Today, I’m lucky enough to have the lovely Neal Doran on my blog, answering questions about his very funny new book Not What They Were Expecting.
1. Hi Neal, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for me! Tell me a little bit about Not What They Were Expecting.
The book’s about Rebecca and James, a couple that have just found out they’re having a baby. But while they thought that was going to be the big event in their family for the next year, their news is trumped by Rebecca’s dad, Howard, getting arrested for public indecency in a gents’ toilet. Then James’s activist parents start a publicity campaign to bring attention to Howard’s plight and as life gets more complicated, the pressure builds on the relationships between everyone in the family, including the parents-to-be. It’s about two people trying to be strong together as the world around them goes crazy.
2. Where did the idea for the story come from? Did you base it on any real-life experiences?
My father-in-law in particular likes me to make it clear that a lot of the ideas are entirely made up…The main idea came from thinking of life changing moments to write about, and a pregnancy seemed a big one. I think it makes you think about who you are as a person, and the relationship you might have as a couple, but also about the people who parented you — how they probably started out as hopeful, confused and messed up as you. So I tried to come up with something that forced Rebecca and James to really look at their parents in all their human glory…
3. Ben and Margaret are two of my favourite characters in the book (apart from Rebecca and James of course!) Are there any similarities between them and anyone you know?
Actually, there are, in a way. When I was in junior school I had friends with families who came from very different backgrounds from mine, and who had sort of hippy-ish parents with all sorts of interesting careers and strong views on politics and art and stuff. When I was eight or nine I mainly thought they were a bit different and scary. They had exotic food like spaghetti that didn’t come out of a tin (this was several decades ago…), and there were playground rumours that some of them were nudists. When I thought of Ben and Margaret I thought of them again – hopefully in a nice way.
4. The book sees just about everything go hilariously wrong for James and Rebecca during what’s supposed to be the happiest time of their lives. What was your favourite obstacle to write in the book?
I think it was when both sets of parent get together to plot and scheme on how to raise the profile of Howard’s campaign to be proven innocent of all charges. Nothing brings the teenager out in people more than their parents interacting with other people’s parents, like they’re all just ordinary regular people or something…And when the future grandparents started talking in graphic detail about the gory details of childbirth in front of their grown-up children – I almost felt like I should put Rebecca and James out of their misery. Almost…
5. Which character in the book would you say is most like you?
I’d say Rebecca – she has a habit of constantly internally over-analysing everything she’s just said, and the way she’s said it, which I do too much. We think about careers the same way, and both don’t swear much at all, until we do a lot. When I decided I was going to write large chunks of a novel from the point of view of a pregnant woman, I thought the best way to do it was make her as much like me as I could, and imagine how I would react to being pregnant. Without making her the object of intense global medical scrutiny, of course.
6. Your books fall into the genre of romantic comedy. What drew you to writing in this genre?
Life’s about relationships. And relationships can be awkward. And awkward can be funny. The genre has everything in life I’m interested in, and maybe in the past have struggled with, so it seems a natural fit. My wife has just suggested I might still be struggling, so I don’t think I’m going to run out of things to write about.
7. If Not What They Were Expecting was made into a movie, who would be in your dream cast?
I have this bad habit of thinking of people who were in their 20s and 30s when I was in my teens when I try and think of who could play Rebecca and James, and they’re much too old now. So I’m open to suggestions on that front. I think Emma Thompson would make a great Margaret, Hugh Laurie as Ben, and Bill Nighy for Howard.
8. Your first novel, Dan Taylor is Giving Up on Women, garnered many positive reviews when it was released last year. Any plans for a sequel featuring these characters?
I keep thinking about it. Without giving away the ending, the lives of the characters are much more complicated at the end of the book than they are at the beginning, and I keep wondering if they’d be able to get back on an even keel. I can’t imagine a time when things wouldn’t get complicated and messy for Dan…
9. Is there a book you wish you’d written? If so, what is it and why?
That is a tricky one. At this very second I’d Say Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck, which is an account of Steinbeck’s journey across America with his dog in the 1960s. I’d like to take the kind of road trip it was based on too.
10. Finally, what are you currently working on?
It’s still early days, and details are still sketchy, but it’s another comedy about a group of people — not too different in age, but at different stages of their lives — all looking at how they ended up where they are, and working out if they’re happy about it.
*What’s the capital of Mongolia? (Told you there would be a geography question haha!)
Ulan Bator. And I knew that without even having to Google…
Buy Not What They Were Expecting here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Not-What-They-Were-Expecting-ebook/dp/B00JGU7XP0