Allan Radcliffe is the author of The Old Haunts, a new addition to the Fairlight Moderns publishing on 14 September 2023. The Old Haunts follows Jamie as he reflects on his closeted adolescence after the loss of both of his parents. Read this interview with Allan Radcliffe to find out more, and to see an exclusive sneak peek of The Old Haunts.
How did you start writing, and what does writing mean to you?
I started writing not long after I began reading in earnest. At first, I modelled my writing on whatever I was reading at any given moment, so I wrote and illustrated my own comic then graduated to writing adventure stories and whodunnits. It wasn’t until much later on that I became conscious of writing as a means of making sense of the world, developing my own voice, and describing people and events that generally speaking weren’t widely represented in the books I was reading.
What inspired you to write The Old Haunts?
I had been thinking about fairy tales, and I was struck by the recurring image of children wandering in woods, lost, or abandoned by their parents. I wanted to update that image to a contemporary setting, and I knew that the protagonist would be a gay man who had recently lost his mother and father. The rest of the story and characters grew out of that idea. As a sidenote, the beautiful cover image of The Old Haunts is very close to the image I held in my head when I was writing the book.
If you could describe The Old Haunts in one word, what would it be?
Did you have a favourite character to write?
Alex, Jamie’s (the protagonist) boyfriend, wasn’t in the original plan for The Old Haunts, and even when I made the decision that Jamie would have a boyfriend, I thought Alex would fall out of importance as the story progressed. Instead, their relationship became crucial to the narrative as a counterpoint to the slow estrangement Jamie experiences from his parents. I loved building on the foundations of the character, adding backstory and nuance, doing things I didn’t see coming.
What do you hope people take away from reading your book?
I hope readers are moved by the story, but I also hope they enjoy the book’s humour. The Old Haunts is as much about how we make sense of our lives through storytelling and find ways to move on from tragedy, as a book about death and grief. Mainly, I hope readers take pleasure in the writing and characters and I hope I’ve done justice to the depiction of growing up gay at a time of prejudice.
What’s your favourite book and who is your favourite author?
If I had to choose one, it would be The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark.
Do you have a writer’s habit that helps you ‘get in the zone’?
I try to prepare a few lines of prose or dialogue in my head to get me going when I sit down to write, rather than coming to the page cold. It’s good to have some semblance of a plan. I’ve been a journalist for 20 years, and, looking back, I can always tell the articles I’ve written quickly, with energy and a plan in mind, and the ones that were more like pulling teeth.
You’ve previously written short stories. How do short story and novella genres differ for you as a writer?
I love the economy of short stories and have always enjoyed whittling the story down to its absolute essentials. When I began writing The Old Haunts, I knew that it would be longer and more complex than a short story, but I approached it in the same way: building up the writing in sections and going back and forth over the text, layering and editing as I went. With longer work, you have to be patient, obviously, and try not to let the characters keep you awake at night.
Where do you tend to write?
Since Covid, when my desk was commandeered by my partner, and the kitchen table transferred into a home school centre for my son, I’ve found that I’m much less precious about where I write. Like many people, I enjoy writing in cafés or outdoors in summer. The most important thing is to have the means of production to hand – I tend to get flustered if I don’t have my notebook handy.
What’s a piece of advice you can give to aspiring authors?
The key thing I’ve learned is to have a flexible mindset, so that if something isn’t working, you can flip the script, kill off characters, start again from scratch if necessary. All first drafts are rubbish, and it can be hard to see a way through that tangled wood but hacking away at a text can also be fun.
After the house was sold, we drove north to Aumrie, a cinematic place at the western end of Loch Tay. My head had been full of grey – a sky with no sunshine – and Alex thought the change of scene might help turn me back into myself.
It was March suddenly; the year was pulling at its reins. Alex had surprised me with a crumpled printout, brandished like a long-stemmed rose. He knew our
destination well, having grown up nearby, and he knew that I had taken that holiday there with my family. So, it was a meaningful place for both of us.
We kept pausing on the drive up so he could get out of the car with his camera and marvel at all his old haunts.
It was getting dark, the landscape receding, when Alex spotted the sign for the village and the White Waters. The apartment – one portion of a steading conversion – was waiting at the end of a mile-long track, the forest deepening on either side. Alex had to slow all the way down to avoid snagging the underside of the car.
He negotiated a sloping turn, his eyes turning to seeds as the Panda bumped down through a wrought-iron gate towards a paved yard. Pristine windows gleamed from old stone. Razor-edged slate shone from the sloped roof. Only the barns and outbuildings looked decrepit enough to be original feature.
Alex unfurled his legs from the car. A woman was making her way towards us: eager and waving with both hands.
‘Mister and Missus Karim? Kit Ross. We met over the Internet!’
She was sixtyish, soft-faced with giant grips in her piled hair. She glanced over as I made my way around from the passenger side.
‘This is Jamie, by the way,’ Alex said, reaching behind him.
‘It is so nice to meet you, Jamie.’
If she was taken aback by my not being a Missus, she didn’t show it. I kept my hand welded to Alex’s back as she led us to the furthest corner of the courtyard.
‘You two look like you need to get inside and get your beers in the fridge.’
I heard flecks of something not of here in the way her voice went up at the end of each sentence.
‘Oh, we don’t drink… beer,’ Alex said, flashing his fangs.
‘You’re the first of the season.’ She moved into the vestibule, shouldering the interior door, snapping on the light. ‘Folk don’t usually start coming until Easter. You’ve pretty much got this whole neck of the woods to yourselves. There, now. I’ve got the place all cosy and warm for you.’
The apartment was compact, all on one floor with the kitchen and bathroom on one side of the hallway and the bedroom and living room on the other. Alex had to duck as we peeked through the bedroom door. I felt my limbs turn heavy at the sight of the king-sized bed; the bedspread pulled taut. Cotton-white walls, a lingering smell of paint: everything bland like a show house save for the mini-zoo of stuffed animals plonked along the window ledge. There were dogs, cats, a gorilla and a giraffe. Three bears, the baby nuzzled between its parents.