FEATURE: 'Why I owe my success to my wife'
As author Gavin Extence sits down to start his writing day, there's no computer nearby.
Instead Gavin picks up a pen and opens his trusty notebook, filled with scribbles and notes illegible to anybody but him.
“I write everything in longhand,” says Gavin.
“I realise it’s unusual but I get a better flow that way. I don’t know what it is; I could start at a blank computer screen all day, but pen in hand, the paper seems to start filling itself up.”
And his method is obviously working for him. Gavin, who releases his third book next month, has sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his first two books in 22 countries worldwide. His debut novel made the Richard and Judy Book Club and he has just sold the film rights. Life is sweet for the 34-year-old dad of two. But Gavin, who lives with his family in Walkley, is the first to admit his success is a team effort.
“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now if it wasn’t for my wife, Alix,” he insists.
“She was the only person who knew I was trying to write a book, my entire support system. I’d been writing and working side-by-side for a while and not getting very far until, one day, she told to quit my job. She said she’d cover the bills while I wrote full time. Not everybody gets that vote of confidence, it was the permission and the push I needed to stop treating it like a hobby and instead make it my job.
“Her role in this was as important as mine and I like to think that the resulting success is something we achieved together.”
Gavin’s debut novel, The Universe vs Alex Woods, was published in 2013, examining the difficult subject of assisted suicide. His second book, The Mirror World of Melody Black, delved into mental health and in his third novel, The Empathy Problem, Gavin turns his pen to terminal illness.
“I’m not really sure why I started writing about assisted suicide,” he admits.
“It’s a subject that was, and still is, in the news quite a bit. It’s one of those subjects that always triggers a response and is quite a thorny issue. I don’t have any personal connection to it, beyond the fact I think it’s one of those things you can’t help but wonder what you’d do if you found yourself in that position. Whichever side of the debate you fall on, I think the natural response is one of compassion and wanting to understand.
“Writing that first book wasn’t easy, there were a lot of missteps but I enjoyed the process very much. I’ve never been intimidated by big projects and I enjoyed the research. I made mistakes, I found solutions, it was exhilirating and scary and I improved gradually.
“I’d always loved writing, but didn’t do it much after my teen years, turning my attention to my studies. I moved to the city for university where I did a degree in English and then a PHD in film studies. A few years ago I picked writing back up. My passion for it hadn’t waned and I knew, if I didn’t do it now, I probably never would. I knew I’d regret not trying more than I would trying and failing.”
Following the success of his first book, Gavin chose to write about a topic close to home in his second book, published last year.
“I’d been treated for depression in the past, so writing about mental health felt quite personal and like I was trying to make sense of my own experiences,” he recalls.
“Mental health is a complicated issue, we’re still living in the dark ages to a certain extent when it comes to dealing with it as a society. It goes without saying I had some dark times writing it, but I can also see the positives of it now and I think the story is all the more real for it.”
He describes his third book, The Empathy Problem, due out on August 11, as a bit like A Christmas Carol, but with brain cancer instead of ghosts.
The book’s protaganist, Gabriel, is sociopathic hedge fund manager whose brain tumour causes him to experience new and disconcerting emotions – love, guilt, compassion.
“I thought it was an interesting idea,” Gavin says simply.
“This was the quickest book to write, about ten months. I find I have a pool of ideas now waiting to be picked up now, I’m always logging away things that interest me and things I think it would be interesting to examine further.”
But Gavin isn’t rushing into a fourth book. After a busy six years writing, he’s ready to take a little break.
“Not a big break,” he adds quickly.
“I love what I do too much to leave it for very long, I’m just taking a moment to breathe and spend a little time with my family before jumping into the next book.”
The book launch for The Empathy Problem will be held at Walkley Library on Wednesday, August 10. It will include a reading, book signing and a chance to meet the author, 7.30pm until 9.30pm.
“It means a lot to be having the launch event in Sheffield, our hometown,” smiles Gavin.
“Sheffield is a special place. There’s a great sense of community where I live and I’m especially proud the event is being held at Walkley Library, which is entirely volunteer-run. It’s a place of great passion and enthusiasm and I’m delighted to be associated with it.”
Call Walkley Library on 0114 2312947 to book your place.