Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, released on July 24, 2012 – and we’re already calling it one of the Best of 2012. Today we’re pleased to share this piece by the author of this extraordinary novel on how the novel came to be.
Six years ago, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry began as a play for BBC Radio 4 that I wrote for my dad as he died of adenoid cystic cancer of the head and neck. I knew he would never hear it – and he didn’t. The last play of mine that he heard, he came to me afterwards and said, "You’ve done it again. You’ve made me cry."
I was never sure if he was happy or sad about that.
The play won an award for best radio play. He didn’t know that either.
I had wanted for many years to write a book, but never had the courage it would work. I tried several times, and they came to nothing. (For a start, I didn’t show them to anyone.) So I enrolled in a novel writing course as a way of gaining confidence and also making a commitment.
I started writing through the night when my family were asleep. Or I’d have to stop the car on the way to school and jot something down on a bit of paper or the back of a receipt. My children got very good at taking notes as I dictated them. The other day I found one in my bag jotted down by my youngest daughter. It says: ‘what is Harold’s atitud to alcool?’
In writing the book, I listened a lot to other people. I wove a lot in of what I saw as I passed. People move me very much. Sometimes I think I feel more for them than I can say; it goes into what I write. It was the same when I used to work as an actress. I felt able to express the things inside me that didn’t have a place anywhere else.
The book isn’t about my dad. But it maybe (somehow) is about me wanting him not to die. He was a very fit and sharp man. His battle against cancer took four years and was very distressing to witness. He was reduced and reduced and reduced. We didn’t talk about it because he didn’t want us to. He insisted on doing the London – Brighton cycle race shortly after one operation. After another, I’d go to visit him in hospital and he was in an awful way, but still wearing a shirt and tie. Just like Harold.
This book has my heart in it. I tried to write a story that wouldn’t quite fit the rules. So that the reader might think they knew where they were, and then discover they weren’t there after all. I wanted to make the implausible, plausible after all.
Thanks to our friends at Random House of Canada for sharing this blog.