Interview with Pat Kelleher

I’m a big fan of Pat Kelleher and I can’t understand why he doesn’t have more fans. Think Sharpe meets Starship Troopers. I of course am really looking forward to reading The Alleyman and aim to get it in paperback so that I have the set (I don’t do this with many books these days). I was recently on a training course up north and the lovely Pat offered to take me out for a beer. He really is a lovely man and such an interesting person. The next convention you go to buy him a drink and ask him about Alan Moore. Here is a little example of the interesting stuff that comes from the mind of Pat Kelleher. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did.

Q. Who are the biggest influences on your writing, and why?

Start with the tough ones, eh? The boring answer is that I read voraciously and everything gets thrown into the mix. But okay, I’ll play. While I wouldn’t say the following were necessarily influences, I certainly find them to be inspirations. In no particular order, Bernard Cornwell for his ability to place the reader in a historical period and tell a rollicking good yarn without letting the research bog it down. Alan Plater, from whom I learned that character is the bedrock of any story. If you have a good solid character, the reader will follow them anywhere, even if they’re only campaigning for their local Conservation candidate. Then there’s Alan Moore for his ability to deconstruct ideas and put them back together in intriguing ways.

Q. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed your first two novels. The research you’ve done on the First World War period really shows through. What was it like to do so much research on that turbulent time?

On the whole, it was quite humbling. Initially, I was just skimming, looking for interesting and intriguing stuff to fold into the mix, from people like Tesla, who claimed to have picked up radio signals from Mars, to Aleister Crowley who skipped England at the outbreak of the War. Then there was rise of the Labour Movement, Women’s Suffrage and the immigrant Anarchist problems. The Empire itself was failing. It was such a rich background from which to draw characters and then the crucible of war flung all these disparate viewpoints together creating the potential for all sorts of character conflict.

It wasn’t the political history of the War I was interested in, but the day-to-day lives of those who lived through it. These people didn’t see themselves as heroes; they were ordinary men and women who lived through the most abject and terrifying of situations, but found ways and reasons to survive, sometimes at great personal cost.

Q. How would you describe No Man’s World as a planet and more importantly as a place for British soldiers to try and live?

Well, it’s not a holiday destination – unless you want the holiday from hell. No Man’s World is a hell planet where every ecological niche is occupied and fiercely defended, where the cutest critter or the prettiest flower have developed lethal defense strategies and where the British Tommies have no place at all, unless it’s one they carve for themselves. Their very presence has an effect not only on the ecological but the political landscape, too. A few decades earlier and they might not have survived, but the technological advances of industrialized warfare gave them just enough of an advantage to stay alive, no steampunk necessary. With a frontline life expectancy on the Somme of a few weeks for officers and a few months for enlisted men, their prospects on the alien planet are frankly not much better. Death here is just as unexpected, brutal, meaningless and obscene as in France and no character is safe. In fact, No Man’s World is so awful that they actually want to go back to the Somme.

Q. Gender politics is a topic that is being discussed much more roundly recently. How have you addressed female roles in a period and environment that was male dominated?

I’m from the North and the North has always had a tradition of formidable women characters in drama. The nurses in No Man’s World are no exception and take their inspiration from real women, like Elsie Knocker and Marie Chisholm, the Nurses of Pervyse, who operated a First aid station a few hundred yards behind the Belgian front lines, in the cellar of a bombed-out house.  Then there was Pat Beauchamp, a FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry). These women all defied social expectations.

Given such strong roles models and a brilliant editor in Jenni Hill, who put me right if I ever drifted, I’ve striven to make the women of No Man’s World fully rounded characters with solid story arcs. They’re not necessarily beautiful, they don’t have quick-fire wits and they don’t carry weapons. They are, however, as strong as, if not stronger than the men, even the absent Flora, to whom ‘Only’ Atkins writes. No Man’s World is certainly as much their story as it is the Tommies’.

Q. The third book in your No Man’s  World series is out in October. Is there a launch and are you doing any signings?

As luck would have it, yes there is a book launch and signing – at the Fab Café in Manchester on Thursday October 11th.

There are no other signing planned at present, although that may change.

Q. What makes the third book different from the first two?

While the first book focused on the Pennine Fusiliers, the second shone a spotlight on the crew of the Mark 1 tank, Ivanhoe. This time out, Lt Tulliver, of the Royal Flying Corps, gets a chance to shine.

At the camp, cracks are starting to show in the military façade that has held them together so far. The Tommies, who have been mostly reactive up to now, are finally in a position to be proactive, though whether the decisions they make are wise is another matter.

And finally, The Alleyman gets round to answering some of those niggling questions about the planet and its mysteries posed in the earlier books.

Q. Desert Island Books. You are stuck on an island and alone for an unknown length of time. What five books would you take and why?

The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien. Since I was introduced to it by my English Teacher at school, it’s one of the few books I re-read regularly. It’s a surreal comic nightmare of murder, metaphysics and Irish village policemen and introduces the world to the mad scientist, De Selby. You’ll never look at a bicycle in the same light again.

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake, recommended by the same English teacher as being better than Lord of the Rings, and he was right. Peake’s ability to sketch a character with a few words was as concise as his sparse line drawings. He creates an evocative decaying world that spans the distance between Tolkien and Dickens, yet occupies a place in literature all its own.

Life, A User’s Manual by George Perec. This was the novel that introduced me to the Oulipo school (a group of writers who wrote stories with sets of self imposed restrictions, one of the most famous being Perec’s A Void, a novella without a single letter ‘e’ in it). It took me two years to finish ‘Life’ when I first read it. It tells the tale of every resident and every room in a French apartment block. So, if I’m stuck on a desert island I’ll have plenty of time to reread it, and this time I may understand it.

Illuminatus Trilogy. Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s trilogy was an art school rite of passage that led me to track down a copy of the Principia Discordia (‘a religion disguised as joke disguised as a religion’) in an Occult bookshop off Great Russell street. It also introduced me to the works of Timothy Leary and John Lilly.

The Brentford Trilogy by Robert Rankin. The first Pooley and O’Malley stories and my first introduction to glorious worlds of Robert Rankin. Simply put, these are just great fun with wonderful concepts and a world I enjoy revisiting.


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