Today, I’m excited to announce that Andy Jones, author of The Two of Us, has joined me for a Q and A session. I fell head-over-heels in love with Andy’s debut novel and if you haven’t already, you can view my review here.
Hello Clare, it’s lovely to be on your blog, and I’m not just saying that because you’re based in North Wales, literally down the road from the house I grew up in. In fact, it’s close to Fisher’s dad’s place in The Two of Us, so that’s nice, isn’t it. For what it’s worth, I’m writing this Q&A in Smithfield today, in a café around the corner from this week’s day job (freelance advertising copywriter); the coffee’s dreadful! So…
I’m sure you have been asked this question many times before, but where did the idea for the novel come from?
The idea for The Two of Us, came from a novel called Girl 99 that I self-published in 2012. That book was about a guy called William Fisher, who learns over the course of the novel that if you devote all your energies to getting laid, you can miss out on something far more important – love.
The inspiration for that book was a friend of mine who was a bit … well, he liked the company of women, shall we say. He would brag about his escapades and conquests, but there was something a bit sad about it – it wasn’t making him happy, that’s for sure. And I started thinking about the old chestnut that claims men look for sex while women look for love, and I thought, yeah, there’s a book in that. I created a love-interest called Ivy and threw the two of them together.
Thing is, when I got to the end of Girl 99 (and you will have guessed already that they get together), I realised I hadn’t finished with this couple. So, on a walk with my wife one day (January 1st, 2013 to be precise), I thought: What would happen if Ivy became pregnant, quickly and unexpectedly? And that is precisely what happens at the start of The Two of Us.
– The Two of Us is both emotional and funny – was it your intention to balance the two, rather than to focus entirely on one?
I didn’t set out to write either a funny or an emotional book. I just wanted to tell an engaging story – although, given that it revolves around a relationship, it was inevitably going to be ‘emotional’. But the story came first, not the tone or genre.
But it’s an interesting question because I think that, tonally, The Two of Us is a book of two halves, or maybe thirds. It starts out light; there are difficulties and tension, of course, but the humour is always pretty close to the surface. My style of writing is comedic by default (ever since I can remember I’ve enjoyed telling jokes and trying to make people laugh. It’s probably born out of some deep insecurity – oh my god, how did we end up here? – back to the question…); it happens kind of automatically, but I never think: Right, time for a gag.
And then, midway through the book, the humour is dialled back a little. The tension in the relationship reaches a peak, and I felt that too much humour would jar. There are still moments of humour here, but they’re smaller and more widely spaced. And then, again, the story shifts, toward tragedy this time, and this is where the emotion comes to dominate. If I had any tonal intent at all, it was to write an honest book, one that feels like real life, in which the characters behave like authentic humans. So really, the story dictated the balance of humour, drama and emotion; I didn’t think about it too deliberately, I was just attempted to remain sensitive to the events on the page.
– On a personal level, have you ever experienced the sadness that Fisher and Ivy had to endure? The emotions and situations seem so real.
No, I’ve been very lucky in that regard. I could tell you about things I’ve experienced that are way down the scale to the events in the book – but I don’t want to be too specific and give the game away. As a writer you don’t always have first-hand access to the feelings and emotions you need to convey, so you take something from your life, or your experience and then you extrapolate it. Or swerve it and repurpose it – you take the fear and anxiety from losing a job, say, and you use it to write someone lost in the woods being stalked by an axe-wielding maniac. Or the other way around, although that might end up a little melodramatic.
– You’re originally from North Wales, what made you decide to leave and move to the big smoke?
I initially left to go to University, which took me to Birmingham to study Biology. Then after graduation, I took the next logical step and decided to pursue a career in advertising. Luckily I was naïve enough not to realise that it was a ridiculous notion, and after many many, many applications, an agency in London offered me a job. So I packed my bags and headed south. If I hadn’t, I’m not sure I’d have ended up writing novels. Writing commercials in an agency gave me the appetite for writing, and helped me begin to develop a writing style. There’s a joke about copywriters, actually, by Peter Cook, if memory serves:
Two copywriters bump in to each other in a Soho wine bar.
Copywriter 1: So, what have you been up to?
Copywriter 2: I’m, writing a novel.
Copywriter 1: Oh, me neither.
Then again, maybe advertising got in the way. Perhaps if I’d remained in academia I would have written my first novel a long time ago. We’ll never know.
– When you’re not writing what do you like to do?
I’d love to tell you I have a pilot’s licence, or that I throw pots, or paint pictures. But I’m so busy balancing work and my writing, that all I want to do when I’m relaxing is read a good book and spending time with my wife and two little girls. Maybe go for a long bike ride once in a while.
– Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
I’m currently working on a new novel. I have no idea how long it will end up being, so I can’t tell you how far in I am. But I’m guessing I’ve written about 40% of the first draft. Which may turn out to be as little as 20% of the final book. I’m enjoying it tremendously, though; I’ve got two characters that are coming alive and I’m getting a good feel for each of them. I think this one is going to be a two-header, with chapters alternating between the two protagonists – a man who did something unforgivable, and a woman who experienced something unimaginable. And any page now, they’re going to meet…