Author of the Week
'This week I interviewed Pete Langman about his latest book and past releases, so read on to find more about this intriguing author.
Welcome Pete, so nice to finally interview you. Let's start with what books have you released so far?
Killing Beauties, a novel (Unbound, Jan 2020)
The Country House Cricketer (Marvelhouse Stuff, 2014). Longlisted for the MCC/Cricket Society Book of the Year 2015
Black Box (Marvelhouse Stuff, 2014)
Slender Threads: a young person's guide to Parkinson's Disease (Marvelhouse Stuff, 2013)
Negotiating the Jacobean Printed Book, ed. by Pete Langman (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011)
An impressive list Pete, now don't be shy but tell me a little about yourself!
Ah, the easy question! I am far older than I’d like to be and I live between Brighton and Leiden - my partner is reader in English Literature at Leiden University. My primary hobby is being a rather mediocre cricketer – I keep wicket for the Cricketers’ Club of London, a peripatetic side with a penchant for the statelier venues ... we have played at Windsor Castle, Balmoral, Sandringham, Ashdown House, Goodwood, Blenheim Palace and many other beautiful grounds. I’m a keen photographer, too, specialising in Country House Cricket and avian life (I particularly love photographing pelicans in Florida ... fascinatingly odd creatures).
Yes, Pete, we start with easy questions and then we get into the tricky one's! I'm lulling you into a false sense of security lol. What got you into writing?
In the mid-90s I was a professional guitar player and taught at a contemporary music school in London. I was asked to write a monthly tuition column for one of the guitar magazines of the day, a job I held for the next five years before graduating to writing features, interviews and editing the techniques column. As things progressed, and my music career began to founder (for various reasons that don’t belong here), I began to realise I was enjoying writing the prose for my columns more than the music. I wrote a novel (still sat on my bottom shelf, so to speak), and decided to take things more seriously, and so applied to Queen Mary, University of London to study English. Things got rather out of hand and by the end of 2006, I had somehow acquired a BA, an MRes, and a PhD. I then spent a few years in various academic posts but the permanent position eluded me, partially because of my 2008 diagnosis with young-onset Parkinson’s ...
I'm sorry to hear about your Parkinson's but you don't seem to have let it hold you back. Admirable. What’s the main thing you love and hate about writing?
I love everything about writing, from the first throes of a concept through to the final edits. Well, I don’t like proofing much. I love the moment when you know it’s ready and it just flows ... I love retracing my steps and polishing something until it sparkles, and I love re-reading and chancing upon a passage that makes me smile but I have no recollection of writing whatsoever. I really love not having to get out of bed until lunchtime (I write in the morning). What I don’t like is the inability of my parkinsonian fingers to do what I tell them to. I also hate the crazy way that people think that perseverance is enough. It isn’t.
And we find out a little secret, Pete lies in bed all morning (lol). Who is the worst villain you’ve ever written, and why?
The Doctor, from an unpublished work of speculative fiction called Elytra. In many ways, he’s a pantomime villain but beneath his sadistic, manipulative and vengeful exterior there is a heart capable of true love – and it is his betrayal at the hands of those he loves that drives him to act with casual violence that blinds him, and everyone else, from seeing the truth. Practically every character in the book believes that he is the evil motive force behind the collapse of their world but the truth is more arcane: he is merely its unwitting catalyst.
He sounds interesting, what is next on your list to write/publish?
Oh, this is a difficult question ... I have a number of things on the list, but no particular order to them yet. They include an academic paper on Frankenstein, a memoir/conceptual book on music to accompany a project currently underway to revamp a solo guitar album I recorded in 1995 called Dancing With Architects (in support of Spotlight YOPD), and, of course, a sequel to Killing Beauties.
So you're going to be very busy, who is your favourite author, and why?
I’m not sure I have one. I do love Jim Crace’s prose, however, especially in Quarantine, and of all the books I’ve read that’s the one that comes closest to some sort of perfection.
Confession time, who encouraged you the most to write?
I was never really encouraged to write, it just began to happen. I never harboured dreams of being a writer when a six-year-old (and I suspect many of those who say they do are guilty of a soupçon of self-mythologisation), never invented stories or imaginary worlds. Part of this was doubtless my handwriting was so awful even if I wrote something good no-one would have been able to read it anyway (it’s so bad now that I can’t even read it, and I’m a trained and quite adept palaeographer). My mother was told by my (future) headmaster after an interview for school I had when I was about 7 something along the lines of ‘it’s a pity Pete doesn’t read’, to which she indignantly answered ‘what on earth are you talking about?’ The headmaster, rather confused, replied ‘well, I asked him what he thought of Biggles (cue people of a certain age nodding sagely) and he said he didn’t know who he was ...’ I read history books and encyclopedias, very rarely fiction. Nowadays, my partner is my greatest cheerleader and poker-in-the-backside. When I lose faith in my ability (which is most of the time), it is she who spurs me on. It’s probably just to make me stop whinging, mind, but I try to look on the bright side.
Pete, are you saying you're henpecked! It's funny how teachers shape our lives. Are you as avid a reader as a writer?
Not any more. From the age of 22 to around 40 I didn’t stop unless I was playing music, teaching or otherwise working, but now I spend most of my time either writing or editing (I edit academic articles and books), and the Parkinson’s leaves me with a quite limited window in which I can work or even concentrate, so if I do pick up a book and try just to read I generally wake up a few hours later feeling rather confused.
What’s your favourite genre?
Once again, I don’t (or didn’t) really have one. In my avid reading days, and before books became objects of study for me, I tended to read a lot of one author: Iain Banks, then Dickens, then Hardy, Forster, Crace, McEwan, and so forth. I also went through more generic phases, reading ‘the Russians’, the ‘magical realists’, Moby Dick, and so on ... As a writer, I have no generic affiliation. I write academic essays, historical fiction, speculative fiction, literary fiction, and short stories. I’ve written a cricket murder mystery comedy for the radio, a pilot for a community radio soap opera and a stage play based on the Shakespeare authorship ‘question’ called Shakespeare Must Die (originally called 'If you want a conspiracy theory, I'll give you one’) 60 or 70% of which is drawn from Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and a short comedy film. Oh, and a kids’ book. About Pirates. And Father Christmas.
They’re all words, and I write what the story demands (at least, I hope I do).
I think I prefer the title 'If you want a conspiracy theory I'll give you one'! Do you listen to music when you write?
Mostly not, and if I do it’ll usually be instrumental music picked for its atmosphere – I find that it can help get the brain cells aligned with the heart cells, so to speak, if I match the music to the scene or theme. I sometimes use background noise as an aid. In the days when we were allowed to do such things, I would often go to the pub of an evening, have dinner and write for three or four hours – I found the random hubbub of a moderately noisy pub an excellent way of forcing myself to look inwards. Sometimes, of course, the pub forced its way into my writing. One short I wrote, Sanctuary (the only one that’s ever won anything that also has been performed a few times on stage as a monologue) featured an argument over a pub quiz, and there may have been an incident in Killing Beauties where I’m not sure whether my characters were eating pie because I was, or whether I was eating it because they were ... and I know for a fact that I wrote a fairytale called The Princess and the Pie because of a rather fine example of the piemaker’s craft that had graced my palate.
Pete, you're obsessed with pie! If you could interview any famous author who would it be and why?
A dangerous game, this one. I interviewed a fair few of my musical heroes and was lucky enough not to be horribly disappointed by any one of them (though one did tell me a story about when he was horribly disappointed, and rather embarrassed when he met one of his heroes, a household name), so I’m due a failure on that score. I did once have dinner with a very well known writer and was so nervous I gabbled on about myself – partly because I had this strange idea that I wasn’t qualified or worthy to ask her about her work. That was a rather embarrassing failure (if you’re reading, my abject apologies), so I think I’ll pass!
I think we'll let you off, tell me a secret that none of your fans know!
Secrets? You want secrets? Ooo ... that’s tricky. Something juicy enough to be a revelation but not so juicy as to be actionable ... let me think ... I have an original copy of Noggin the Nog from the year I was born. It’s ‘The Firecake’ with Nogbad the Bad. Is that suitable? No? Damn ... ok. I still own a t-shirt that I ‘acquired’ from a friend of mine in 1987 ... and I’ve worn it twice in the past ten years.
Oh, we want blood, Pete! Although our readers are now locking up their t-shirts., now, what your main character would say about you!
Susan Hyde would probably shake her head in a rather disappointed fashion ...
Susan may be disappointed but we're not. Finally, any words of advice?
Advice. Yes. Never believe anyone who says you can’t drink red wine with fish. A chilled Beaujolais is perfect with a piece of salmon ... oh, about writing ... there are as many opinions about how to write as there are writers, and what works for one is disastrous for another. I always liked Hemingway’s ‘write drunk, edit sober’, though I’ve no idea whether he said it or it was someone else’s observation. I would say that it isn’t the first thing you write but the last that counts ... and with that in mind, I think I’ll leave it there ... thank you very much for listening!
Thank you, Pete, for talking with me today, I hope everyone enjoyed the interview as much as I did, now if you want more Pete, find him at:
Blog and archive: petelangman.com
Novel page: killingbeauties.co.uk
Twitter: Pete Langman
Disclaimer. The opinions and views expressed in the article are the interviewees and may differ from the interviewer/general public. The works and images published here may be subject to the Authors copyright, please do not copy the images or claim them as your own.