The Life and Soul of the Party

life-and-soul.jpgMeet Melissa and Paul: Five years after they split up he's still looking for love in all the wrong places while she wants the one thing she can't have: Paul.

Meet Chris and Vicky: They're so in tune they even brush their teeth in time with each other. So what is Chris doing risking it all for a meaningless affair?

Meet Cooper and Laura: He wants to settle down, she wants to take a grown-up gap year but can their relationship really survive a year apart?

Set across a year of leaving dos, birthday parties and anniversary celebrations The Life and Soul of the Party is a warm, funny and moving tale celebrating love, life and those special moments we've all spent in the kitchen at parties.

life-and-soul.jpgThe Life and Soul of the Party

by Mike Gayle

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Tell us how you came up with the idea for The Life And Soul Of The Party.

It's corny but it's true! It actually came to me during a party. It was a leaving party for a couple of mates who were heading off to start a new life in New Zealand. The atmosphere was really fun and buzzing and one of the people I was talking to commented how everyone loves any excuse for a good get together. This led to a conversation about how crucial parties are to your social life when you're in your thirties and within seconds I was sitting there with a big grin on my face because I realised that I'd just found the idea for the next book.

How did the idea progress from there?

Once I knew that the book would be about parties the idea just snowballed. I began thinking about all the different sorts of parties that I'd been to and about all the things that might happen. But I think the idea really began to crystallise when I moved from thinking about the central theme of the book to who the lead character was going to be.

And that's Melissa isn't it?

I suppose it is in a round about kind of way. To begin with I thought I could get away with it being an ensemble piece but then I recalled how when I've read books or seen films like that I always find that I like one set of people more than I like the others and once that happens I find the others irritating because I feel like they're taking up valuable air time! Once you make it clear who the lead is people tend to be a lot more forgiving about secondary characters...or at least I'm hoping they are. Life and Soul of The Party is me having it both ways. Yes, there is a lead character but it's also an ensemble piece featuring other characters that you actually like and a story line that you're actually interested in!

Did it feel like a big move to have a woman as the lead character in a Mike Gayle novel?

Not at all. My main concern was just making sure that Melissa felt like a real person. And although she's the backbone of the story I very much feel that this isn't a book so much about men and women but rather it's a book about people in their thirties trying to make sense of the stuff that life sometimes throws at them.

Tell us how you came up with Melissa's character?

A lot of Melissa's character stemmed from the initial thinking that I did about Paul. With Paul I wanted to create someone who was like a lot of the hopeless cases that my female friends used to go out with when they were in their twenties. I wanted him to be quite insensitive and self–involved but then the more I thought about him the more I realised that perhaps it might be more interesting if he used to be like that but was on the brink of making a big change in his life. The more fixed I became on this idea the more I began to think about who might be on the other side of the relationship and gradually Melissa began to emerge.

So who exactly is Melissa?

That's a really difficult question! All I know is that I really like her and if she existed in the real world she'd definitely be someone that I could see myself hanging out with. To me she's like a snapshot of lot of my female friends from my twenties only ten years later when everyone else has moved on (through no fault of her own) she's still living the same life she was then and desperately wants to move on. I also wanted her to be bright, quirky and funny but at the same time I wanted to have a darker side to her that would be linked to the fundamental flaw in her character: her absolute inability to get over Paul.

Do you feel happy with the way she turned out?

Absolutely. I love the fact that there are moments in the book when she's incredibly strong and others where she's bordering on being pathetic. To me it makes her more real. She's not just one thing or the other and I love how these two sides of her character wrestle throughout the book.

The book begins with Melissa receiving the news about Paul. What made you choose that as your starting point?

This actually wasn't the original starting point for the book. The early drafts all started with the New Year's Eve party and although they were good I couldn't help but think that something was missing. Talking over the beginning with my wife she made the suggestion to move things around and as soon as she said it I knew that she'd fixed the problem. A single cut and paste action and suddenly the entire book was working at a completely different level. Knowing that Paul is no longer alive from the outset changes everything and makes even the smallest details seem more poignant.

The Life And Soul Of The Party is once again set in Chorlton in Manchester. What is it about this place that has you coming back for a second time given that Brand New Friend was set there too?

When I wrote Brand New Friend I had briefly considered making it part of a "Chorlton Chronicles" trilogy just because I thought it would be funny given my feelings about this great suburb but then I went on to set the next book in Brighton and Crete so that idea got put on the shelf. It probably would have stayed there too had I not gone to my friend's leaving do which just happened to be taking place in a well-known pub in Chorlton! Only one more book left and my trilogy will be complete! Whether that'll happen though is another story!

And finally, tell us something that we don't already know about The Life And Soul Of The Party.

The scene in the book where Melissa talks about the difference between boys in the eighties who fancied Ally Sheedy and the ones who fancied Molly Ringwald is actually based on a debate that has been raging amongst me and my friends for some years. And just for the record: for me it's Ringwald all the way!

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