Pre-launch interview with Paul Carroll by Rosemary Barratt
A commercialised bereavement market is a fairly unusual topic for a novel – what was your main inspiration in writing AMOLAD?
Yes – it is fairly unusual, but I was keen to create something different to interest readers.There were a few factors at play really; I did the PR on a funerals account a few years back and that provided a fascinating insight into the whole area of bereavement. Plus, like many others I’ve observed how publicly we tend to grieve these days. I wanted to understand that trend and pose some questions about it. Or maybe I’m just getting old and starting to attend a few more funerals.
What do you think is responsible for this trend of conspicuous public mourning?
Well, it’s all relative to the sombre and stoic mindset we used to invest in funerals – the stiff upper lip. Everybody cites Diana as the tipping point, but ‘event’ funerals aren’t new – just look at Victoria or Valentino, Churchill or Kennedy for classic examples. Where it’s changed is that now the media accords that same coverage to virtually anybody’s demise and that’s migrating to the public at large– who can mourn the most?
Why do you think attitudes to bereavement have changed?
Besides our tabloid media the best theory I’ve come across is the decline of faith in this country – if belief in the afterlife is diminished, then death is the end, so a celebration of what’s passed is a natural conclusion – there’s nothing ahead. It’s not just religion – it’s spirituality too - an ever decreasing circle of life.
But religion is featured quite heavily in the book?
Yes – Farren’s parents and their peers have faith to help them through death and bereavement whereas the younger generation clearly worship at different altars. I was merely setting up the conflict between the competing ‘gods’ - faith and mammon if you like. I was brought up as a catholic so it was easier for me to depict the older generation from that point of view – I don’t think it would have been much different if I’d contrasted Farren’s business with any major religion. The thing is, which ‘god’ will prevail?
In AMOLAD, Farren Mortimer comes up with all manner of techniques to celebrate life. How far-fetched are those ideas – could they actually happen here?
Well, they’re here already. Online memoriams, celebratory videos, life remembered books, memorial services, wacky coffins – all Mortimer does in AMOLAD is draw it all together and make a successful business out of it. He persuades people that it’s OK, in fact essential, to celebrate a passing in this way – otherwise, the implication is the life wasn’t worth the living.
But surely, people should be able to mark the passing of a life in whatever way they think fit?
Lives, almost without exception, should be celebrated of course – the question is what’s the most appropriate way of doing that? These days funerals are akin to weddings where it becomes a competition to have the most guests, the most expensive dress, the most lavish stag or hen do. Christmas is the same – who’s going to have the most fairy lights on their house or the most flashing reindeers on the roof? There’s always a line to be crossed between imagination and excess; funerals are no different. Determining where the line lies is the challenge each character in the book has to decide.
Few contemporary novels make great play of social media. AMOLAD does. Why?
Because AMOLAD is a contemporary novel it reflects how we act and interact now and that’s via social media. What I wanted to explore was not only how, for example, Twitter is a constant our lives, but also how it can be manipulated, be a source of disinformation and a champion for the anonymous. Ry Cooder – who didn’t make the playlist sadly – recently called social media ‘Orwellian’ – I think that’s a pretty interesting take – we just don’t know yet although millions, myself included, are firmly wedded to it on a minute by minute basis.
Music is an integral element of the book. What was your thinking there?
Music is an important part of people’s lives, mile markers and emotional triggers at the same time. I knew from the outset that I would structure the book around the thirty songs I’d selected for the chapter headings, and it was an interesting challenge to try to get them right. I also had a bit of fun with the ‘incidental’ music, such as Benny Hill’s Ernie which has a starring role when it’s played at the funeral of Farren Mortimer’s stepfather. We each have a soundtrack to our lives so I reflected that.
The way media and marketing works in today’s society isn’t kindly represented in the book – isn’t that biting the hand that fed you in your earlier career?
I don’t think the representation in the book is unkind. I worked – work – in media and marketing circles, but I’m not an acolyte – or should I say ‘ambassador’? – for those professions. They’re very accurately represented – it’s just the way it is; I’m under the skin of it a bit more than most, that’s all. I’d say the treatment was more affectionate then anything else.
You make great play of location in the novel. Why the emphasis?
I wanted to make it realistic, so naturally I’ve used locations I know. It’s about time there was a Manchester centric novel, anyway. Well, half of the action in the book takes place in Manchester, the rest in London. The locations are genuine and recognisable, and that’s important towards making the characters feel genuine and recognisable too.
How autobiographical is the book?
Not at all. It’s informed by my experiences, but it’s hardly autobiographical. It’s a novel, a fiction, an entertainment more than anything – I’m not trying to make any statements, launch an agenda or sell anything – other than the book of course, which I hope readers will enjoy.
One friend who saw the first draft thought the minor sex scene that occurs in the book was based on my experiences – that was how he’d read it, seriously. Maybe he thought that because the scene is short, comical and unsatisfying, but really, it’s not me.
What readers do you think AMOLAD will appeal to?
We’re all going to die, so that’s a pretty wide potential audience. Seriously, I’d imagine it’s for any reader who likes black comedy, is switched on to what’s happening in the world, and isn’t afraid to make their opinions heard – see, I’ve just described the 10m Twitter account users in the UK.