He writes ‘Lit Fic’ about the ups and downs of modern relationships and freely admits his writing is ‘adapted from life’ but says that the characters soon take charge, sending his stories off in unexpected directions.
Leslie began writing his début novel, Purple, 10 years ago. In its first printed version, the book told the story of Matthew Lavender at university in 1969, hiding his lack of sexual knowledge behind a super-cool front. What followed inevitably was a coming-of-age tale where Matthew had to learn about women.
Purple changed and broadened out as a result of two life events. “The first was moving to Berkhamsted,” Leslie explains, “to live with my wife, Sue Hampton. I learned how to write novels from the inside by reading and editing hers.” The second was completing a Writing Masterclass with the University of East Anglia. “I beefed up the novel on that course,” he said, “weeding out 12,000 words but keeping the main idea, and adding a first-person narrative told by Matthew’s gran, Mary.”
Magic Oxygen published the revamped version in 2015. It has two closely interlinked narratives, following the lives of Matthew and Mary. On the face of it, they seem to belong to very different worlds. Matthew’s ’60s experiences are observed in extended, poetic third person, while Mary’s traditional working-class upbringing is told from a stripped-down first person standpoint. Leslie is clear to point out that the stories come together by the end to show how behaviour in families often gets passed down the generations.
Leslie is an obsessive rewriter. Describing his methods, he says: “My characters are important but also, and perhaps more so, are the words. I want to strip away cliché and use original language to break through to the hidden feelings.”
Purple is the first of the Lavender Blues trilogy and all three books explore young love, open marriage and late-life romance. The second instalment, Blue, will be published on November 1st.
Make a cup of your favourite beverage, visit LeslieTate.com and enjoy his vibrant weekly blog, packed full of interviews with artists, musicians and writers exploring their creativity, laced together with Leslie’s autobiographical account of his own growth as a writer.