Wednesday, 11 May 2016 21:37

WSP Author spotlight - Patrick Gale

Patrick Gale is doing double duty at this year’s Festival. Not only is he making a welcome return visit to the main festival, but this year, he’s one of the shortlisted authors for the Walter Scott Prize, so we’ll have three opportunities to see him at this year’s Festival! Patrick’s latest celebrated novel, A Place Called Winter, is described as, ‘an exquisite journey of self-discovery, loosely based on a real life family mystery, Patrick Gale has created an epic, intimate human drama, both brutal and breathtaking. It is a novel of secrets, sexuality and, ultimately, of great love.’ 

About the novel

To find yourself, sometimes you must lose everything.

A privileged elder son, and stammeringly shy, Harry Cane has followed convention at every step. Even the beginnings of an illicit, dangerous affair do little to shake the foundations of his muted existence – until the shock of discovery and the threat of arrest cost him everything…

Forced to abandon his wife and child, Harry signs up for emigration to the newly colonised Canadian prairies. Remote and unforgiving, his allotted homestead in a place called Winter is a world away from the golden suburbs of turn-of-the-century Edwardian England. And yet it is here, isolated in a seemingly harsh landscape, under the threat of war, madness and an evil man of undeniable magnetism that the fight for survival will reveal in Harry an inner strength and capacity for love beyond anything he has ever known before.

In this exquisite journey of self-discovery, loosely based on a real life family mystery, Patrick Gale has created an epic, intimate human drama, both brutal and breathtaking. It is a novel of secrets, sexuality and, ultimately, of great love.


‘A tender tale of loss and love’ - The Sunday Times

This is a convincing and fascinating portrait of daily life over a century ago in a far away place. The mixture of adventure, historical saga and romance is utterly heartwrenching - Sunday Mirror

A mesmerising storyteller; this novel is written with intelligence and warmth - The Times

Patrick will be participating in three events at the Festival

  • The Walter Scott Prize Shortlist panel event - Saturday 18 June @ 3.15pm - CLICK HERE 
  • The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction - Saturday 18 June @ 6.15pm - CLICK HERE
  • Patrick Gale at the Borders Book Festival - Sunday 19 June @ 5.00pm - CLICK HERE

We asked the shortlisted authors a few questions about being nominated for the prize - here's what Patrick said -

What do you think about being shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction?  Do you see yourself as a historical novelist?

I’m thrilled and very flattered about this and very flattered, not least because I’m a newcomer to an already crowded field and still don’t quite think I belong there. I don’t see myself as an historical novelist, it was simply that the story that lodged in my brain and wouldn’t go away happened to be set in the early 1900s. My focus on my hero’s psychology was so myopic that I was about a third of the way into the novel before it dawned on me that, simply because of when he was living, I was going to have to write about the Great War and the Spanish Flu epidemic! The novel I’m working on now is only set in the 1970s (history of a kind) but who knows if being shortlisted like this won’t encourage me to track down another story in the distant past for the novel after that.

How did the people and times you write about in this novel first lodge in your imagination?

The hero of A Place Called Winter, and the family he marries into, are all thinly fictionalised versions of my real great grandparents and great, great aunts. I’d heard fragments of their stories repeatedly from my grandmother when I was growing up, but it was only about ten years ago, on finding I’d inherited her incomplete memoir, that I realised was a meaty story had been lying under my nose for decades. I was intimidated at first by their being my ancestors and “real”, but it was surprising how rapidly they came to feel simply like characters I’d made up and could cheekily inhabit.

What role does research have in your writing?  When does the fiction take over from the facts?

I’ve always done a fair bit of research for my novels because I’ve never had a grown-up job; if nothing else, I always need to research whatever it is that my hero or heroine does for a living so as to make it feel believable on the page. The temptation, when embarking on my first historical novel, was to become neurotically hooked on research to the point where the actual writing never began. I did masses of background reading into subjects as diverse as the hidden gay history of London to the precise mechanism of a horse-drawn binder, but ultimately most of it was simply to build up my confidence in my chosen subject to the point where I could push the mountain of books to one side and concentrate on simply telling my story. In the case of this story the whole appeal for me was that fiction was always going to have to take over from the facts, to join the tantalising dots in what I knew of my great grandfather’s story. I know that if another historical story catches my interest, it will have to be one with a gap in it that can only be bridged by fiction. 

About Patrick...

Patrick was born on 31 January 1962 on the Isle of Wight, where his father was prison governor at Camp Hill, as his Grandfather had been at nearby Parkhurst, he was the youngest of four - one sister, two brothers, spread over ten years. The Family moved to London, where his father ran Wandsworth Prison, then to Winchester, At eight Patrick began boarding as a Winchester College Quirister at teh Cathedral Choir School, Pilgrim's. At thirteen he went on to Winchester College. He finished his formal education with an English degree from New College, Oxford in 1983.

He has never had a grown-up job. For three years he lived at a succession of addresses, from a Notting Hill bedsit to a crumbling French chateau. While working on his first novels he eked out his slender income with odd jobs; as a typist, a singing waiter, a designer’s secretary, a ghost-writer for an encyclopedia of the musical and, increasingly, as a book reviewer.

His first two novels, The Aerodynamics of Pork and Ease were published by Abacus on the same day in June 1986. The following year he moved to Camelford near the north coast of Cornwall and began a love affair with the county that has fed his work ever since.

He now lives in the far west, on a farm near Land’s End with his husband, Aidan Hicks. There they raise beef cattle and grow barley. Patrick is obsessed with the garden they have created in what must be one of England’s windiest sites and which includes England’s westernmost walled rose garden, and he deeply resents the time his writing makes him spend away from working in it. As well as gardening, he plays both the modern and baroque cello. He chairs the North Cornwall Book Festival, patron of Penzance LitFest and a director of both Endelienta and the Charles Causley Trust. His chief extravagance in life is opera tickets.


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