Writer John Richardson has lived Notting Hill for nearly a decade. He is due to release his first novel, Friends in Low Places, in 2017.
Tell us what the book’s about…
Friends in Low Places is the story of a mid-twenties chancer, Mark Delamere, who is enjoying a ridiculously easy life until he suddenly sees his world come down around him. Then he gets his own guardian angel, a mysterious guy called Nick, and things start looking up.
It’s a contemporary interpretation of the devil and a contemporary interpretation of hell, set in the corporate world. It’s not fire and brimstone, it’s gak and office backstabbing.
It’s set in recruitment… that seems an ‘interesting’ choice!
Ha. The greatest writing tip I ever got was ‘write what you know’. I did seven years in recruitment and whilst most of it was pretty mundane, it’s certainly an industry that attracts a lot of characters and by its very nature gives a writer the opportunity to create some larger-than-life situations. People that the reader will just love to hate. There’s an awful lot of awful people either being awful to each other or, worse, pretending to be nice. And that’s the corporate world in a nutshell.
A lot of the book is set in west London (which we like!), particularly Notting Hill…
Again, it’s ‘write what you know’. I’ve lived in Notting Hill for nearly 10 years now and I love it. I wanted to use real world locations so you’ll see that the Electric, Portobello and even my favourite pub, The Westbourne, gets a nod.
Again, Notting Hill is a place with some outrageous characters and even though it has a quaint, almost village-like image at times, bubbling away underneath is a different, sometimes darker and more mischievous side.
Here’s the obvious question. Are these characters based on people you know?
Let me call my solicitor first before I answer that! But seriously, no. The people and company that Mark works with are kind of based on all these industry urban legends, the recruitment horrors stories you’d hear, and then exaggerated for effect. So sorry to disappoint, but you’re not likely to meet any of these people any time soon. At least, for your sake I hope not anyway.
There are bits of me in Mark, I suppose, but at the end of the day he’s just a character, too. Mark’s probably not a bad guy at heart but he makes some… questionable choices at times. I think we can all relate to that on one level or another. He was created to be a personified—and extreme—version of mean and funny thoughts we all have sometimes, though he can be pretty relentless with it!
How did you go about writing it? Where did the idea come from?
I wanted to write a new devil, create a more ambiguous Lucifer who wasn’t just some stereotypical pure evil dude, but one who was actually relatable on some level whilst at the same time still free from basic human morality. Conventional sin is very black and white, I wanted different shades of grey.
And who wouldn’t want a very powerful best friend to sort things out for them? And exploring the idea that that friend is the devil, I think that’s pretty cool. What a mate to have!
So do you believe in the Devil?
Not in the classic sense. There’s enough bad people in the world today without having to assign their misdeeds to some pissed off angel in hell. If there is a devil, then I think he’s probably got a very easy job right now.
I’ve read it, it’s very funny, but I have to say… most of the characters seem quite dark and a bit unhinged. Does this reflect your own world view?
Not really. It’s just a lot of fun to take the darker humour in my mind onto the page. It’s all for a story, it’s all to entertain. I mean, I’m sure that I could write pages and pages about sunny days and green meadows and beaches and so forth but there are enough people doing that and, for me, it would be pretty dull to write. I often think of the line from Henry de Motherland: “Happiness writes in white ink on a white page.” I think that’s true a lot of the time.
There’s a lot of swearing, a lot of drugs, a few deaths—I laughed a lot but felt guilty about it on occasions, were you worried about offending people?
No. I think people should get offended by truth, not fiction, and the book is definitely the latter. I always find it a bit strange when people get so offended that they find the energy to complain about Game of Thrones or something but wouldn’t, say, write to their MP to protest about their hospital getting closed down. I mean, priorities, right?
And remember, it’s a book about the Devil. He hasn’t returned to earth to hang out in organic restaurants talking about poetry! He’s here for the drugs and parties.
Well, you do keep saying ‘write what you know’…
Ha! No comment, my Mum might read this.
So what other projects are you working on?
If the book is well received then there’s a direct sequel already plotted out. Alongside that, I’m halfway through a second (unrelated) novel, a potentially rather pretentious concept book of poems, and a TV pilot I’ve written with a friend that’s being shopped out in the States currently.
Seems enough to keep you busy! Finally, tell us a secret.
I had to cut the scene from the book, but the devil actually arrives on earth by tunnelling his way out of hell. He eventually surfaces out of the toilets in the Cow pub on Westbourne Park Road!