Where did the idea for No Regrets come from?
It came from my realisation that I had started staying in much more than I was going out.I reached a stage when my first response to an invitation was not to work out how to get there but how to get out of it. I asked myself what would happen if I had no choice in the matter. From there it was easy to construct Rick’s mid-life crisis, one in which he has to live according to a fixed rule. Perhaps it is the Catholic in me, but I like the idea of people living according to rules, the idea that, even though you know the rules are difficult to follow, and that some of them might be questionable, you’re going to give it your best shot.
Who are the writers you like and who has influenced you?
Everything you read influences you in some way, even if you don’t realise it or even if you’re not prepared to acknowledge it, so it’s probably easier to talk about who I like. I’m pretty broad in my tastes: Dickens, Graham Greene, David Lodge, Muriel Spark, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Jonathan Coe, William Boyd, Nick Hornby, Roddy Doyle, David Nicholls, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Ann Tyler, Lorrie Moore – the list could go on. I’m a great believer in readability and accessibility, and don’t go in for the kind of snobbery that is suspicious of the popular. Give me a readable ‘popular’ novel any day over an unreadable ‘literary’ one. Many highly-rated contemporary ‘literary’ novels have been flung, unfinished, at my bedroom wall – and that’s an English teacher speaking.
Does being an English teacher help or hinder your writing?
It does both. On the one hand you should feel that you’re able to do what you ask your students to do, namely write, both critically and creatively – it would be odd if you had a driving instructor who couldn’t drive or who could drive but preferred not to. On the other hand, spending so much time looking critically at others’ writing and evaluating it, not to mention covering students’ stories in coloured ink and giving them marks, can sometimes stifle your creative instincts. I have no doubt that all those I have ever taught will be reaching for their red pens.
Have you written anything else?
I’ve written a number of articles for The English Review, ranging in subject from Shakespeare to Irvine Welsh, I’ve sold a screenplay to Channel 4 and a sitcom to Yorkshire TV, and I’m currently working on a second novel about a forty-eight-year-old man who starts having phases when he acts and thinks like an eighteen year old. It’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ meets ‘Big’.
Are any of your characters based on real people or traits you have noticed?
None of the characters are based on real people, but they are all based on traits I recognise in others and also in myself. I’m sure we all, like Rick, can feel we’ve fallen into a rut and need something to get us out of it. And I think anyone who has lost an old friend might recognise that sense of time running out and the need to make the most of what you’ve got left.
Did you base any part of your story on real events?
It’s certainly not autobiographical and none of the events I describe have actually happened. I have never joined a runners’ club, all my games of Scrabble have been perfectly innocent, I am happily married and, although I have often embarrassed my children, I have never subjected them to anything like Rick’s absurdities. My son does stand-up comedy, but at the time of writing he hadn’t done any at all and was a long way off being at university.
The story is set in London, where there is always lots going on and lots of invites – do you think the dilemma Rick faced is universal?
Absolutely. When we think about Invitations we tend to think of parties and events, the kind of things that we are formally invited to. Invitations, though, come at us all the time and in many different forms – something Rick discovers in the course of the novel.