Homeward Bound features 79-year-old grandfather George, who didn’t quite make it as a rock star in the ‘60s. He’s expected to be in retirement but in truth he’s not ready to close the lid on his dreams and will do anything for a last chance. When he finds himself on a tour of retirement homes instead of a cream tea at the seaside his family has promised, it seems his story might prematurely be over.
He finds the answer by inviting Tara, his 18-year-old granddaughter, to share his house, along with his memories and vast collection of records. She is an aspiring musician as well, although her idea of music is not George’s. What unfolds are clashes and unlikely parallels between the generations – neither knows nor cares how to use a dishwasher – as they both chase their ambitions.
1 When and where do you prefer to write?
’When’ is usually after I’ve wasted about an hour trying to get started. So to get round that, the ‘where’ has become important. My favourite place is in a public library, away from any sort of distractions, internet, phone, biscuit tin. Here I can set myself a working regime. While I need routine, I hate it. So I vary it, switching libraries on a whim. That’s the beauty of living in London – there are four or five places I can go to within a few minutes walk, or bus or tube ride. And sometimes, after I think I’ve finished, I’ll get a new idea on the way home, so there are cafes and park benches that have been witness to my scribbling a few extra thousand words.
2 Do you have a certain ritual?
I did before lockdown. I would treat each day as if it were a normal ‘office’ day, not that I ever had such a thing, but you know what I mean – and on the way to the library would stop at a café and have a coffee and croissant or Danish. That would leave me with no excuses, so by the time I reached the library, I knew had to start writing. It might still take a while to get going but the ritual gave me the framework and self-discipline to get the writing done. During lockdown has been more difficult since the libraries are shut. I am very fortunate in that we had a kiosk down the road serving takeaways, so I’d go and buy a coffee and muffin and bring them home and take them to a room and start writing. I also had to keep changing rooms like I changed libraries. It wasn’t quite the same and I know I could have made my own coffee, but it served the purpose. And I was probably the only customer the kiosk had all day!
3 Food or drink that keeps you company?
Like I said, the working day starts with coffee. In the library, I might have remembered to bring a thermos of . . . funnily enough . . . coffee. Otherwise it’s water from the library cooler until I get home. I’m a camel, really. Again, if I’ve remembered, I might have a bag of chocolate peanuts or a chunky Kit Kat to snack on. If I’ve not, then I won’t have anything until I allow myself out at the end of the day. I don’t have breaks as you can’t leave anything to nip out – thing about a public space is there’s no telling if it’ll be there when you get back. I lost a wallet once. On the way home, if I pass an ice cream van, I’ll always have a 99.
4 What is your favourite book?
I find ‘favourite anything’ hard to settle on. I might try anything and like it, and then forget it until someone reminds me! I have beside me Fathers Day by Simon Van Booy which I picked up at random at an airport and liked it so much it gave me a big kick to get Homebound Bound written; but favourite book? Ever? I really don’t know.
5 Do you consider writing a different genre in the future?
I think what I enjoy is writing about the every day, things that I have experienced or know people have experienced, about the quirky things that can happen and enrich or derail a life – and that my readers would be able to identify with. At this point I don’t see myself launching into crime, thrillers, historical novels or science fiction, as much as I might enjoy reading them. I have got half an idea that I might revisit that is sort-of science fiction and if a really good idea came to mind, who’s to say? Maybe something set in Victorian London, a workhouse, an orphan picking pockets. Or a nanny who flies using an umbrella – they haven’t been done have they?
6 Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
The answer is yes and no. I write about people and you need a firm picture of their personality, how they act, how they speak, how they respond. So I do notice interesting gestures in people and try to find words to describe them. And recall mannerisms of people I know and the way people speak. Often there are small things from my past – unrelated to what I’m writing – that I re-enact in my head so I get a logic and progression of a conversation or argument that’s realistic (at least I hope it is). But no character is one person. I meld from many, many, into a new person. The trouble is, I discovered with Homeward Bound that I’ve drawn characters and created scenarios that people think they recognise as themselves or someone they know and situations they think they were in, which isn’t the case. I invented them. Or I think I did. Was I subconsciously repeating reality?! Where’s the psychologist?! People look at my huge record collection and assume I’m George as he has one. Well, that was easy to write about and people seem to find my music fascinating for one reason or another, so I’ve used it. They then assume I was a wannabe rock star like George, but that is not me at all. But the fact that I’m influenced by things I’ve seen or experienced perhaps make some seem characters like they’re based on individual real people, but they’re not. Honest!
7 Do you take a notebook everywhere to write down ideas that pop up?
I used to. I’ve still got several. And I look back at them like looking at a pile of old photographs and think ‘I could use that,’ or ‘why didn’t I use that?’ The best ideas occur in quiet moments, often after I’ve had a day writing, so I scribble them down on whatever’s to hand – often the evening paper. If I don’t get these on to something permanent before the paper ends up being recycled, they’ll be gone forever! I sometimes phone myself and leave a message or make a note on the phone. It’s really frustrating when the ideal retort or exclamation comes to your head and you can’t record it quickly enough before its gone. Plot ideas I rehearse to myself while I’m walking so I don’t need to write them down straight away.
8 What genre do you not like at all?
Romance. Or if it looks like ‘Fifty shades of grey,’ I’m not interested. Someone complained there wasn’t enough sex in Homeward Bound. I imagined my daughters reading it, so I even hesitated on the swearing. I also dislike books with great chunks of description. I tend to skip whole pages of it – which is why I try not to put too much into mine. Describe the action through dialogue. If I pick up a book in the library or bookshop and it looks like its got pages and pages of solid text, I put it back. Give me a conversation.
9 if you had the chance to write with a co-writer who would it be?
The problem is I don’t know how other writers work, so I could pick someone and we’d struggle. In my career as writer of film scripts I have only ever written alone. I have the whole concept – and not necessarily in a linear order – so working in tandem doesn’t work for me. Once it’s down, people can – and do – make changes and improvements. That’s fine. My most successful films had a strong team – director of photography, film editor and others – who enhanced what I’d created. So maybe someone good with snappy dialogue would be a good person to collaborate with. Know anyone? But it would have to be like Elton John and Bernie Taupin. At arm’s length!
10 If you should travel to a country to do research which one would you choose and why?
This reminds me of those questionnaires that Financial Advisers give you to cover themselves, you know the ones – how averse to risk are you, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future, what are your goals in investment . . . . All they want is a simple response, while I want to debate each one. This question is like that!! Why am I travelling to research? I write from experience so I’m more likely to need to go to Hyde Park or a pub in Wapping! I guess if I got an urge to set a story amongst elephants in Africa, I’d probably need to go to Namibia. Or maybe I’d just go to Whipsnade Zoo or watch The Jungle Book! Saves on travel expenses, too!
Thank you, Richard Smith and Rachel’s Random Resources
About the author
Richard Smith is a writer and storyteller for sponsored films and commercials, with subjects as varied as caring for the elderly, teenage pregnancies, communities in the Niger delta, anti- drug campaigns and fighting organised crime. Their aim has been to make a positive difference, but, worryingly, two commercials he worked on featured in a British Library exhibition, ‘Propaganda’.