lost?

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