I suppose it was a bit of a nostalgia trip. I was thinking back to the days when there weren’t any Rough Guides or Lonely Planets and how we used to travel. You’d meet someone and they’d say you must go to so and so bar in Crete. And off you’d trot. Of course there were no mobile phones or internet. I don’t know how we did it.
I was also pondering how different Europe was thirty years ago – or was it forty! Half of Europe was cut off by the Iron Curtain. Other countries, Spain, Greece were under fascist dictatorships. If you travelled through France you saw peasants working in the fields. There was no Euro. Travelling through Europe involved handling half a dozen currencies and travellers cheques. Remember them?
What research did you do?
I had a bit of fun with this. I needed to remind myself of how I used to travel. I was trying to remember the smells and noises. So my wife and I decided to travel to Albania by train without a map and guide book or doing any research. So we walked from our home in St Andrews to Montpelier (Bristol) train station and took a train to Tirana. We got as far as Dubrovnik without looking at a map. In the end I had to cheat and consult a guide book as I’d forgotten about Montenegro. Albania is definitely old skool!
I also interviewed loads of people about their travel experiences. I’ve tried to incorporate as many travellers tales as I could – usual stuff – dodgy hitchhiking, being ripped off, getting horribly drunk and crashing in a gutter, sex in inappropriate places, people getting gassed in train carriages, running out of money - all that sort of stuff.
I was trying to mix the buddy buddy stuff of 'On the Road' with the excitement of 'The Beach' - but without the violence.
I also wanted to recreate that wonderful feeling of the freedom of the road when you’ve got the whole summer ahead of you, there are blue skies day after day and everything seems possible. It’s a right of passage that everybody should do. These days it happens in Thailand rather than Europe. But with emails and Facebook people are rarely totally there!
The back story of Rules of the Road involves working for a transportation survey in Bristol. Your previous novel 'Where's My Money?' was set in a Bristol dole office. You’ve had some strange jobs?
Well, I actually trained as a careers adviser! I’m interested in the dynamics of work. Even the most boring jobs have their interesting side. Your characters end up living in a cave. Have you done that?
I’ve stayed in a few caves, but nothing as basic as the one in 'Rules of the Road'. I was inspired by a friend I was a bit worried about who had very boring job in a bank. One day he disappeared. I later heard that he’d gone feral and was living in a cave in Crete with two women. I was impressed!
Rules of the Road is written in the first person. How autobiographical is it?
Let’s get this straight , the ‘I’ isn’t me. Obviously it reflects my experience, but the story is made up.
Any hints for aspiring writers?
The writing is easy - getting published is the difficult part. There’s a very supportive writing scene in Bristol, lots of writing groups and courses at the Folk House, Bristol University and Bath Spa. People say writing is a solitary pursuit. It doesn’t have to be that way. My advice to anybody writing a novel is join a writing group and get feedback.
I’m really not sure. This is my second novel. A trilogy seems like a natural progression, but I don’t yet have a story. At some stage Max/Felix have got to grow up. That might not be so funny though. Meanwhile, I’m finishing 'The Bristol Miscellany' a long term project about my home town.