A few weeks ago, a book turned up on my doormat, ready for review. After Alyson is about a man called Mark who goes out with a woman called Alyson. Part of the book is set in the future, part of it in the past. It’s incredibly readable, funny, and sometimes sad. Mark also happens to be partially deaf. I interviewed author David Sindall about writing his first book to find out where he got his inspiration from. [Charlie, Editor]
Hello David! Could you tell us about your background? What kind of work do you do?
I’m Head of Disability & Inclusion for the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC Ltd). My role is to improve the quality of services offered to older and disabled passengers, including Deaf people, across passenger rail services.
What made you write After Alyson, and could you tell us about the process involved?
I wrote the book because I wanted to try writing in a different medium. I’d written plays before but never tried a novel. So I wanted to try something different.
After a couple of false starts, the process was quite enjoyable. However, although the whole thing only took about 6 months to write it has sat on my computer gathering whatever things sat on computers gather, for quite a few years. In that time it also had numerous revisions.
Eventually I decided I should get it published. Wasted time with agents who are predominantly up their own backsides in a way that is indescribable, and then, through the Writers Workshop, discovered Matador. They’ve been great and, hey presto, After Alyson is now a global phenomena! Well, OK, has the potential to be.
Mark, the central character in your book is partially deaf. How much did your own deafness inform his character?
A great deal. It’s about the only part of the book that is autobiographical in any sense. I’ve been partially deaf since birth, it’s shaped a great deal of my life experiences and my career, so I wanted to make a strand of the novel about this. However being partially deaf doesn’t uniquely define me. Other things do too, not least of which is a tedious obsession with Tranmere Rovers. So, in writing the book, I wanted Mark’s deafness to be important, but not the only thing that defines him.
One thing I enjoyed in the book were the descriptions of signed dialogue. It felt as though that was also based on experience – how long have you known sign language for?
My first job was working for Hearing Concern (then BAHOH) and that was my first exposure to the broader Deaf community. I picked up a good understanding of SSE and understand the basis of Deaf culture. However, my signing is abysmal! I’m sure I’m the Inspector Clouseau of sign-language. Nonetheless I’ve also supported National Deaf Children’s Society in the past too, including appearing as Postman Pat at one of their open days. So I’ve had a fair bit of exposure and picked up lots of useless signs.
I wanted to include the signing story line though and something about deafness in childhood. One of the saddest conversations I ever heard was when I visited a school for deaf kids. I had my hearing aids on and one little boy turned to his mate, pointed at my hearing aids and said ‘see, you’re deaf always, even when you grow up!’ This was heartbreaking.
Your central character is a bit of an anti hero. I wanted things to work out for him, yet at the same time, he does things that many people would find morally reprehensible. Where did the inspiration for him come from?
Mark has lost his moral compass, although you could be forgiven for thinking he never had one. The inspiration for him came from a friend, who also seemed to be in a similar place at the end of a long relationship. He didn’t seem to mind who he hurt or who got in his way. Suffice to say the friend is no longer in my circle, and I doubt if he has the insight to recognise it’s him that’s being described.
In a way the book has quite a strong male viewpoint. Sex is very important to him, and the lack of it, or opportunity to have it, seems to lead him in different directions (!). I wondered what the feedback has been like from female readers, compared to male readers?
Most women have enjoyed it. If you read the book you’ll see that the women in After Alyson are much stronger than the men, despite their poor treatment. More women buy books than men, but guys who have read the book have also enjoyed it. For women the book offers an insight into some aspects of male behaviour. Guys seem to enjoy it as an entertaining romp.
The book is also written from a male perspective partly because a great deal of current writing doesn’t really look at some of the conflicts that exist. Most men know right from wrong, but most also know that wrong happens, despite ourselves. The book doesn’t ram these points home, but the message is there. In the end it’s meant to be a light read, something you’d take on holiday and enjoy reading by the pool or on the beach, if you want to read more into it you can.
You’re writing your next book. Could you tell us what you’re writing about and what you’ve learned from writing your first book?
The next book is called First Divi. It is set in Littlewoods Pools, in Liverpool in 1963. It’s main character is also hard of hearing but the story is really about a crime heist that doesn’t work out. It’s based upon a family story (at one point my Dad worked for Littlewoods) and something I have had waiting to develop for years. Hopefully it will be ready for publication in the Autumn of 2014.
I have two other novels mapped out after that as well. A few people have asked if After Alyson will have a sequel. I can firmly say ‘no’ to that, albeit one or two of the characters might turn up elsewhere, in particular Matty, the sign language using deaf kid, seems too good to let go.
As to what I’ve learnt about writing…hmmm. It’s fun, tiring, at times emotionally draining but humbling when you get an e-mail from somebody saying they really enjoyed what you’ve written. Whilst it will never replace the ‘day job’ I think it’s a nice way to fill in the time between working, shouting at useless footballers and maintaining body & soul.
We have one copy of After Alyson to give away. To win it, just email us telling us which football team author David Sindall supports. First correct answer wins! Email: email@example.com [NOTE this has been won by Laura Goldberg – congratulations to her!]
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