Today I am delighted to be able to share with you a guest post by Frank Lankaster “Writing about what he knows”.
Mike O’Donnell was born in Preston Lancashire longer ago than he cares to mention. He is the second of four children and was bought up by his single parent mother following the early death of his father, Frank. It is in memory of his dad that Mike adopted the writing name of Frank Lankaster. However, Mike has enjoyed a previous life as an author in his own name in the area of social science. He began by writing and editing material for students before moving on to produce more academic publications. His career in further and higher education provided the detail and experience that underwrite Tim Connor Hits Trouble. His previous publications are necessarily serious but his novel, as well as being serious, is intended at times to be seriously funny.
Mike’s children, now in their twenties and thirties, are beginning to outstrip him in achievements. In doing so, they have had to struggle with a much more demandingly bureaucratic – as well as expensive – system of higher education than he. The novel is in part about their generation. It is their turn now and I wish them luck in hard times.
Frank Lankaster: Writing About What He Knows
They say that for a first novel it’s best to write about what you know. Frank Lankaster aka Mike O’Donnell aka myself has followed that advice. I’ve spent most of my student and working life on or around university campuses. In fact it works out as four by four: four universities as a student and four as an academic – five if you count my year as an exchange professor in the United States. It was such good fun as well as interesting work that I could have doubled the number without feeling I’d overdone it.
Most academics are happy to stay in harness – teaching, writing and publishing about their subject. My subject was sociology which is actually a very good vantage point to view the rest of life from. And the life I’ve seen and experienced has been campus life. It was not too much of a change of genre to shift from a discipline of social observation to a social novel which is partly what Tim Connor Hits Trouble is. I wanted to capture the change in mood and culture from the nineteen sixties to what students are experiencing now. But a blow by blow historical account would have been the kiss of death. Instead I constructed the novel around three main characters. Two, Henry Jones and Howard Swankie represent quite different eras in higher education in Britain and America which is why they clashed. The novel is set in the University of Wash during the post financial crisis era of the late noughties. Henry Jones, a fire-brand radical in the nineteen sixties/seventies, is in his twilight years as an academic and his hard-living life-style is taking its toll. Howard Swankie is an ambitious Dean of Faculty reflecting the more recent bureaucratic and business ethos of higher education. They clash in style and beliefs and on a couple of occasions come close to blows. While their conflict is sharply dramatised it is also funny. Henry has nothing to lose and takes every opportunity to puncture Swankie’s pretensions.
Tim Connor, the third man of the trio – an ethically troubled and ambiguous post-modern anti-hero – gets deeply involved in the Jones-Swankie clash but also has a life of his own. Ejected from his marriage and new to the University, he embarks on a relationship with a bi-sexual women colleague, Erica Botham who is already in a gay relationship. Erica is adventurous, seductive and beautiful and quite a challenge to Tim. His life is further stretched by his determined efforts to keep a relationship going with his daughter Maria who remains with her mother. Again if this part of the novel is to succeed it must do so at the dramatic level. And Tim’s situation is rich in love, lust, and demanding ties and responsibilities. The wider, point is that for all his unusually adventurous life-style, Tim is quite typical of a many contemporary young/early middle aged men – and women. Tim, Erica and several of their friends find themselves in a world in which the moral and social order their parents lived is slipping away. This novel is about how they deal with it.
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