Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Hi Fiona. My name is Phil Andrews and I am 57.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I was born and brought up in Isleworth, where the postal address says Middlesex but to most people these days it is in West London. After all these years I still live there, which I guess shows either dedication or a serious lack of imagination.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I was privileged to spend my earliest years at a wonderful primary school called Worple Road. That was a very long time ago – back in the 1960s and early seventies – but such was the bond that we local kids had that dozens of us still keep in touch through social media and organise reunions every two or three years. From there I went on to Isleworth Grammar School and then to Manchester Polytechnic where I began a degree course in social science. Regrettably though I was an immature student and paid scant attention to my studies, preferring to dedicate my time to my new-found freedom and social life up in the North West. As a result I neglected my course and ended up dropping out and joining the world of employment, where I have since done just about everything from management to labouring to clerical work. Oh, and I was a local councillor for twelve years – in Isleworth, naturally.
At the tender age of 34 I got married, and my wife Caroline and I now have 21-year-old twins Joseph and Rosina.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
Life these days seems to be a perpetual struggle between trying to find the time to be creative and the need to earn a living in order to pay the bills and meet everyday costs and outgoings. I’m a social person by nature but I have to admit that I’ve become a bit of a hermit in recent years, attempting to keep these two balls in the air at the same time.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Incredible though it may sound my début novel The Best Year Of Our Lives was a whole four decades in the making. In its original and most primitive form it began to take shape back in 1977, but it has been put to one side and then revisited on so many occasions since then. To be honest I’m glad because my writing style even ten or twenty years ago was in my view very childlike, and had I completed the book back then I would almost certainly not be happy with it today. The story was like a good malt whisky, it had to spend many years maturing before I could unleash it upon the pubic.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
English Language was always my strongest subject at senior school. Although in most subjects I spent the larger part of my time in detentions or standing in the vestibule, I couldn’t get enough of story writing. It is the only artistic medium for which I have any known talent so I use my writing to paint my pictures and compose my music. That’s the way I like to think of it anyway.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first and so far only novel was inspired by my own adolescence. The year 1976 was extraordinarily special for me, not only because it was the year of that famously long and hot summer but also because I was blessed to have been able to spend it in the company of a wonderful group of friends, all of whom I still think about more or less every day of my life. It was a truly magical, almost surreal experience and I can still remember events and conversations from that year as though they happened yesterday.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The title was a tribute to the singer and songwriter Steve Harley from Cockney Rebel, who was one of the artists that most inspired me during the years leading up to that period (his album The Best Years Of Our Lives was recorded in 1975 and contained some of his finest work). As the book was set almost exclusively in one particular year it seemed very apt.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I think everyone has a specific writing style. I don’t set out to write in a particular style but instinctively I try to pitch the tone of whatever I’m writing to reflect the mood of the central character. It is his story and not to use the power of words to project his thoughts and his emotional state at any given time is in my opinion a lost opportunity.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Those who know me will know that almost all of the characters in the book are modelled on real people who shared that wonderful period of my life with me. Some of the events and even conversations are reproduced faithfully from memory. But only some, that is the point which needs to be stressed. The characters are fictional and that is for a reason – it gives me the licence to tweak them in a way that creates the desired contrast and group dynamics for the story. Needless to say many of the events are fictitious too, because my challenge was to turn a diary of everyday existence into a tale with a beginning, a middle and an end. But still I have friends who recognise “themselves” in the book and tell me “I didn’t say this” or “I didn’t do that”. It’s a cross I bear happily.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
The Prologue was written many years ago and I took a trip to Oxfordshire and visited some old haunts specifically to get a “feel” for the work. It’s a short preamble to the substantive work but I couldn’t have written it had I not been there, actually physically looking out over the scene and breathing the air.
When the main body of the work was finally brought together I took an eight-month career break from my job as a postman and began almost every day with a four or five mile walk along the river, visiting some of the places that I’ve attempted to bring to life in the book. It’s amazing how much detail one notices when one is specifically looking for it, even at locations which have been around me all my life.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
That was my daughter Rosina. She’s the visual artist, I just write stuff.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I think there are all kinds of messages coming in left field, but I don’t think there is a moral to the story as such. The lead character is a complex individual who is neither wholly good nor wholly bad, which I suppose could be said about any of us really. I’ve noticed that some people do tend to make very binary judgements about others but if only life was that simple.
There is an element of mysticism in the work which I would guess has rubbed off on me from my interest in Arthurian legend and, on a different level, in the works of Tolkien. Throw in my Christian faith with all of that and what emerged was always going to be an eclectic mix.
One thing I do hope that readers get from it is a recognition that we should not be too quick to dismiss the things that inspired and defined us when we were in our formative years. There is a whole lot of truth in the things we go through when we are young which leave an indelible mark upon our souls as we beat our weary paths through adulthood. Lose it and we lose who we are.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
It may sound an odd thing for an aspirant author to say but I’m not really a big reader of mainstream fiction. Having discovered for myself a whole new world in the relatively recent phenomenon of self-publishing I tend to look there for literary entertainment. I have recently read a couple of very interesting novels by Susan L. Stewart and Ray Burston respectively and I found them rather compelling.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
My old friends from back in 1976 spurred me on to get the book finished and out there, although even those I am still in touch with probably never realised it. Just the memory was enough to keep me ploughing relentlessly on because we had something which I knew must never be allowed to die – and now it won’t.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I would dearly love to dedicate myself to writing without having to top up my income through other work, but the down side of self-publishing is that anybody can do it. It was Andy Warhol who said that one day everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes and so it has proved, but that does tend to depress the market.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Oh absolutely, I never cease thinking of things which I could have added into the mix. Usually it’s very small stuff, like a reference or a piece of dialogue, but there is always something. The truth is though that there needs to be a cut-off, a point at which one says that’s it. Like a painting or a piece of music, a book represents a place in time. It conveys the things I was feeling when I wrote it. Other than correcting the odd typographical error I have deliberately left well alone since the day the book went into print.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Lessons I’ve already forgotten, like really effective time management and the need to immerse oneself in the right environment not only for being creative, but for “feeling” the storyline. Writing a novel is not just about putting a series of words together in the correct sequence, but about painting a picture that readers can really immersethemselves in.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
That’s a very difficult one to answer Fiona because the lead character is only fourteen or fifteen years of age and I’m not familiar with any actors from within that age group. But I would very much like to play the older man who features in the Epilogue. I’ve a feeling it’s a part I could well grow into.
I would dearly love it to be made into a film and if I’m ever successful enough to acquire the necessary funds it’s something that I might actually consider commissioning myself, if only as a vanity project. It would also be a wonderful challenge to set it to music and I do fancy myself as a lyricist, although in actual musical terms I’m clueless.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Self-publishing has opened up a whole new world of opportunity and if you really do want to get that book published there is now absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t. But take some time to draw up a marketing plan before rushing to print because in some respects when you self-publish it’s the writing of the book that’s the easy bit.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
All writers love feedback, and all but the most vain appreciate honest criticism where it is due. It is impossible for me to read my novel through the eyes of an onlooker so please do let me know what you think of it, whether it be by means of an online review or just by contacting me directly.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Working At Worple by Ken Noakes. It’s a history of my old primary school by a man who for two years was my class teacher. It is truly marvellous that all this information and such precious memories can now be consigned permanently to record thanks to the technology which makes short-run publishing possible at a viable cost.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Yes, it was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. My first teacher, Miss Wilson, became so fed up with my constant interruptions and general bad behaviour as she tried to read it out to the class that she handed me the book and told me that if I felt I could do any better myself I should take over. So I did, reading an entire chapter to my amused classmates and my gobsmacked teacher. I was five years old, and she was so impressed that she gave me the book to keep.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I like to think I have a sense of humour and I’m afraid I am a sucker for sarcasm just so long as it’s clever. I know the words to every episode of Fawlty Towers verbatim but it still has me in stitches.
On the crying front, I can be brought to tears listening to a sad song which I can relate to, especially when I’m in my own company and after a beer or two. My mind just takes over and I redefine the words by applying them to some event in my own life, often hideously exaggerated.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Steve Harley – I’m a big fan as I mentioned earlier. I would talk him through his back catalogue and ask him what inspired his various songs, but also – and I know this is going to sound incredibly vain – I would ask him for his further thoughts on my own novel, in which there are several references to him and to his work. He has already told me he liked the book, and wrote me a nice letter wishing me every success with it. He is still performing and I regularly see him playing live. It is comforting to have this tangible creative connection between my teenage years and the present day.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
I have had, in the past, but to be truthful I’m a bit of a workaholic which has meant that in practice I have little time for hobbies. It is only when I’m away on holiday that I manage to unwind, and it’s no coincidence that when I do so the creative juices begin to flow and I come back home with lots of new ideas and fresh perspectives. So you could say that holidaying is my hobby, but even that has a work dimension.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I’m something of a geek when it comes to television, preferring news broadcasts and current affairs programmes to any kind of entertainment. When I do manage to get into a film though I can take a lot from it. I like historical epics rather than cheesy Hollywood dramas though. Something like El Cid or Ben Hur, dated though they are, will always trump the latest movie blockbuster in my my book.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Food wise I enjoy anything with a bit of spice, which is odd when I was born into a family whose idea of an exotic meal was to open a tin of spaghetti. Jerk, Indian (hot within reason, madras to vindaloo), Thai, Mexican – any of these do it for me. I’m afraid I’m not very patriotic when it comes to cuisine, I find English food bland and boring although I am partial to the occasional fry-up.
My favourite colour is probably green, bearing in mind it was the colour of the rosette I sported when I was in the process of being elected to my local council (although it didn’t symbolise any particular party allegiance as I was an independent).
Musically like many of my generation I have always been a massive Bowie fan. He was a creative genius who set the pace throughout the 1970s and continued to do so more or less ever since. He began as a folky type who piggybacked the glam rock era and made it has own, then moved seamlessly on through a whole range of genres, setting the pace and then leaving them behind for something new. It was my pleasure fairly recently to attend a presentation by Woody Woodmansey, Bowie’s drummer from The Spiders From Mars and sadly the last surviving member of the band, and Tony Visconti who was his producer as well as his occasional bass player. After the event I had the opportunity to exchange a few words with both men and to have my photo taken with them, all of us holding the books that we had written. They probably wondered who the hell I was but for me it was my Andy Warhol moment.
I have already mentioned Steve Harley more than once. For whatever reason I found myself the proud owner of a couple of his early albums at a particular time in my life when I was looking for artistic inspiration beyond the comfort zone of slapstick glam, and it became the soundtrack to a relatively short but important period of my life. Sure it had ego but it put in a shift and was refreshingly honest in its presentation.
Aside from Bowie and Harley my tastes are varied. Rock is my go-to medium but every now and again I find myself dipping into mid-seventies disco or soul, or just some easy ballad. It really depends on my mood at the time.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Unless somebody can suggest another means of consigning my thoughts to record I cannot conceive of a futurein which I no longer write. It is beyond even my imagination.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
Knowing me I would probably find myself catching up with stuff that should have been done before but has been put to one side. Silly mundane things, like putting up a shelf that I’ve been promising to attend to for ages or doing the washing-up.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
“I told you I didn’t feel well.”
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Yes it’s at www.phil-andrews.co.uk. Forever a work in progress.
Paperback – http://goo.gl/PViH7h
Ebook – http://goo.gl/kcptpX
Author page (UK) – http://goo.gl/KWU27r
Author page (US) – http://goo.gl/QRsai3
Web page – http://www.phil-andrews.co.uk