Mike Gayle Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Mike Gayle

Mike Gayle

An interview with Mike Gayle

An interview with Mike Gayle about his 2022 novel All the Lonely People about a Jamaican immigrant to the UK who rediscovers the world he'd turned his back on.

Your parents' immigrant story is the foundation of Hubert's story. What can you share with us about your parents' story?

Unlike Hubert, who arrived by boat from the West Indies in the late 1950s, my parents arrived a decade later by plane. Both Hubert's and my parents' generation came to the UK having been invited to do so by the government to help meet the labor shortage in the postwar years. Instead of being welcomed, however, they were met with racism and prejudice at every turn, some of it overt, some of it more subtle, but all of it a shocking reality check. The mother country that they had been taught about at school turned out not to be a very loving parent.

What made you want to write a story about a lonely person?

As Rose says in the book, "Loneliness is an epidemic," and I wanted to look at this phenomenon through a single character. One of the questions I was curious about was, how do lonely people become lonely people? Are they born or are they made? As we look across Hubert's life we see him leave his family in Jamaica, move countries, meet Joyce, start a new family, and then gradually, one by one, he loses his new family and his life empties out. There's nothing unusual about Hubert's story in a way, yet at the same time it's completely and utterly heartbreaking—the inherent tragedy of being a human being. So I suppose one of the central questions of the book is, do you resign yourself to the fact that one day your life might be empty or try to fill it up with new friends and "family"?

What does having a community of friends and family mean to you?

I think family and community is all about meeting that fundamental human need of belonging. On a family level it's about looking after the needs and concerns of your household and also spending time with each other. On a community level I think it's about having that wider connection outside the household, whether it's based on location, belief, or commonality. It's about looking out for one another and caring about what happens to other people.

The discussion of race in today's world is so important. What has changed since the time your parents emigrated from Jamaica and what progress still needs to be made?

There's no doubt that things have definitely improved, but that doesn't mean they're perfect. My mum used to talk about how when she first came to the country people would sometimes cross the road to avoid her. The fact that that kind of blatant racism is now no longer socially acceptable doesn't mean that racism no longer exists. Often it goes underground, becomes more subtle—more insidious. We need more diversity in power. My children need to see people who look like them in every single walk of life from the very top all the way down; they need to feel that they aren't going to be judged by the color of their skin or the way that they speak.

You wrote a beautiful cast of characters, each with a very distinct personality. Where do you draw inspiration from to help you breathe life into each character and make them jump off the page?

I've always been a bit of a people watcher. I love nothing more than spending a few hours in a café pretending to work but actually observing what's going on around me, and there are always so many characters to choose from! Loud people, quiet people, people who like to tell jokes, and people who are a little more reserved. That's one of the wonderful things about human beings—we're so diverse! Also I often read my work aloud as I'm writing, particularly with dialogue. That way I can check that it sounds natural, the way a real person might speak.

Is there a character you identify with the most in All the Lonely People? Why?

I think it's got to be Hubert. He reminds me partly of my father but also the elderly version of myself I fear awaits me in the future. I like the fact that even though he's in his eighties Hubert is stylish and still takes pride in his appearance. Both my parents are very similar in this regard and so, I fear, am I!

What do you hope your readers will take away from reading All the Lonely People?

Primarily that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they put their minds to it. I think all too often it's easy to feel powerless or to assume that the only change that can come about is from the top down. What All the Lonely People shows is that when we come together with a common cause, we can make a difference. I also love the idea of having a grand ambition. I think it's good to have unrealistic targets, to, in effect, shoot for the moon. Too often we limit ourselves to what we believe is possible, which has the potential to blind us to the real possibilities before us. Was there any research you did to make sure the flashback chapters were historically accurate?

I did a great deal of research and there are some wonderful resources out there. YouTube has some wonderful old Pathé newsreels from the period, which helped me get a picture in my head of both the West Indies and the UK in the 1950s and beyond. Other resources that were helpful were:

  • Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children, edited by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff (Headline)
  • Back in Time for Brixton (BBC 2)
  • Black Nurses: The Women Who Saved the NHS (BBC 4)

You wrote several books before All the Lonely People. Does your writing process change from book to book?

Absolutely. Although I wouldn't say it changes so much as it adapts! All the Lonely People is actually my seventeenth book and each book I write is a learning process. I'd like to say that it gets easier but I'd be lying! I treat each story I write as a fresh challenge. I hate the idea of just churning out the same thing book after book. My readers deserve more than this and I'd be bored to tears!

When did you realize that you wanted to become a writer?

I've always loved books right back to when I was very small and trips to the library were the highlight of my week. On one of those visits I remember picking up a book called Just William by Richmal Crompton. It was about a schoolboy called William who constantly found himself in all sorts of scrapes through "no fault" of his own. I enjoyed it so much that the very first thing I did after reading the last page was to borrow my dad's old typewriter and attempt to write my own version called Just Michael!

When you're not writing, what are your favorite hobbies or things to do?

After a morning spent writing I like to do anything that involves not staring at a screen! Usually the first thing I'll do is get outside and take my dog for a walk. He's a rescue greyhound and loves being outside, and so whether it's sunny, rainy, or snowing he makes me take him out. Normally I'll wear my headphones and listen to an audiobook, or sometimes I'll leave the headphones at home and instead listen to my thoughts! Other than that I enjoy reading (I usually have at least two or three books going on at once), going to the gym (mostly because it's a great place to listen to audiobooks or catch up on podcasts and still get fit!), and watching good drama on TV (recent favorites have included The Good Fight, Ozark, and Line of Duty).

What's one thing you want all your readers to know about you?

That I love being a writer and I care about what I do. Each book I write is a labor of love and takes a lot of time, blood, sweat, and tears, and I'm happy to do that because I really believe in the power of a good story. There's nothing better than being fully immersed in a good book and meeting fantastic characters you care about and for whom you want nothing more than the happy ending that's due to them.

This interview is reproduced from the book club kit with permission of the publisher. The book club kit includes much more information including an essay by the author on understanding history, reading lists, recipe, discussion questions and more.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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