Choice of quotes
from David Beckham and William Shakespeare
feature at the start of the novel. The David
Beckham quote is a neat encapsulation of the
perceived wisdom regarding the role of a husband
and father. The Shakespeare quote, 'Wisdom
cries out in the street and no man regards
it’, is a potential challenge to perceived
wisdom and therefore provides a useful counterbalance
to the Beckham quote. I also thought ‘Wisdom
cries out in the street’ was fitting
for a novel where dogs may have the upper
hand. Or paw. The quote is from Henry IV Part
One, spoken by Falstaff to Prince Hal.
Beckham and Shakespeare are both very different
representatives of England, so I thought it
would be fun to put them side-by-side.
Henry IV Part One
IV Part One is my favourite Shakespeare play
and loosely inspired the sub-plot for The
Last Family in England. In the play Prince
Hal is caught between following his duty as
the future King of England, represented by
his father King Henry, and the world of mischief
and hedonistic self-indulgence represented
by Sir Jack Falstaff. So in my novel Prince
faces a similar predicament, caught between
his Labrador mentor Henry and the mischievous
Springer spaniel Falstaff.
although rarely performed nowadays, Henry
IV Part One (along with Part Two) was more
popular than Hamlet in Shakespeare’s
own time. Queen Elizabeth I so loved the character
of Falstaff that she commanded Shakespeare
to write a play which centred around him.
are a number of textual references to the
play. For instance, in the novel Falstaff
calls Prince 'madwag' because of the way he
wags his tail and in the Shakespeare version
Falstaff greets Prince Hal by saying 'how
now you mad wag' and always refers to him
as a wag of some sort.
were, of course, a variety of other conscious
influences apparent when writing this book.
The spelling of ‘Family’
will notice that the word family is sometimes
spelt with a capital F and sometimes with
a lower case f. When humans are speaking they
obviously say ‘family’ and when
dogs are speaking they say ‘Family’.
This is because all dogs, not just Labradors,
once worshipped the human family religiously.
And so it is likely they would still talk
of ‘Family’, just as many people
in secular societies talk of ‘God’.
I’ve also got Lapsang, the cat, saying
‘Family’. This is because I believe
that she values the human family she lives
with far more than she would have us believe.
The short chapters
all the chapters were normal length, but then
I decided to go through and chop them all
up to make them shorter. The shortest chapter
is the one called ‘sound’ which
consists of four words, ‘There was a
can’t beat short chapters, in my opinion,
especially when they’re placed before
longer chapters. They’re not only very
user-friendly (especially for people who read
on the tube), but they also inject pace and
add atmosphere. In contemporary cinema it
is a common technique to have a short shot
of something before a longer scene. For instance,
in Jerry Bruckheimer movies you’ll get
a short flashy view of a cityscape before
a long shoot-out.
chapters also help with pacing, and keep momentum
going at the speed of a dog galloping in a
A note on Springer spaniels
Springer spaniels are presented as a corrupting
influence on all dog breeds in the novel.
Their belief in pleasure over duty is said
to have jeopardised the security of all human
would like to distance myself from the views
of my narrator at this point.
have nothing against Springer spaniels. In
fact, from the age of ten to eighteen I used
to live with one. His name was Murdoch (and
he has a cameo role in the vet scene at the
start of the novel), and I loved him very
much. He may have believed in pleasure over
duty (in fact, I’m pretty sure he did),
but that made him all the more fun to be around.
A note on cats
have nothing against cats either. The character
of the cat Lapsang in the novel may do cats
a disservice, but the novel is written from
a Labrador’s perspective and must therefore
reflect a Labrador’s prejudices.
A note on Labradors
I could only guess at what prejudices a Labrador
might have as I have no immediate first-hand
experience of being one, contrary to the rumours.
BEHIND THE SCENES STUFF
Last Family in England was written on a series
of Wide Ruled A4 Refill Pads purchased from
WH Smith, using a Papermate Flexigrip Ultra
of the writing was done in my bed, but some
of it was done in my living room. One chapter
(‘chop’) was written on a GNER
train travelling to my girlfriends’
parents house near Durham.
girlfriend helped type it up onto her Packard
Bell laptop, using Microsoft Windows ME software.
OK, she typed the whole thing up. She is a
fast-typer. I am not, even though I used to
make a living with my own Internet PR firm
and writing about the Internet and computers.
listened to a variety of albums during the
writing process. Including:
Wonder, Hotter than July
Elliot, Miss E . . . So Addictive
Brown, Music of the Spheres
Gaye, What's going on
Da Housecat, Excursions
The Best of 1990 – 2000
Smiths, Best II
Hot Chilli Peppers, By the Way
didn’t write while watching TV, except
for two paragraphs completed during an episode
of Six Feet Under. Hopefully you aren’t
able to tell which two paragraphs they are.
tried not to read too much during the months
I was writing. I think they call it ‘anxiety
of influence’. But anyway, I made exceptions
Franzen, The Corrections
King, On Writing
Boyd, Any Human Heart
James, The Portrait of a Lady
Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential
Health magazine (but only the workout sections)
TV pages (various newspapers)
of toilet roll (an Andrex competition)
food ate during this period was vegetarian,
and principally from Safeway supermarket.
A near-disastrous moment occurred nearly half-way
through the novel when I spilt a glass of
Ribena over a pad full of work. A hairdryer
and some very quick-thinking on my girlfriend’s
behalf saved the day.
days I would walk to the park with my girlfriend
and test ideas out on her. She would tell
me if they were crap or if they were good.
If she said they were crap I would argue with
her but then have to agree.
Saturdays we went to a really tacky bar near
where we live and would often row because
I wanted to stay out later than her. In fact,
we still do that.
started in January 2002, although at that
point the idea of the Labrador narrator hadn’t
arrived in my head. The novel was going to
be narrated by each member of the family telling
their story to a silent family therapist.
Writing finished in August 2002 and I congratulated
all the characters and took them out for a
celebratory drink (I didn’t really.
I’m just trying to be all clever and
was then sent to the
Bell Lomax literary agency, which had recently
set up, and seemed to be relevant. They said
they liked it and wanted to represent me.
Five months later, in May 2003, I got a call
from my agent to say Jonathan Cape wanted
to publish TLFIE. I was in bed at the time.
It felt for a few seconds like I had won Pop
Idol, although Ant and Dec weren’t there
to interview me, and no-one in the country
knew or cared about this news.
then went to meet my new publishers, and nearly
had a panic-attack in the lift up to the seventh
floor of Random House. My publisher was fantastic
and very reassuring though, and told me the
book would appear in May 2004. I am now in
the process of working with various humans
and Labradors to check that I got all the