A Pleasure and a Calling author Phil Hogan discusses the inspiration for his character, Mr Heming, and some of his favorite writers.
Q: What inspired you to create the character of Mr Heming?
A: The idea for Heming sprang from a story I’d heard of a couple who had some small item stolen from their house while it was up for sale. The thief was a trusted employee of the estate agent – an ex-policeman, who it turned out was in the habit of collecting ‘souvenirs’ from the properties he was showing to prospective buyers. It got me wondering what kind of a person might do this. It took a while to shake off the complication of his being a cop, and opt for the more direct solution of an estate agent who has a key to all the houses he had sold, allowing him to snoop at will – a man joyously in his element.
Q: Was it difficult to get inside the mind of a man like Heming?
A: It seemed imperative to write this novel in the first person – a single, and singular point of view. Once I’d found Heming’s voice – optimistic, enthusiastic, wheedling at times, unintentionally at odds with his reader – it was possible to have fun at his expense while also revealing his darker side. But it was a balancing act. Heming is almost religiously devoted in his ‘mission’ to keep the life of his beloved town wholesome and functional, seeing no irony in the means he employs to pursue it, or any conflict between his passions and the right of others to privacy. So I had to be on his side throughout – believing, persuasive, unjudging. His language, I felt, needed to be at once banal and rhetoric, with elements of estate-agent-speak rubbing against high-flown accounts of his turbulent emotions.
Q: How is writing a novel different from your day job writing for a newspaper?
A: I make hard work of both, no matter how much practice I get. I’m a laughably slow writer, which is why I could never be a news reporter or sports journalist (as opposed to a TV critic). I’m probably not alone in finding writing fulfilling only after the act. But the two sorts of writing are sufficiently different to make the transition from one to the other a kind of escape. It’s like switching from the rowing machine to the treadmill, though I say that as a complete stranger to gyms. I prefer a slow half-hour walk (if I may stray even further from the question).
Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?
A: They are mostly of the American realist sort – John Updike, Philip Roth, James Salter. I’ve read everything by Richard Ford. More recently I’ve enjoyed Lorrie Moore and Ben Lerner. I don’t read enough genre (if that’s the right word) fiction, though the other week I did pick up James M Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, which I really liked. Non-fiction-wise I’m a big fan of Tim Parks and Geoff Dyer, both Brits.
Q: What book is next on your to-read shelf?
A: The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton. Its pink cover shouted at me from a well-known bookselling website the other week. I’m quite looking forward to it.