LitFest in Lockdown:           We talk to Patrick Gale

LitFest in Lockdown: We talk to Patrick Gale

In the first of a series of interviews with local literary figures, Rachel Viney talks to our Patron, the novelist Patrick Gale, about life in lockdown, how he’s staying sane, new writing discoveries and much more besides …

Which aspect of lockdown are you most enjoying?
The excuse to sit at my desk for hours on end staring out across the garden as it wakes up into spring. (View pictured below.)

And which is proving most irksome?
I was going to have my great nephews to stay for Easter and was all set to be spending a month at book festivals in Iceland and New Zealand with a couple of writing retreats attached and had to cancel all such pleasures.

Which item of food or drink would you most hate to run out of?
Flour. I’m an inveterate baker and like homemade bread. I’ve been having to get pretty inventive recently when all I could find were bags of rye or spelt flour but at least there was flour!

Which books by new writers have most impressed you recently?
The first novel by the actor Sophie Ward is amazing – Love and Other Thought Experiments. I think she must have been cooking it up a long time because it so doesn’t read like a debut novel. I also loved Ghostland by Edward Parnell, another first book, which is a hybrid memoir and meditation on the English landscapes associated with our horror and ghost story tradition.

Is there a book or author you re-read regularly?
I read everything by Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín, Ann Patchett and Alan Hollinghurst. Actress is burning a hole in my bedside table at the moment and I’m pathetically excited to hear there’s a new Anne Tyler coming out.

What is the biggest ‘plus’ of the lockdown for you as a writer?
It is making me knuckle down to write. I’m getting slower with age and the current book, which is historical and based on the youth of the Cornish poet Charles Causley and the life of his washerwoman mother, Laura, is taking me an age. But the lockdown has brought me to my senses and I am at least now writing something every day. A small something, but it’s coming.

And what is the biggest ‘minus’?
Missing out on book festivals, as punter and as author. I really enjoy the chance the Penzance Litfest gives me to have writer friends to stay for a few days and was keenly looking forward to clifftop walks with Zaffar Kunial and Joff Winterhart. I’m living in hope that we don’t have to cancel the North Cornwall Book Festival this October as I think a lot of us will be very hungry for book chat by then!

Do you have a top tip for staying sane?
Yes. Pick up a trowel and weed a flowerbed. Failing that, walking or running really helps restore my equilibrium.

Have you discovered any great new online resources to help while away the time?
There are some lovely book podcasts and I love the way some galleries and theatres and orchestras are taking the opportunity to raise their online presence. Naturally I can highly recommend downloading North Cornwall Book Festival’s podcasts, which can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn and our website There’s something lovely about hearing a writer whose work you love opening up in conversation. I’ve really enjoyed the chance the Cornish festivals have given me to interview the likes of Hermione Lee, Salley Vickers and Kate Clanchy.

Have you learned anything new or unexpected about yourself from this experience?
I’ve learnt that I’m not nearly as gregarious as I pretend to be. I really thrive on peace and solitude. In fact it has rather amused me to see people going nuts on social media about how bored they are or how stressful they find their own company, because suddenly most of the country is experiencing the typical life of a novelist!

What good things do you hope will come out of this pandemic?
I’m hoping it will repair decades of underfunding the NHS, reknit the social bonds shaken by the Brexit crisis and demonstrate how we can reverse climate change by radical alteration in our group behaviour. I’m hoping, as well, that the inevitable economic collapse will leave us cherishing the quieter, less showy pleasures of life.

Patrick’s latest novel is Take Nothing With You As well as being Patron of the Penzance LitFest and the Charles Causley Trust and a director of Endelienta, he is artistic director of the North Cornwall Book Festival. Discover more about Patrick and his books on his website

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