Monday 16 October 2017
Interview with Lyndon Mallet
About Lyndon Mallet
Lyndon Mallet is a British novelist and cartoonist with film, TV and radio credits to his name. He started writing in his teens and became road manager of a flying circus in exchange for being taught to fly, before embarking on a career in advertising. The film of his novel Taffin (New English Library) was released in 1988 with Pierce Brosnan in the title role. His fourth novel in the series is Taffin on Balance, released by Matador in 2017. Credits include The Bill (Thames Television), The Hare Lane Diaries (BBC Radio 4), Bucks Peasants (long-running cartoon series). His website is http://lyndonmallet.co.uk/.
Interview with Lee Wright
LW: When did you first realise you wanted to be a novelist?
LM: I was read to a lot as a child. Grateful for that. When a book appeared, that was the start of a good time. When I could read for myself I learnt the joys of total immersion in a story. Authors became my heroes and guess what – I wanted to be one. I started writing short stories when I was 11 and it developed from there.
LW: Which authors have you been most influenced by?
LM: Roald Dahl. Fellow villager who taught me it was OK to write about events close to home. Conan Doyle. My father was a Holmes freak and I caught it. Jack Kerouac. Early love of jazz, restless energy and Americana. (My wife is from Ohio). George MacDonald Frazer. Great storyteller, innovator, researcher and wit. Gogol. Object lesson in fitting characters to a landscape. De Maupassant. Economical storytelling through the characters. J.P.Donleavy. How to get serious without sounding preachy. Kipling. Kim is still as relevant as when it was written.
LW: Why did you decide to bring Taffin back after so long?
LM: I had two stories in mind (HS rail and Barn Finds) and felt they could be told within the same structure. It took me a while to realise Taffin would fit Centre Stage.
LW: What were your thoughts when your publishers, New English Library, originally asked you to write the first sequel, Taffin’s First Law?
LM: Mixture of ecstasy and foreboding. Having banished the character to exile, I had to find a way to bring him back. That done, forget sleep for the immediate future (I was in full-time employment).
LW: You have also written a sequel to another popular work of yours, The Hare Lane Diaries. Yet some novel sequels, like Joseph Heller’s Closing Time (a sequel to Catch-22) have been rubbished by critics. As someone who has written sequels, do you think they work?
LM: I think this relates to the first novel being a pleasure, the second a duty – in which case sequels start at a disadvantage. I think it’s probably better for the author to write at least one other book of a different kind before returning to the original in search of a sequel – and only then if the characters exert a powerful enough draw. The sequel to Hare Lane uses the principal characters setting up house in France. The experience was too good to miss.
LW: Both Taffin and Taffin’s First Law were traditionally published. Yet the third sequel and this latest instalment have been self-published. Was that a creative decision on your part not to go down the route of submitting to editors? And how have you found the self-publishing experience?
LM: The third Taffin coincided with the death of my editor at NEL, to whom it is dedicated. She edited and championed it so I ignored advice to the contrary and went ahead. Taffin On Balance had a traditional publication offer before I researched Matador and liked the look of them. I wouldn’t normally recommend self publishing from a standing start; in this case, the creative decision was based on design. I like the look and feel (crucial) of the books they produce. I also felt Taffin had enough provenance to justify a risk.
LW: Did the film adaptation of Taffin help or hinder the character in your eyes?
LM: Well, look at Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities – a magnificent novel utterly trashed on screen. Taffin’s producers made something more conventional than I would have liked. The American posters featured guns up front, which missed the point, and left out a couple of scenes I thought were pivotal. Even so, it led to opportunities I wouldn’t have had without it. Provenance again.
LW: Each Taffin story deals with the issue of vigilante action. Is the concept of taking the law into one’s own hands frightening to you?
LM: No. Vigilante is a loaded term. I wouldn’t advocate it. But ... "for evil to thrive wants only that good men do nothing." The Taffin idea is partly based on personal experience, which suggests (a): that Good Men aren’t always around when they’re needed and (b): pressure doesn’t necessarily involve violence. Whatever – Robin Hood deserves to exist.
LW: The title of the new novel is Taffin On Balance, and the word "Balance" features throughout the book. Taffin himself seems almost fixated with getting the balance right. Why is this and should a novelist or indeed any person be dominated by fixations?
LM: Good one. A character should develop over time, which involves questioning earlier behaviour. Taffin is aware of being perceived as a straightforward thug and has the wit to seek redemption. His attempt to explain Balance to the journalist falls short because he lacks a clear understanding of it himself. In the event, he can only express it clumsily in terms of debt collecting: the balance between what’s owed and what’s paid. I think the novelist must share the character’s doubts, fears and, if necessary, fixation.
LW: On your website you said that this novel (Taffin On Balance) feels special. What were your thoughts while writing the manuscript?
LM: This is an episode in a character’s development following a substantial time lapse. Taffin knows more than he did in his earlier days. On Balance probably reflects the author’s questioning of his own fascination with this type of character. This is hindsight of course; at the time I was just enjoying time with old mates, the assembled cast.
LW: You have said before that Mark Taffin is an old mate. Have you ever known a ‘Taffin’ in real life?
About the reviewer
Lee Wright was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in 1980 and has been writing both fiction and non-fiction since 2008. He is taking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.