My father was born in Dumfries and went to study geography and anthropology at Edinburgh. Like young men in the 1950s, he had to do National Service, and ended up moving to England for work. His masters degree meant he could be employed as a teacher in England, not Scotland, so off we all went. He enjoyed most aspects of teaching, and had a marvellous rapport with some of the tougher cases that came his way. In his private life, he loved sport – golf and rugby – and was something of an armchair revolutionary. He was the most tolerant man, and modest to a fault, and loathed injustice and corruption. He also had the silliest sense of humour, which was totally infectious.
Your dad has passed on. What was it like for you, preparing the book for publication.
Hard! It took me months to open up the box of manuscripts when they arrived. He’d never let me read anything of his during his lifetime, so I had no idea what to expect. I read the first few paragraphs and was stunned. The style was so confident and professional. At first, the job was merely technical: I had to scan the typewritten pages and then correct them. After a while, the story and characters began to emerge, and I could recognise people and places – even myself! Subsequent editing was fine, but when it came to developing the website, it did get a bit emotional. My stepmother Maggie and I shed some tears, I have to admit.
Tell us a bit about the book.
It was written in the paranoid 1970s during the Cold War. It’s based on a family trip to Spain. We stayed in a hotel in Andalusia not far from the American naval base at Rota. The place fired his imagination and the story is all set there. It’s full of the most fascinating characters, heroes and villains galore, with some wonderful cinematic scenes of suspense. With the tight dialogue and piercing insights, it would make a marvellous movie!
My own father was a terrible martinet when it came to English grammar — he never let anything slide. Most of what I remember about the subject is due to him, not to my teachers. Did your own father have any influence on your writing, and if so, what?
Dad was brought up in the Scottish system, so his grasp of grammar and language was top notch. He also continued to read widely, from the essays of Montaigne to John Updike, so he was quite the gentleman of letters. Yes, I can still hear him correcting me if I ever said ‘me and my friend’ or whatever. In fact, I’d be corrected in stereo, for my mother was a journalist. There was no escape!
You have written several books of your own. What is your favorite among your own work, and why?
It has be Tomorrow’s Anecdote. This started out as a rant against the sleazy misogynism of 1980s journalism and turned into a semi-autobiographical murder mystery novel. It’s also written in my own conversational voice, because I was getting weary of agents and editors sneering at my choice of words or use of adverbs. One day I just rebelled and out it splurged. It was cathartic. I had to be careful about some of the characters, and although I did think about killing off a few more just for fun, I was restrained. It was also my first book to come out in print, and that’s always special.
What do you consider your strengths as a writer? What do you struggle with?
I do like to plan the stories, and I certainly love the research. It’s sometimes hard to stop. What I do find hard is to have a regular schedule. I simply can’t sit down and be creative at set times. My brain just rebels.
What’s the best writing advice you ever got? The worst?
Best advice – don’t give up! The worst? Pay lots of money for writing agencies to edit your books before submission. You could spend hundreds of pounds, disagree with what they’ve done – and still not get published.
What is your favorite book? Favorite author?
Although I love murder mysteries and medieval whodunits, the books I can’t put down are always teen fantasies. Just recently, I finished the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfield. It was fast, funny, action-packed and simply dazzling. I also loved the Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Ridell, with those haunting illustrations. I felt bereft when I’d read the last one.
What would you like readers to take away from your dad’s book?
Although it’s a spy novel, it’s a very human story about a rather modest bloke struggling with an impossible situation. However, it’s not just the main character that is so compelling. My father studied psychology, and just seemed to know what would make every individual tick. In my view, it’s a fascinating study of flawed humanity – and a cracking plot!
Any last words?
Getting Not With A Whimper into print was quite an emotional journey. I’ve been particularly touched by everyone’s response. It’s a travesty it wasn’t published in his lifetime, but we got there in the end. Dad was always one for saying ‘don’t look back’, but I’m rather glad I did on this occasion.
Peter A. W. Kelt – http://peterawkelt.blogspot.co.uk/
Pamela Kelt – http://pamkelt.blogspot.co.uk/
Video trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcivIqF9jhw