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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author John Uttley talks about the religious and political beliefs that he explored in his new book, The Dove Is Dead.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed John Uttley about his life and career, being inspired by contemporary politics and religious beliefs, and the creative writing process that went into his new book, The Dove Is Dead.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
John Uttley. I’m 77 years of age, originally from Lancashire, now living just north of London with my wife. I’ve three children who’ve all long flown the nest but who remain close. A northern grammar schoolboy, I read Physics at Oxford before embarking on my main career in the electricity supply industry.
I was Finance Director of the nationalised CEGB at the time of the Miners’ Strike, the Sizewell Inquiry and privatisation, for which I received the OBE (Other Buggers’ Efforts) before taking on the same role with National Grid. After giving up a dividend I did not feel directors were entitled to, I left the Grid and embarked on a portfolio non-Executive career. One of those was in LA, the experience of which is widely drawn on in my first novel Where’s Sailor Jack.
At this point I did an external degree in Divinity at London. What I learnt from that and my Physics degree fifty years earlier do crop up from time to time in No Precedent and The Dove is Dead, the other two books of The Unholy Trinity trilogy.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I had an inkling that I wanted to write when I started devouring novels in my late teens, but it was only well into the Divinity degree in my sixties that the plots for a family saga started filling my head.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I didn’t start writing until the degree was over. The first draft of Where’s Sailor Jack? was far too long and I honed my writing skills in reducing it in size. I did then get the advice of an editor, who made further suggestions but told me my writing was good. I persevered.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Two to three years.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Dove Is Dead?
I intended making the saga a trilogy after I finished the first book. I wanted to examine the issues already covered from other people’s perspectives and to develop the storylines all the way to the deaths of the two principal protagonists. That I have done. Having different voices tell the tale became a key part of how I did this. In this last book, I wanted to get across the sense of despair felt by early boomer and ‘woke’ Gen Z alike at the state of western civilisation.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Dove Is Dead?
Throughout the eighty years covered by the books, I wanted to use contemporary politics as the backdrop. I know I’d have to bail out at some late stage to focus on the deep religious feelings of my protagonists before their final curtain, but doing that in the mixed-up confusion of the last few years of British politics hasn’t been easy. I had fortunately exited that scene before Liz Truss arrived. And departed!
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
I have two protagonists. Bob is a power engineer who looks for purpose. He has to confront what his career has done to the environment. He is a religious man though, with sufficient knowledge of quantum physics to know that the world is stochastic and not deterministic. Richard is a banker who becomes a lay reader. The decline in faith and the intransigence in the beliefs of many members are his bugbear. I wanted to write in praise of both characters, voices of decency in a world that’s hopelessly lost.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
My antagonist in The Dove is Dead is the blinkered faith of the conservative evangelical vicar, but also the lack of faith in the world at large. They lack a consoling story.
What is the inciting incident of The Dove Is Dead?
The inciting incidents are the liberal sermons lay reader Richard preaches to the disquiet of the vicar who has the three parishes including Richard’s under her stewardship.
What is the main conflict of The Dove Is Dead?
The conflict is not only there. I have a third protagonist, Amy, Richard’s youngest daughter, born as a ‘delightful mistake’ when Richard was already into his fifties. She is ‘woke’ as suits her age but fiercely loyal to her fathers and his message of comfort and joy. She has a transgender friend who inevitably produces conflict with the conservative evangelicals as well as with Amy’s mother, Richard’s wife, who is an old school feminist. Amy also has a child with a partner with whom she is not compatible. She needs her family.
Did you plot The Dove Is Dead in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I need both. The main plot lines were known in advance but the characters get to write the sub-plots.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Dove Is Dead need?
As I said earlier, I used an editor for the first book and he also read the other two to make comments. They were few. He describes my writing as meticulous. I hope that isn’t a synonym for boring.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Write it, then read it and then rewrite it if you still want to do it.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
At this advanced age, and having written three, to suggest more sounds presumptuous of the Almighty’s patience. I have written short stories too, and I’ll do some of that while I gird my loins for more weighty things.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Pride comes before a fall. And I no doubt could have written them better. But I do feel pleased to have written a trilogy in old age, and one which enough people seem to have found both stimulating and entertaining to have made it worthwhile.
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