My friend Billy (not his real name) who’s a journalist, breezed in on Saturday morning, unannounced. His purpose, he said, as I pushed a coffee his way, was to complement me in person on my latest book, Otto and Frankie. ‘Best you’ve written, and one of the best I’ve read,’ he said. Knowing Billy for some time, someone not flush with complements, and who reads many books, I figured he’d had a touch too much to drink the previous night and was confusing me for someone else. But then he went on to say he wanted to do an interview with me about the book and could we do it right then. Putting back my Saturday gardening plans, I agreed. He didn’t say when the interview would be published, I suspect it won’t, but here’s some of the better bits.
Billy: So? Why did you write Otto and Frankie?
NW: I wanted to write about people dealing with life’s crises; and I thought being told you had three months to live, finding out your wife was having a bizarre affair, and meeting up again with a long-lost daughter – who becomes your greatest admirer and proponent of your values – were tough challenges and could be the human dynamics to drive a story.
B: Who did you model Otto on? Is he your alter ego?
NW: No, he’s not. But I wanted to create a noble guy with a strong personality and well-liked. I guess I do have similar traits and values to Otto.
B: Do you think Otto was unkind to Holly?
NW: Stand-offish, maybe. No, not unkind. Look; he had three months to live, discovers his wife, who he adored and thought she did him, was having a most unusual affair, and is trying to keep fighting for his cause till his last breath. Confused, sad, but not unkind. I write the stories; readers will form their own opinions.
B: You chose evocative settings with West Wittering and the nearby beach. Do you know them?
NW: I do. We live close to West Wittering and walk on the beach often. The beach is beautiful at any time of the year and all times of the day and tide, and I hope I got that across.
B: You describe Otto’s house and garden as comfortable and stylish, but not much detail. Why’s that?
NW: I wanted the beach, the characters, their actions, thoughts and emotions to be the main events. Too much detail on house décor would have been a distraction. Anyway, the shiny lifestyle magazines do that better than me.
B: Moving on to Holly’s affair. That sort of thing is quite normal these days. Why did you make a big thing of it?
NW: You’re right. It is, but if you remember Otto said he wasn’t worried about who the affair was with, just that Holly had an affair at all that threw him. Having only three months to live, and then finding out his wife was unfaithful almost crushed him had it not been for his indomitable spirit and Frankie’s support.
B: Frankie could not be more different to her father and didn’t really know him. Isn’t it more likely she would have found him and the family rich, posh strangers, said her goodbyes to her father, and headed back to New York?
NW: She did initially find them like you described, but it didn’t last. She soon recognised her father as the kind noble man he was, and found the rest of the family – Holy, and her and Otto’s twin sons – friendly and trying their hardest to make her feel at home. As the days went on, and her admiration for her father grew, she wanted to stay to the end. And of course, deep down, she had a kind, loving nature, repressed by her tough time in New York, but flourished by the time spent with her dad and the family.
B. In the second part of the book, Frankie becomes the protagonist and narrates the book in the first-person. Wasn’t that a bit of a risk, given that Otto’s part was so compelling, and he was clearly such a noble man?
NW. Well, I drew them as complete opposites intentionally – Otto the good guy, Frankie a bit of a loser. But she came good and delivered on Otto’s goal despite the odds against her. I wanted to show how people can change.
B: What was the bit you most liked writing?
NW: All of it. I bin bits I don’t like as I go along. But my favourites were Otto and Holly reflecting on the good times, and Frankie’s confrontational meeting with Otto’s brother.
B: Any plans for the future?
NW: I’m working on some short stories, then a new book next year.
Otto and Frankie, is available in paperback and e-book. It’s different from anything else I’ve written and took almost three years in the making.
It’s about a dying man’s fight against injustice, his wife’s unusual affair, and the love from his long-lost daughter. I’m told it’s a compelling read.