Today on the blog I have author Charlie Lailaw talking about his newest book, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead.
First things first, tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and brought up in the west of Scotland, and am a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. I still have the scroll, but it’s in Latin, so it could say anything.
I then worked briefly as a street actor, baby photographer, puppeteer and restaurant dogsbody before becoming a journalist. I started in Glasgow and ended up in London, covering news, features and politics.
Surprisingly, I was approached by a government agency to work in intelligence, which just shows how shoddy government recruitment was back then. However, it turned out to be very boring and I don’t like vodka martini.
Craving excitement and adventure, I ended up as a PR consultant, which is the fate of all journalists who haven’t won a Pulitzer Prize. I am married with two grown-up children and live in East Lothian. And that’s about it.
Such an interesting variety of careers! So what about your books?
I’m the author of two novels, The Herbal Detective (Ringwood Publishing, 2015) and The Things We Learn When We’re Dead (Accent Press, 2017). Both are satirical, I suppose, although that wasn’t my intention when I started them.
The first is a satire on superstition, the second a satire on religion. A third novel, Darker Matters, is due to be published by Accent Press in January 2018. It’s a satire, among other things, on celebrity. Quite why my books are satirical, I have no idea, except that the modern world does seem to be becoming a parody of human progress.
So your newest book, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead, what is it about?
The book is, I like to think, a modern fairytale of love and loss. It has humour, but it’s not a comedy. It’s about the small decisions that we make and how they can have unintended consequences. It’s about looking back and finding new beginnings.
Sounds great! What was the inspiration behind it?
The idea for the book came to me on a train from Edinburgh to London (which is apt because, civilised place that Edinburgh is, it’s the only city in the world to have named its main railway station after a book. I’ll leave you to work out which one). When I got home, I wrote the first chapter and the last chapter, so I knew from the start how the book would end. The first chapter has changed out of all recognition from that first draft, but the last chapter is almost as I first wrote it.
The book’s blurb says that it’s a new version of The Wizard of Oz. Can you tell us more about that?
Yes and no. Many readers won’t necessarily realise that it’s a nod to L Frank Baum or the iconic film. The links and allusions are there, but not everyone will get them. They don’t need to; all they need do is enjoy the story.
However, the central theme of the Wizard of Oz is how a young girl comes to reassess her life and find a new beginning. There’s no place like home is not just a physical place but a state of mind, and it’s a universal theme that has resonated through literature since Shakespeare and beyond.
So, in writing The Things We Learn When We’re Dead, I had to decide whether to ignore the Oz inspiration or to celebrate it, and I decided on the latter because, I thought, there’s no harm in retelling a classic story and giving it a modern makeover for an adult audience. After all, there is nothing new under the literary sun. Everything – absolutely everything – has been written about many times before.
All a writer can do is revisit old themes and try to find an original way of retelling them. But it also meant that I could work in some of Oz’s iconic fixtures and fittings, from a scarecrow to a cowardly lion, and from a yellow-brick road to ruby-red slippers.
It’s a slightly surreal book, set mainly in Edinburgh and East Lothian. I hope it has humour, without being a comedy. I also hope it has heart, like the Tin Man who’s also in it, because it’s a story we can all relate to.
But more than anything it’s a celebration of that universal happy ending: we all get a second chance. The central character in my book, like Dorothy before her, gets hers – and even gets to click her heels together.
So what’s your next project?
My next book is Darker Matters which is being published by Accent Press in January 2018. It’s a dark comedy on love, loss and particle physics. Believe me, it’s much better than it sounds!
Release Date: January 26th 2017
With elements of The Wizard of Oz, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Lovely Bones, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead shows how small decisions can have profound and unintended consequences, and how sometimes we can get a second chance.
On the way home from a dinner party, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital – but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions. It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN. Because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident… Or does God have a higher purpose after all?
At first Lorna can remember nothing. As her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decision to make and that maybe she needs to find a way home.