Interview with Keith Anthony…..
For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book(s) please?
I live in Buckinghamshire and enjoy hiking in the Chiltern countryside, though I’m determined this year to start cycling again. I’d also like to learn wildlife photography. I play classical and finger picking blues guitar, but hit a musical ceiling a long time ago. At school I liked languages: I’ve since spent short periods of time living in a number of European countries, often trying to learn their languages too, though with mixed success… Balkan languages are super hard! I’m also interested in spiritual matters, but always with many more questions than answers.
Times and Places is about a couple who lost their 24 year old daughter a decade previously. They go on a cruise, meeting lots of colourful people but, amidst various misadventures, their emotions finally come to a head. There are plenty of flashbacks to their daughter’s life and to the aftermath of her accident, and these often involve locations I love. My story has some quietly spiritual parts to it, but I sought to mix in lots of observational humour, pathos, romance, natural beauty and light gothic horror to create a thoughtful but very accessible read.
Where did/do you get your ideas from?
I went on a cruise and it struck me as a perfect setting for a novel: on board you are trapped with strangers to love or loath, ships call at interesting ports and cruises are ripe for humour and satire.
I once ventured on a silent retreat and was interested by how the mind responds to being taken out of the modern world. I decided to send Fergus there too, to think through his anxieties and his faith, but the reader is left to make up their own mind: they are entirely free to think him crazy!
Finally, I wanted to capture the beauty of the places I love – the Isles of Scilly, Slovenia, the Chilterns – and to use them to evoke a slightly mystical natural backdrop to a poignant story.
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
I’m half Fergus, with his anxieties and spiritual wonderings, and half his daughter Justine, with her love of nature, wildlife and romantic train journeys. But there are also bits of them that are not me at all, and bits of me that are not them.
How do you pick your characters names?
Fergus and his wife Sylvie, I have no idea! They just came to me and felt immediately right: I never looked back. And Justine was the name of an early crush… it was a non-starter of course, but somehow the name has stuck. Casey (her boyfriend), as in the story, was named after a cat I once briefly looked after, though he (the character not the cat!) insists on using his nickname of “Jones”.
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
Nowadays, with computers, pre-planning is less key: you can keep going back and forward through the text, deleting what doesn’t work and adding complications, details, side stories etc. Eventually, you have a first draft of your book! So my process is to have an idea and a general plot and then to start writing. It took about 6 months, though the polishing and editing then took three times as long.
Who are your top 5 favourite authors?
I don’t have favourite authors, more favourite books, but I would definitely say Jonathan Coe. I love his mix of humour and pathos and how multiple strands come together in the end. I’ve tried to emulate that in “Times and Places”.
Otherwise, I enjoy anything which is poignantly sad, such as “What was lost”, or which is about people who struggle to fit in, “Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine” and “The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry” being two recent examples.
I like contemplatively spiritual books such as “Life of Pi” but they must avoid being preachy. In terms of the classics, I’ve hardly scratched the surface, but I read “Wuthering Heights” back to back twice, and was shocked by the ending of “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”. I love the depiction of the natural world in both.
If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Maybe Roald Dahl… he had unsurpassed imagination and lived quite locally to me, though I never saw him. My question would be “why did you come and give a talk at my school on the one day I wasn’t there?” Apparently he went down a storm with the pupils, even if not with all the teachers.
Were you a big reader as a child?
No, not as a teenager at any rate, much to my Mum’s frustration, she was an English teacher and has always been an avid book lover. When I was very young, I remember her patiently reading to me the fairy tales of Ruth Manning Saunders – still super atmospheric by the way – amongst much else. Later I did really enjoy reading several children’s series, including the Willard Price “Adventure” books, but describing myself as having been “a big reader” would be a lie.
When did you start to write?
I kept a detailed diary every day from 1990 through to 2003, which I think really honed my ability to write naturally. I first started writing children’s stories about five years ago, though I do remember an atmospheric one called “Paradise Farm” which I wrote for a friend’s son much earlier. My latest story was very recent, for my goddaughter’s 7th birthday earlier this month: “The juggler of poisonous frogs.”
If you could re-write the ending to any book what would it be and what would you change?
Either that disturbing ending to “Tess”… or the ending to “The Book Thief”, giving Rudi a chance to say what he needs to say. But I admit I’ve only seen that film, so perhaps I should choose Tess.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
I like the casual style of “The Catcher in the Rye” and even now relate to its angst and to the dreamy job of watching over children playing in a rye field, catching any who run out dangerously close to the nearby cliff… though I imagine in real life that could be quite stressful! Anyway, I understand why Holden Caulfield wanted to do it. A few parts are dated now… but it reached me as a teenager and even today I suspect it still reaches teenagers other books can’t touch.
If you wrote an autobiography, what would your title be?
Not sure… maybe “Stepping out of the dream…” I feel that is what I have done with my book… I always wanted to write one, now I have. I hope this gives me confidence and opportunities to do more of the things I’ve previously only dreamed about.
If you could invite any fictional character for coffee who would it be and where would you take them?
If it is not cheating (because the book itself remains on my list), I would say Rudi from “the Book Thief”. I’d be his Catcher and leave him somewhere safe. I hate to think that there were (and still are) countless real Rudis in the world… they all deserve(d) much better. Towards the end of my book Fergus reflects similarly.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on marketing “Times and Places”… but I do have a potential idea for a second novel, though I haven’t started it yet, so there’s a long, long way to go. And I’m told the second book is the hardest… actually they put it rather more strongly than that, so don’t hold your breath.
Do you have a new release due?
Judging by my first novel, I’d say in about two years!
What do you generally do to celebrate on publication day?
Well I have only had one so far and I took the day off work to enjoy the moment. I did naively venture to my local bookshop: my novel wasn’t in the window, nor was it on a display, and it wasn’t on a bookshelf either… I sloped off consoling myself that it must still be out the back somewhere. I’ve since learned that Waterstones have ordered copies, so they are out there…
How can readers keep in touch with you?
Please follow me on Twitter, @KeithAnthonyWS, or write to me via my publisher, the Book Guild. I would love to hear from anyone who reads my book, for better or worse, or relates to its themes!
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
This is nearly 1,500 words, I think that’s probably already too much!
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Keith 🙂
Times and Places
Ten years after his daughter Justine’s death, an anxious Fergus embarks on a cruise with his wife. On board, he meets a myriad of characters and is entranced by some, irritated by others and disgusted by one. These turbulent feelings, combined with a sequence of bizarre events, only lead to his increased anxiety.
In a series of flashbacks, Justine enjoys an ultimately short romance, a woman concludes she killed her and an investigating police officer is drawn into her idyllic world. Fergus, haunted by poignant memories, withdraws in search of answers.
Back on the cruise, Fergus reaches breaking point, fearing he has done something terrible. By the time the ship returns, his world has changed forever.
“Times and Places” spans Atlantic islands, the Chiltern countryside, Cornish coasts and rural Slovenia, all of which provide spectacular backdrops to a humorous and moving tale of quiet spirituality.
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Author Bio –
Keith was born and brought up in the Chilterns, to where he returned after studying French at university in Aberystwyth and a subsequent spell living in west London. He has a love of nature, both in his native Buckinghamshire countryside, but also in Cornwall and wherever there is a wild sea.
Keith has been lucky enough to spend time living in France, Spain, Belgium, Serbia and Croatia, as well as being a regular visitor to Germany, and languages were the only thing he was ever half good at in school. Since graduating he has worked in government departments, but between 2005 and 2008 he was seconded to the European Commission in Brussels and, thanks to a friend from Ljubljana he met there, has travelled regularly to Slovenia, getting to know that country well.
Keith’s other great love is music and he plays classical and finger picking blues guitar, though with persistently limited success. He has always enjoyed writing, including attempts at children’s fiction, and in 2016 he began work on his first full book with “Times and Places” the end result: an accessible, observational story, mixing quiet spirituality with humour, pathos and gothic horror, and setting it against a rich backdrop of the natural world.
Twitter – https://twitter.com/KeithAnthonyWS
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