OutUK: If there are there as many different ways to write as there are writers,
how easy is it to offer general advice in a workshop situation?
Patrick: Not very. I can only strive for honesty, drawing on my own experience.
I've been doing little else now for twenty years so at least have had time to try
various methods on for size.
OutUK: So does that mean the art of writing in fact rather more a craft?
Patrick: I'd say so, but a craft that is only of use if accompanied by unteachable talent.
You can teach from example but there's always going to be that element, that instinct
for storytelling or observation, that can't be taught.
OutUK: So which authors have influenced your work most?
Patrick: I'm drawn to writers with a profound empathy for their characters - like Anne Tyler,
Carol Shields or Thomas Mann - whose style is so translucent the reader is drawn
straight past it and into the narrative. I tend to read so widely that it's hard
to cite direct influences but, looking back at my earliest novels I can see
very clearly now how influenced they were by all the Iris Murdoch I was reading then.
OutUK: Does that mean you look back on your earlier novels and blush?
Patrick: I hate the way fans always seem to be keenest on the stuff
I feel I've long since outgrown!
OutUK: Don't only very few writers of fiction manage to make a living from it?
Patrick: Very few fiction writers can cite it as their sole source of income.
Most seem to have some kind of day job - as academics or journalists. I know of at
least one who only dared give up his day job once he had a Booker nomination.
OutUK: Do you think writing is a vocation or does everyone have a book in them?
Patrick: Writing is such a weird, neurotic and solitary way to make a
living that you need to be pretty obsessed to be able to put up with the strains
it puts on you. Everyone has a story but they're not always the best person to tell it.
OutUK: But do you think all fiction is in some sense biographical?
Patrick: It can't all be biographical or the world would be an even
scarier place than it is. But yes, I suspect that even fantasy and hardcore
crime fiction needs an element of the writer's personality injecting into
it to bring it alive.
OutUK: In what sense would you describe your work as gay?
Patrick: I'm gay so I suppose that means my work is written from a gay
perspective or a gay understanding or whatever. That said, I'd be bored to tears
if this meant I was only allowed to write gay stories. I tend to view writing
fiction as a kind of spiritual ventriloquism - a chance to lose myself in characters
I make up and who are often terminally hetero.
OutUK: Which novel do you think is the most gay and which least?
Patrick: The Aerodynamics of Pork is probably my gayest, in that
so many of its characters turn out to have some gay or lesbian component to their nature.
A Sweet Obscurity is probably my straightest, but even that has a gay man and a
lesbian who power the plot along. To write an entirely straight novel would be a kind
of science fiction for me.