When Dave Harding holds his friend's newborn baby, the biological clock he never knew existed starts ticking. Loudly. Which wouldn't be so bad except his partner Izzy has no nine-month plans for fat ankles or trips to Baby Gap. Then the music mag folds and Dave is temporarily forced to become Agony Uncle for 'Teen Scene'. Knee deep in the adolescent outpourings of his readership, Dave opens one letter from a girl who doesn't want advice about boys - she wants to know about Dave. Because she's convinced that Dave Harding is her dad. And she's got the facts to prove it.
I'd been freelancing for a whole host of magazines one of which was a newly launched teenage girl's mag called Bliss. One day they just called me up and asked if I wanted to be the magazine's boy columnist. My column was called "Dear Mike" and girls used to write and ask tonnes of questions about the inner workings of the male mind. Basically I was a kind of older brother figure (the kind of older brother who wouldn't tease you mercilessly about your braces) for them and since once upon a time I actually used to be a teenage boy I felt able to answer their questions—most of which boiled down to: "Does he like me?' "How can I make him like me?" and "I don't like him anymore: what should I do?" I eventually retired from being an advice columnist to concentrate on my novels but occasionally I do go back. Most recently it was for a magazine called Dare and (I kid you not) a pilot for a TV programme called "You Need a Dog."
I started out with the idea of wanting to write something based in the magazine industry. Usually the first book from a journalist turned novelist ends up being about a journalist but I'm rather pleased that it took me four books to actually get round to the topic. I made Dave a music journalist because nearly everyone I have ever met tends to take themselves and what they do very seriously. I loved the idea of taking someone like that and dropping them into the world of teen magazines because nothing would freak out a music journalist more. Next came the idea of a man finding out that he had fathered a child that he didn't know about. Like the characters say in the book the headline "Does your partner have a secret child?" is a staple of glossy magazines and I was interested in the story behind it. What would it be like to be in that situation? How would a person deal with the knowledge that they had a daughter they didn't know about?
It wasn't quite as extreme as Dave's but I must admit it was a weird place for a young man to find himself employed. I was one of only four guys working in an office of thirty staff. We were in an absolute minority. There were posters of Keanu Reeves and Leonardo Di Caprio everywhere. One of the first assignments I had for the magazine was road-testing the question: "Does red hair make you more attractive?" The girls in the office dyed my hair bright red and sent me off into Leicester Square to try and get a date for the evening. Needless to say I wasn't successful. On the plus side however revealing what I did for a living in conversation with the opposite sex always seemed to impress.
After a reading I gave in the UK a guy came up to me with his girlfriend and said that if he ever discovered that he had a daughter like Nicola he'd be over the moon. I have to say I agree. She's not based on any one teenage girl, rather she's bits of lots of different ones—girls who wrote to my column, girls I knew from youth groups I'd worked with in the past, and girls from TV sitcoms! I wanted to create a character that I wouldn't mind having as my own daughter and that seems to have worked.
Absolutely. I listened to Small Moments constantly while I was writing Dinner For Two, which is unusual for me because I normally can't write while listening to music. I came across him through a friend's recommendation and I fell in love with it straight away. As I was writing about a music journalist I thought it would be fun to put it in the book. Having written a music fanzine and worked for a whole host of pop magazines I know what it's like to be inundated with free music. You can get to the stage where you begin to get a little bit jaded when you've got a massive pile of CDs next to your desk waiting to be listened to. But there's nothing quite as amazing as working your way through an average sounding pile and discovering a gem. Nothing like it at all. I think it's the reason why all these years later I buy so many books and CDs and watch so many films. There might be a lot of average stuff out there to wade through but when you find a gem it makes it all seem worthwhile.
I wanted exactly that — something different. I wanted to look at a relationship where the origins of the problems were external to the relationship rather than internal. What I like about Dave and Izzy is that it's obvious that they are madly in love with each other and you're never in any doubt that they are right for each other. The problems they face however do put a strain on their relationship and the story is essentially about how they make this right. Most of all though I wanted a story where you felt sympathy for all the main characters and could see the viewpoint of everybody involved.
I thought long and hard before making that decision on behalf of Dave and though it's probably not my all time favourite record it is definitely in my (non-ranked) top ten. The first time I heard it was in a club that my friends and I used to attend on a weekly basis. The moment I heard it I was smitten and asked the DJ what the record was called. Armed with the information I bought it the day it came out and now must have played it a million times. When Dinner For Two was published my editor very kindly bought it for me on CD so now I have two copies.
There's a scene in Dinner For Two when Izzy goes out for the evening and Dave gets to play his music in the flat as loud as he likes. One of the records he chooses is "Fifty Dresses" by Animals That Swim because it's one of my all-time favourite records. A few months after the book came out one of the band members contacted me to say that he'd been reading the book in France and had been shocked to see the band's name mentioned. We ended up doing a swap. I gave him a signed copy of Dinner For Two for his mum and he sent me loads of Animals That Swim stuff including unreleased demos. It was all great stuff.
If it were possible to have a secret crush on a fictional character that came out of your own head then I have to say that character would be Dave's friend Fran. She's lovely.