Author Q&A: Stephen Foster-Pilkington
The Calling is Stephen's new novel.
Rebellious student, Mitchell, is thrown out of school. All he has is a love of rap, illicit substances, video games and of course, Maisie. But his musical tastes are far more diverse than he realises - and he discovers he has talent. Could his former adversary, Frank, be the key to his future success. It gets complicated and dangerous. Very Dangerous.
I was lucky enough to get an advance copy and interviewed Stephen about the book shortly before it was published.
It’s quite unusual to have a teenage tearaway who loves opera music as the main character. What gave you the idea?
Several encounters or experiences have prompted this.
An acquaintance who was at school in the 1950s loathed the Rock n Roll phenomenon and always listened to classical music instead, but was still fully rebellious. He made a bomb to put underneath a hated teacher’s car, and told me his only problem was planting it without being caught!
Equally, a highly successful virtuoso guitarist friend had 'modern’ parents who got him learning the electric guitar from an early age. In his teenage years he revolted, studied the violin and listened exclusively to classical music.
At school I was a terrible student but secretly studied scores of the masters rather than doing my Master's homework. Outside of our A level music classes, my great friend and myself behaved so disgracefully we could each have easily faced a stretch in Borstal. I am certainly not proud of that.
Perhaps the most famous literary example is Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess.
In ‘Calling’ three specific impulses direct my character, Mitchell towards classical music. Firstly, there is the classical soundtrack to his video game. Secondly his rap idol XL interweaves classical into his mash ups. Then Mitchell’s desire for Portia is backdropped by the material she sings, and he wants to join her.
In the book Mitchell develops a drug problem. Many creative artists have similar vices. Why do you think drugs (both legal and illegal) are so closely associated with creativity and creative people?
I think the root of this lies in the notion that true artists are never satisfied. Sometimes this spills over into substance abuse. A dear friend developed a serious drink problem when constantly touring. He attributed alcoholism to greed which, in his case was the permanent need to seek fulfilment. I'm very happy to say he is fine now.
The late Rolling Stones drummer, Charlie Watts said touring was one per cent playing and the other 99 per cent involved just waiting around. They say the devil finds work for idle hands - especially if they're bored. Most venues have alcohol on sale front of house. Yet out of sight backstage, substances of the illegal variety can often be easily supplied or available. The high of the gig, or whatever artistic output it is, for some simply isn't high enough. They just can't get no satisfaction.
You’re a teacher yourself and lots of the events take place in a school setting. Were any of the situations inspired by real occurrences?
Yes - but the most dramatic occurrences were written with a considerable amount of artistic licence! I certainly believe the vast majority of teachers suffer the same Sunday afternoon blues as Frank in ‘Calling.’ He thoroughly hates his situation and it is obvious in the narrative he is quite unsuited to teaching, particularly in a classroom setting.
The ending to the novel is quite open-ended and leaves the door open for a potential sequel. Is this your plan? If not, what do you think will happen to Mitchell and Maisie in the future?
So far, no sequel is planned. However, I think Maisie will thrive and will end up doing extremely well in whatever professional career she chooses after university. As for Mitchell, his career will probably go strength to strength…. until I decide what happens to him, if there is a sequel!
Have you always wanted to be a writer or is it something you came to later in life?
Yes - but at school I hated English. For me it was yet another aspect of education which seemed to be used more as an instrument for control. Thus, its potential wonderfulness was for me criminally obscured. Having said that, I was writing song lyrics but saw these as something more to do with music rather than any kind of literary endeavour. My songs began to tell stories. Then, a friend got me reading novels in my late twenties. That’s when I realised the fantastic power of creative writing and started to write short stories which were too long to fit into the strictures of a song. It was only a matter of time before I considered writing a novel - and here we are.
If The Calling sounds like your kind of book, you can purchase a copy here.
To keep up to date with SFP's new work, why not have a look at his website.