Patrick Gale’s sixteenth novel, A Place Called Winter was a Radio 2 Book Club selection, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Prize, the Walter Scott Prize and the Green Carnation Award and and is now being developed as a BBC serial. His two part film, Man in an Orange Shirt will be on BBC 1 this summer. He is a patron of the Charles Causley Trust and the Penzance LitFest, a director of Endelienta and artistic director of the North Cornwall Book Festival. He plays the cello and lives on the last farm in Cornwall. We will be hosting an evening with Patrick on 5th April 2018, more details here.
Q: What book changed your life?
A: The Happy Prince and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde
The more I think about this the more I reckon it has to be Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince and Other Stories. I inherited the Puffin edition from an older sibling and at about seven I became completely obsessed with it and read it over and over again, something I paid tribute to in my novel Rough Music. What struck me was that these were ostensibly fairy tales and yet they were so utterly unchildish in their ambiguity and their clear-eyed presentation of pain, selfishness, and the fundamental sorrow of human life. My childhood was steeped in the Bible, because I had religious parents and was boarding at a cathedral choir school, and like most children I relished the gory and savage bits of biblical narrative, but these stories were even darker than anything we’d studied in divinity lessons.
I wouldn’t acquire anything approaching confidence as a writer of stories for about three more years, when I started writing enormous outpourings for homework assignments, but I vividly remember these being the first examples I came across of how profoundly fiction could move one and how there could be a strange pleasure in wilfully making yourself feel a bit unhappy. I moved on to a phase of reading my way through the Pan Books of Horror Stories, loving to be disgusted or frightened in the safe arena of an encounter with a book, but few of them haunted me the way The Star Child or The Selfish Giant did.
Revisiting them as an adult, I find much of Wilde’s language affected or wilfully ornate but what endures is the punch of the storytelling. I often think that one of the great cultural tragedies of Wilde’s early death was that writing novels might well have become his main creative outlet once disgrace meant that his plays were staged less often. The Picture of Dorian Grey, his only novel for adults, is rather disappointing for its lack of honesty in its depiction of desire and I imagine Wilde’s horrendous experience of disgrace, imprisonment and being abandoned by most of the people who once had lionised him, would have changed all that.
Contact us here to order any of Patrick Gales’ books.