are some of the questions journalists have
been asking me about The Dead Fathers
What prompted you to write novels? What have
been the defining moments in your career so
Nothing beats that first phone-call when you
find out your book is going to be published.
But generally the best moments are those when
everything just clicks and the idea for a
novel is suddenly complete in your head. It
feels like reaching the top of a very steep
hill and finally being able to take your backpack
off. As to the prompt, well I’d always
had ideas for stories but had never sat down
to do it. It was a few years ago when my long-term
girlfriend’s mum was diagnosed with
cancer and we took quite a bit of time off
to be with her. It was at that point, I decided
to put something down on paper.
Who are your biggest literary and non-literary
Anxiety is my main influence. I think, really,
anxiety is the key mood at the beginning of
the twenty-first century, so being a naturally
anxious person helps capture that kind of
feeling. Shakespeare is my most obvious literary
influence, I suppose.
the ideas for your stories come first –
and the link to Shakespeare later - or do
you have a conscious project to recast Shakespeare
for the modern age?
With The Last Family in England the
initial idea was to tell a story of a family.
The dog stuff, and the Shakespeare stuff,
came later. With The Dead Fathers Club
it happened very naturally. It was a father-son
story that migrated slowly towards Hamlet.
I believe all writing is based on other writing,
and if you’re conscious of where it’s
coming from you should acknowledge your sources.
Once I was being honest about it, it gave
me a free reign to mine all the big and limitless
themes that are in the plays.
In The Dead Fathers Club you write
from an adolescent’s perspective. Why
does this age group hold such a fascination
I suppose it’s the age between innocence
and experience, and as most fiction deals
with character transformation to some extent
you’re on fertile ground from the start.
I think it also helps with observational stuff,
to put yourself inside a younger mind, because
the world instantly looks a bit newer.
On the page, Philip’s narrative is a
hyperactive, unpunctuated stream of consciousness;
disorientating at first, but inevitably drawing
the reader into Philip’s nightmarish
world. Was this the intention all along, and
were there any editorial upsets over this?
No. It wasn’t my original intention.
I experimented with various different ways
of expressing Philip’s state of mind
but this one somehow worked best. And thankfully,
my editor didn’t have a problem with
Unlike poor old Hamlet, Philip lives in an
age when mental stability comes in little
bottles. But the drugs really don’t
work, do they?
A. In 1999, when I was living in Spain, I
was prescribed diazepam for anxiety, but I
didn’t get better until I stopped taking
What sort of research into child psychology
did you do in preparation for writing this
novel? Have you ever experienced any form
of mental illness?
I used to suffer from panic attacks, but gradually
realised the worst thing that could happen
was that I could make a fool out of myself.
One thing I particularly liked about Dead
Fathers Club is that you don’t
rely on lots of topical references to TV or
toys in order to make Philip sound realistic
as an 11 year-old; this is done completely
through his ‘voice’ alone. How
did you establish this authenticity, through
research or personal experience?
Not through research, so I guess it was personal
experience. I grew up in Newark-on-Trent,
and went to a school like Philip’s,
so it was relatively easy to conjure that
world. And as I was a rather anxious eleven-year-old
I drew a lot from my own feelings from that
The Dead Fathers Club made me think
of the psychiatrist R.D. Laing, who argued
that when people seem to be ‘mad,’
they’re just articulating underlying
worries and anxieties that they are prevented,
by circumstance or convention, from articulating
normally. Would you agree that Philip’s
madness (like Hamlet’s) is a kind of
A. I think it is. He clearly can’t come
to terms with the sudden absence of his father
so he ends up over-compensating through the
creation of a world that only he can see.
Grief’s a bit like that, isn’t
it? It’s like the ‘phantom limb’
amputees feel. Your mind takes a while to
get used to a devastating new reality.
There are no exact correspondences to Hamlet
in The Dead Fathers Club. Philip
has lost his father, and his uncle Alan has
usurped his mother’s affections and
the proprietorship of the ‘Castle’.
However, without giving away the end of the
novel, is it safe to say that Philip breaks
free of Shakespeare’s narrative, and
if so, why is this significant for you?
A. Influence can’t be a straight-jacket,
and I never feel obliged to stick rigidly
to any plot structure. I didn’t want
there to be a straightforward happy ending,
but I wanted there to be some kind of hope.
Your books deal with big, difficult issues
in a way that appeals to both adults and teenagers.
In regard the latter, do you feel that the
reason a lot of young people don’t take
to reading is because they feel that traditional
teen-lit is a bit patronising? Is this something
you have consciously addressed?
A. I wouldn’t say I was consciously
trying to write a certain way, but yes, I
do feel that a lot of writers underestimate
teenage readers. Teenagers are among the best
kind of readers, because they have the intelligence
to understand big ideas, combined with that
open-mindedness you tend to shed with age.
There’s talk about a film! How involved
would you like to be in this project?
A. I’m not too precious. As someone
who plays fast and loose with the Shakespearian
canon, it would be a bit hypocritical of me
if I stopped other people interpreting my
own work in a different way to how I envisaged.
And David Heyman, the film producer who has
optioned The Dead Fathers Club, has a lot
of great ideas of how he sees the film, so
I’m happy to leave it in his capable
What’s your next project?
A. I’ve got a children’s book,
Shadow Forest, due out next year.
It’s a fantasy book but in the Dahl
rather than the Tolkien sense. I’m also
working on another adult novel.
Read more FAQs in The
Dead Fathers Club's Reading Guide
and there's more general stuff here.