The To Do List

to-do-list.jpgOne man, two birthdays and a 52-week attempt to tackle a 1277-item To-doList ...

On the eve of his 36th birthday, bestselling author and journalist Mike Gayle picked up a pen and contemplated his life. In less than twenty-four hours he would be officially closer to 40 than to 30; his second child was due; his ten-year wedding anniversary imminent - despite his best efforts he had become an adult. Well, nearly. Gripped by a determination to sort out his life once and for all, Mike writes a To-do list of all the things he has meant to do but never quite got round to. Everything from empty kitchen of Chinese takeaway menus (467) to spend more time with parents because they won't always be around (12). It's a long list. There's a lot of stuff that needs doing. But unlike previous lists, made and long abandoned, Mike promises himself that this one will actually get DONE.

to-do-list.jpgThe To Do List

by Mike Gayle

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What made you decide to finally try your hand at non-fiction?

Having started out my career as a journalist the idea of becoming a novelist who gets to spend all day every day making stuff up really appealed to me. No longer would my days be filled with trying to make pop stars sound interesting or hounding experts for a single quote for a feature, now I would be free to make up every single word and not feel bad about what I was doing. Eight novels and ten years of making stuff up later though I began to feel nostalgic for the old days and the idea of writing a non-fiction book suddenly seemed very attractive indeed.

So you thought you'd start with a book about To-Do Lists?

It was the only idea that I had and the only one that I wanted to do! As I say in the book I have always been a keen maker of To-Do Lists even from when I was a kid and so the idea of having a mammoth To-Do List and giving myself a year to do it was right up my street.

What were the main differences for you between writing non-fiction compared to writing fiction?

The biggest difference for me was the speed at which I found myself writing because usually with a novel there are periods where getting the words on to a computer screen is akin to getting blood out of a stone but with non-fiction it was a completely different experience. Mostly I put this down to the fact that rather than having to conjure up a scene out of thin air I was able to reference real life events and because of that the words seemed to flow much more quickly. Obviously the other big difference is that unlike my fiction in the writing of The To-Do List I had to make reference to the copious pages of notes that I had made during the year. For most of the time it was fine but every now and again I'd come across a scrawl which made no sense to me at all. In one notebook I'd written the word "EGGS!!!" in huge capital letters on a single page and to this day I have no idea what I was thinking about!

Given that this is your first "try" at non-fiction are you pleased with the results?

I am actually. It's always a bit nerve wracking trying something new because who is to say that you'll be any good at it? Thankfully having heard some early readers' initial feedback on the book it appears as though it's a case of if you like my fiction then you'll definitely like my non-fiction, which is great. Overall though I'm just pleased that as well as getting the tasks done I actually got the book done too because there were quite a number of times when I felt like giving up and returning to the "day" job.

What is your favourite moment in the book?

I think it would have to be the chapter where I try and cancel my AOL account mainly because it encapsulates everything that's wrong with me as a person. People have asked me a number of times whether I embellished this scene to make it funny and sadly I have no choice but to answer no. Every time I picture myself informing the poor AOL man in Mumbai that I was taping the conversation I feel a shudder of shame.

Of all the items, which were on your To-Do List, which was the hardest thing that you actually got done?

It's hard to say really as the fact that they were on the To-Do List in the first place inevitably means that they were already verging on impossible before I'd even begun them. But if I had to pick one it would be losing weight (which I admit I only partially completed) because I love food so much.

And which was the one that was most satisfying?

I think that would have to be either catching up with my old friends or recreating my first date with my wife. They both made me realise just how much of a positive effect combating procrastination can have.

Which item on the To-Do List do you most regret failing to tick off?

It would have to be learning to play my bass. I really do wish that I could play an instrument but having had a few lessons with my friend Arthur during the time that I was To-Do Listing it became very clear incredibly quickly that this was one thing that wasn't going to happen any time soon. Still, I never like to say never so who knows what might happen in the future?

How are the Sunday Night Pub Club these days and the rest of your friends who appear in The To-Do List?

They're all good, thanks for asking. The SNPC are still very last minute about texting to confirm that the night is on, still sitting in the same seats week after week and still spend all night complaining if a) the music is too loud or b) the TV is on. Sadly, we don't see quite as much of Amanda as we used to do, but we have recruited another member in the form of the lovely Andy. Sam is well and is coming down to see us all sometime soon and Alexa the Canadian continues to bake, knit and organise the world into a nicer place and will, I'm sure, have a book of her own coming out one day.

Do you have any further plans to write non-fiction?

I have ideas all the time. I had one recently about me deciding to ride from Land's End to John O' Groats by horse but couldn't come up with the enthusiasm to follow through (or indeed a good enough title). But to answer your question seriously (you didn't really think I was going to do the horse thing did you?), yes I do have plans to do another so watch this space for updates.


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