Inventor of the Sorensen-Birtwistle Revised Scale of Girl-Rage, Chris has a beautiful girlfriend (Virginia), two likeable potential parents-in-law (Hugh and Daphne) and a classic sports car with a leather-covered gear stick. Impending matrimony and the car’s leaking roof seem to be the only clouds on the horizon.
But his apparently comfortable world is turned upside down when Hugh dies suddenly and Daphne (after one Irish Cream too many) reveals some shocking information.
Meanwhile . . .
In an inn, in the Danube Valley, in the seventeenth century, a certain cantankerous philosopher seems to have some words of guidance for our modern-day hero. We join Virginia and Chris (and René) as they seek to uncover the truth about Hugh, themselves and the meaning of life. A Very Persistent Illusion is a hilarious, hugely inventive and thought-provoking novel about love, madness and reality.
Hi, Len. Tell us a little about your novel, A Very Persistent Illusion.
Perhaps the first thing I should say is that it is not crime. Like my first novel, The Herring Seller's Apprentice, it is humorous, and like The Herring Seller's Apprentice there is a mystery for the reader to solve. But there are no dead bodies littering the plot. The starting point for the novel was this: what if you ceased to believe in reality? What if you became (to use the technical term) a solipsist, believing in nothing except your own existence? How do you relate to other people? What sort of car do you drive? Which football club do you support? We're in Nick-Hornby-meets-Rene-Descartes territory here. It's darker than Herring Seller - no doubt about that - but hopefully those who liked the earlier book will like this one.
This is your second novel with Macmillan New Writing. How has the experience been different this time around?
I suppose the first time round it was all new - the editing, the reviews, the signings, the interviews. It was a learning experience, a lot of fun but slightly scary. This time it's all been more matter-of-fact. You compare the number of changes you are being asked to make or your Amazon rating at a particular stage, note that it looks a bit better or a bit worse, then move on. The fact that I have now finished the third novel and am well advanced with the fourth enhances the feeling that I am on a conveyor belt - a very nice conveyor belt, of course, but you start to see novel writing as a continuous process rather than a single dash for glory.
As a sideline to your writing you also moonlight as a Chief Executive. How do you balance the two and what is your typical writing day?
As you say, the day job takes up a lot of time - it's certainly more than 9 to 5 - and I can't count on having evenings or weekends in which to write. I tend to write in bursts - for example during family holidays or when I have two or three weekends in a row to devote to Eng Lit. One holiday, the maids came to our room later and later every day, imagining that if they came late enough I would have gone to the beach like everybody else - they discovered that, sadly, my holiday consisted mainly of sitting in the room typing away. Even when I do have some spare time, I often find that I have to do editing for the previous book, or that I am writing pieces to publicise the novels generally or that I am doing interviews - which I love, obviously. I genuinely have no idea how I wrote - or any clear recollection of writing - the last two novels.
Do you compose by pen or by keyboard, or what...and why?
I feel really sorry for Dickens and Austen. How did they manage? The word processor has transformed the whole business of writing novels. In the old days a new draft meant just that: writing the whole damned thing out again. Now it means changing the words you don't like and calling it v4.9 or whatever. I used to feel that using a pen somehow connected you physically to the paper and metaphorically to generations of writers who had slaved away with inky fingers. But stuff that, frankly. Somebody recently observed that having electronic archives from famous authors would be far less interesting than having piles of paper with their handwriting on it, but that seems to me to be the only downside of the triumph of the keyboard. For those of us whose papers were never destined for Harvard University library, it's all completely positive. Keyboard every time.
Your first novel, The Herring Seller's Apprentice, was both a subversion and an homage to the traditional crime novel. Who are you favourite crime writers?
I've always admired the writers of the Golden Age - Christie, Sayers et al. None of it is great literature, and you can justly criticise the characterisation, but it is enormously inventive and has stood the test of time. I also like Donald Westlake, Colin Dexter, PD James, Ellis Peters, Ruth Rendell, Kate Atkinson, Andrea Camilleri, Roger Morris, Malcolm Pryce, Chris Ewan - and of course MNW's own Brian McGilloway and Aliya Whitely.
And do you feel influenced by anyone outside the crime field?
I'm probably more influenced in the way that I write by writers outside crime. Jerome K Jerome was one of the earliest writers I admired. Later I read PG Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell. I'd be flattered if people picked up any trace of these authors in my own writing. I still read (marginally) more non-crime than crime.
Come on, you know you need to pony up Four Random Facts.
One of the things that I have been quoted elsewhere as claiming to be able to do is reciting all of the Kings and Queens of England with dates - but surprisingly it's been a while since I was last called on to do this, so I may be a bit rusty now. I was once chased up a tree by a rhino. I have a masters degree in Systems Analysis, but these days rely on my wife or my children to tell me how any new piece of software works. Our daughter Catrin is running in the London Marathon this year in aid of the premature baby charity, Bliss. See http://www.justgiving.com/catrintyler I've written an article for the Guardian about when Catrin was a premature baby herself. It appears on Saturday 7 March.
Fans of The Herring Seller's Apprentice will be delighted to know that another Ethelred and Elsie novel, Ten Little Herrings, is out in August.
What's next now that you've done your two novels for Macmillan New Writing?
Yes, I have reverted to a life of crime - the paperback of Herring Seller was published in February, by the way. I am currently working on another E&E detective story, provisionally entitled The Herring in the Library.