Question 1: Come on, then – whose side are you secretly on? Douglas, or Connie’s?
Ideally, I think a novelist should be like a referee – unbiased and objective – and I don’t really believe in the notion of ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. But it’s hard to be neutral in a first-person novel, where Douglas has the advantage of holding centre-stage throughout, telling the story from his point of view, fighting his case and justifying his sometimes maddening behaviour. That’s why the first-person voice seemed essential. Observed from the outside, Douglas is pompous, obsessive, neurotic, no fun at all. But having immediate and constant access to his thoughts and feelings makes him much more sympathetic, funny and decent – heroic in fact. So, without dodging the question, I think Connie is right to question the marriage and Douglas is right to try and keep it alive. Douglas has the biggest journey, emotionally and geographically, but write the same story from Connie’s point of view, and I think the reader might feel very differently.
Question 2: Connie is a great character. She can be one heck of a pain though, can’t she?
Like a lot of writers I worry about repeating myself and so sometimes characters are a reaction to those who’ve come before. So in One Day, Emma was the moral touchstone, the decent, ethical voice and Dexter was irresponsible, selfish sometimes unlikeable. I didn’t want to write another female paragon of virtue this time around, so even though there are some overlaps between the two women – in their politics, their cultural interests for example – Connie is, well . . . tougher. She’s quite harsh on Douglas, sometimes insensitive and a little sharp, but at the same time she’s full of life and energy; she’s glamorous, sexy, funny, quick-witted. She rescues Douglas from a rather dull and lonely life, spruces him up, opens his mind a little, encourages him to have fun. In later life she finds herself in an unsatisfactory marriage and panics – entirely understandable, I think, and not unsympathetic – but through all of this she does love Douglas and puts up with a very great deal. So in all honesty I absolutely love her. Her face, her voice are very clear to me, and yes, she can be quite challenging. But that’s good – isn’t it?
Question 3: And as for their son . . . confession time: who is Albie based on?
This is a dreary answer I’m afraid. He’s based on no-one at all. I don’t have teenage kids and hardly know any and so he’s entirely made-up, I swear. But then I suppose characters never come entirely out of thin air, and an experience we all share is that we were all teenagers ourselves once upon a time. I was never as cool, provocative or irresponsible as Albie, but I suppose there’s a possibility that I might have been pretentious, self-righteous, self-absorbed, dismissive of my parents. It’s all part of the grizzly business of establishing oneself as an individual – that noisy rejection of your parents’ values. The tough thing in this particular family is that Albie only rejects his father. Albie and Connie have so much in common, Albie and Douglas less so, and that can be quite a painful imbalance, in fiction and in real-life.
Question 4: It would be great to know how things work out with the lovely Freja Kristensen. Assuming that’s not the plot of your next one, can you just give us a thumbnail portrait of how she and Douglas get on? Just to wrap things up, as it were? Go on . . .
I can reveal that there was originally one more chapter planned. It began with Douglas waiting on the steps of the National Gallery for an un-named date – Freja, of course – followed by a rather awkward but affectionate look at the gallery’s paintings. But it felt too much – too explicit, too glibly upbeat, too easy for Douglas to move on like that. I think I prefer the current version – the sense of possibilities, a new beginning, a new quest. I’m fairly certain my next book won’t be a sequel but I can reveal that I think they do meet up and, thankfully, have a perfectly nice time.