Interview: Best-Selling British Author, Mike Gayle

Number-one best-selling author, freelance journalist and former teenage agony uncle, Mike Gayle chats to Victoria K. Walker about his latest romantic comedy Wish You Were Here, his love for Birmingham, and how he really feels about that lad-lit tag…

“I always get that. I think people who use that expression have missed the point a little. My books are essentially about people. About them making sense of the world they’re in, and often the best of a bad situation. I think that is something we can all relate to, whether male or female.”

Gayle is the 36-year-old author of six best-selling novels. Previously a writer on teen magazines and features editor of Just Seventeen, he also works as a freelance journalist and writes for a variety of magazines including FHM, The Sunday Times and Cosmo. He lives with his wife Claire, and two daughters Olivia and Ruby, in his beloved midlands.

“Birmingham is great, it’s just a really down-to-earth place. When I first got published, there was a lot of publicity and I remember going to my local Co-op and a woman in there said: ‘Ooh you’re a bit famous aren’t you? What do you do?’ I told her and she said: 'Ooh that’s nice.' And that was it! No-one is ever precious about anything here.”

Gayle’s road to recognition began back in 1998 when his debut novel My Legendary Girlfriend went straight into The Sunday Times Top Ten. From there he became the prince of romantic comedy with the publication of five further best-selling novels; Mr Commitment, Turning Thirty, Dinner for Two, His 'n' Hers, and Brand New Friend.  

What appears to be the key to the success and popularity of these novels is their everyday situations, believable and likeable characters, gentle humour and painfully accurate observations.

“I want the books to be about real people and real life. For me, I get a kick out of writing about situations that could happen to myself, my friends, and the people around me.”

Does this mean that characters such as Will, Duffy, and Charlie are modelled on himself?

“Elements of myself are there, but this is my seventh book, so I probably exhausted me a long time ago.”

“I’m more interested in the situation, and the characters that develop from them.” 

In My Legendary Girlfriend, Will Kelly is an English teacher. In Mr Commitment, Duffy works as a temp. And in his latest novel, Wish You Were Here, Charlie works for the council’s economic development centre. Was Gayle tempted to give Charlie a more exciting career?

“No,” he laughs, “do you think I should have done?” 

“Basically, what Charlie does is to help businesses regenerate areas. There are a lot of people who work in jobs like this. They may not be a matter of life and death, but they are vital.”

Fans of Gayle’s previous books will not be disappointed with Wish You Were Here, and new readers are sure to become instant Gayle groupies.

Thirty-five year-old Charlie has just been dumped by his live-in girlfriend of ten years. His mate Andy decides that what Charlie needs is a holiday. He ropes in another old university mate, Tom, and makes the arrangements. The twist, he’s booked them onto an 18-30 - and lied about their ages. 

What follows is the very funny story of three guys who try to relive their youth and work on their tans, but actually discover things about themselves and each other which will have life-changing consequences.

As a former agony uncle, what advice would Mike offer to any recently dumped 69 readers?

“I think the older you get, the tougher it gets. Which is one of the things I was trying to convey in the book. That is the real shock for Charlie. When you break up with somebody in your twenties, it’s the end of your world, for maybe two months, a month, maybe only days, then you move on. But, in your mid-thirties, it carries more weight.”

As many of us will know, the dating game has also changed a lot in ten years, and it can be a treacherous place out there for any thirty-something who find themselves cast back into the water without a paddle.  

“One of my single friends had to get into the world of text messaging. Ten years ago people didn’t do that. Now, it’s all about the text message.”

“Things are new and daunting. It’s tough to start again, and the premise of the book is the idea of beginning again. As old as you think you might be, and as impossible as it might seem, new beginnings are always possible.”

Gayle’s name is synonymous with relationship comedy, and the tale of male angst. Does he ever see himself undergoing a genre change, the next Lee Child? Iain M Banks?

“Do you know what, I actually really enjoy writing about relationships. It’s just something I have always done. Whether for readers of Just Seventeen, or Cosmo, or FHM, it’s always seemed really natural.”

“The cliché is that men don’t like writing or talking about relationships, but if you think about it some of the greatest romantic comedies and love songs were written by men. It’s just that we’re not good at talking about them when we are in the middle of a relationship. But, it doesn’t mean that these things don’t percolate at the back of our minds.”

Despite having no plans to turn his back on the romantic comedy, there are still a number of things in his career that he would love to achieve.

“I would really like to write a play. That is something I am looking into starting this year. I would also like to write some non-fiction, and again, fingers crossed, that looks like it may be on the cards.”

Gayle would also love the opportunity to write a film screenplay. 

“But I find books on how to write screenplays quite demoralising. The beauty of writing books is that you get complete control over your baby. With the exception of a few suggestions from your editor, you get to be the director, I suppose.”

But, Gayle’s own novels all seem perfect candidates for transferral to the big screen. Is that something we could look forward to in the future?

“I have been contacted on an alarmingly regular basis. I think nearly all of the books have been optioned at some point. At the moment an American production company has bought the rights to My Legendary Girlfriend, and want to turn it into an indie film.”

“There is also a script based on Brand New Friend, which is waiting for the ok from ITV.”

Never one to let the grass grow under his feet, Gayle has just completed the first draft of what will be book number eight. Any chance he can give the readers of 69 a quick synopsis?

“No,” he laughs, “’fraid not as my editor doesn’t even know yet.”

“What I can tell you though is that this one will be a little bit different in that the main protagonist is female.”

And with the first draft of book number eight under his belt, what does Mr Gayle have planned for the rest of the day? 

“I’m going to have the rest of the day off and do some gardening.” 

*Photograph of Mike Gayle from @MikeGayle.