All The Places I’ve Ever Lived by David Gaffney
Part murder ballad, part ghost story, part true crime, All The Places I’ve Ever Lived takes you on a gripping journey from the small-town murder of a teenage girl in the 1970s to the recent real-life shootings in Whitehaven, West Cumbria. Are the crimes linked? Fifteen-year-old Barry Dyer may have the answers, but when events impact so horrifically on a town and its people, it always pays to tread carefully when revealing the truth…
Quirky, disturbing, and haunting, All The Places I’ve Ever Lived is a moving and tender exploration of a teenage outsider in a small community, as well as being a finely wrought portrayal of the neglected industrial settlements of West Cumbria, where nuclear plants, thermometer factories and chemical works contrast vividly with the desolate beauty of the Lake District.
Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?
A) I grew up in a remote part of the north of England called west cumbria where not much happens and hardly anyone goes. It’s not the lake district. And it’s not touristy or developed for visitors – no tea shops or scented candle emporiums It’s a bit grim and industrial to be honest. There is a big nuclear plant on the coast and some old iron ore mines and lots of other old defunct factories dotted about. But I really like it.
I always think that being brought up there formed my desire to write and tell stories about being on the edge, being outside of things, being different. So this book began as way of talking about Cleator Moor, the town where I was brought up, and trying to explain what it was like as a teenager to live in the middle of nowhere, in a place no one has heard of. But as well as this, I wanted to explore something else. When I was young I developed a skin condition called psoriasis which although it is quite common and harmless, it was quite debilitating for a teenage to have something disfiguring like that all over your skin when you are going through adolescence, and it had a big psychological effect on me, which I also think informed my being drawn into creative pursuits like music and writing.
I also discovered that other writers and creative people suffered from psoriasis too – John Updike, Dennis Potter, Ben Elton, Tom Waits, Gordon Lish (Raymond Carver’s editor) Art Garfunkel – even Nabakov apparently. I was in great company I thought – although they do say Stalin had it as well.
So I began to write about the psoriasis. However, I didn’t want the main character to be a sad little victim, moaning all the time about his poor skin, how special he was, and isn’t life awful. So I turned the skin condition into a kind supernatural thing – a covering of metal studs – which linked him to a sexy ghost and made him able to travel through time. I wanted his skin condition to be more like a superpower than a disability. And that’s how the books works. It links two crimes together over a period of thirty years – the murder of a teenage girl in Cleator Moor in the seventies and the multiple shootings by a taxi driver in west cumbria in 2010 who killed13 people including himself.
Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?
A) The book began as a very short novella but my agent at the time felt it could be improved by adding more detail about life in the town in the 1970s. And if it were longer, he said, it was likely to be be more successful. I agreed to write more and I added a further 20k words to the total, including more scenes at the boy’s school, scenes in the local church, a scene with a priest, a scene where they run away and sleep in a barn, and in general more texture and detail. It seems from feedback that people do really like these extra sections and so it turned out to have been a good move to extend the middle of the book in that way. I normally write very short stories (flash fiction) and I have a tendency towards the minimalist. But when writing a novel I feel there is a need to create a fuller world that readers can immerse themselves in, enable them to wallow in the reality of it. I think that more texture and detail about the world you are creating really helps. It feels like the budget on a film being increased so that there are more locations, more extras, more background action, and more believable props and costumes. I realised that with a novel, money is no object, so it isn’t necessary to have the same boy repeatedly cycling past on a chopper bike in the background to remind us we are in the seventies; we can have a cast of thousands. So, after that rewrite, I then sent the book to Urbane and they agreed to put it out. Mathew at Urbane has been just great. He worked closely with me on the cover which we were both really pleased with, and then he took the whole thing to market in a really clever way. It hasn’t been an easy sell because the mass shootings which the book focusses around were very recent, so many media outlets just haven’t felt able to discuss it.
Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?
A) I am a massive fan of Magnus Mills so would recommend everything by him
Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?
A) I’d like to say that the first book that really got me interested in writing was something like Camus or Beckett. But it was actually Billy Liar a novel by Keith Waterhouse which I read and re-read when I was very young and it always made a big impression. Before that I thought all novels were Victorian and set in London and all about people of wealth; this story of a working class lad in Yorkshire made me realise what writing could do
Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?
A) It’s seeing someone on a train or in a shop picking up your book and watching their face as they read a little bit. Its not always a good expression I have to say.
Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?
A) I am part of a writing group ann all the members encouraged me and gave me detailed critical feedback on the work as it was in progress – so thanks to Elizabeth Baines, Sarah Butler, Sarah- Clare Conlon and Adrian Slatcher for all their help