Guest Writer – Leslie Tate

Today, it is my pleasure to welcome Leslie Tate to the blog to talk about his books and writing life.

Leslie lighting Sue at Purple Mikaela event


In my 60s novel Purple the book’s protagonist Matthew, ‘warehouses’ his experience, storing up impressions for future use as an author. In a similar way, when I was a London teacher, I kept promising to sit down and write my novel.  I imagined that one day a storyline would suggest itself and the words would flow, all I had to do was wait for the crucial lightbulb moment.  It wasn’t until the 80s when I studied a Creative Writing MA at Goldsmiths’ College, that I realised inspiration from above wasn’t going to happen.  By reading the biographies of several writers I discovered that lyrical, flowing pieces were often the result of slow, patient, line-by-line work, going on for weeks or years,  It helped me get over the feeling that if I was a writer it had to come naturally or not at all, and so I schooled myself to the business  of endless revision. Since late childhood I’d admired poetry for it’s  original, figurative expression and unusual points of view,  I was a dreamy, romantic boy who took himself off on long country walks, reciting Wordsworth and trying self-consciously to enter the ‘poetic world’.  Later as a teacher, I lasted out the working week, marking and preparing all Saturday in order to leave time for writing a few lines of poetry in Sundays,  The job and having children drained me, progress was slow and a single poem might take me three months, but at least I was keeping my hand in.  In 2006, I met my wife, Sue Hampton and read her books     Understanding her writing. which has a classic feel showed me how the extended prose line is more tied together by meaning than poetry, But I knew from poetry that sound makes  absolute sense, so I sill test for rhythm and cadence, reading ‘out loud in my head’ when I revise.  I’ve always admired poets who stretch the language.  I immersed myself in classic poets and authors such as Lowell, Hughes, Woolf and Lawrence, trying to build an individual voice.  Reading American novels such as Carol Shields, Marilynne Robinson and Anne Tyler has pushed me towards a blend of literary and the conversational, and I’ve written two novels in that style then started a third before attending a University of East Anglia Masterclass in 2014,   I write about modern love from tentative awkward first dates ti passional late-life romance.  I want to communicate how it feels to be thoughtful and maybe at odds with society and at the same time involved in an intense, challenging love affair or a mistaken marriage,  I want to ‘look inside the book’ and show how the relationships we see all around us have changed during the 20th Century but as an imaginative act rather than a historical investigation.



The characters and the words I use shape my books. I don’t have a plot in mind, other than a general feel for the people and places I’m portraying. I head straight into the highs and lows of personal experience because I want to show people from the inside, as they are when they’re not  ‘presenting’, stripped of inhibition.  Of course I know that a novel can only show a fragment of who we are so I try to steer the book into challenging and deeply felt incidents I’ve experienced in order to get to the quick of things. But the books usually get the better of me and lead me into episodes that are equally challenging but belong to the story, rather than to me.  I often feel like an escape artist when I’m writing because my characters get themselves into fixes which don’t seem to offer any easy way out.  Fortunately, something usually comes to my rescue – a symbolic object, a key remark or a setting comes up where something decisive can happen.  If it doesn’t then I have to scrub that part of the book and start again.  If a scene does come together, I often find myself going back and writing in pointers to the new element that is going to change the story.


I feel a responsibility to the English language, so I aim to write something which grows out of the tradition while trying out new areas if expression.  I have to tell myself that ”best selling’ is no guide to quality,  To keep writing well without significant recognition I carry out a deliberate double-take when I’m editing,  I allow part of me to admire and enjoy the expressive flow, while another part comes down hard on all the flaws and blemishes, I’m resigned to the idea I may have worked for years in vain. All I can do is keep in touch with the world’s greatest writing and try to measure up, While most books published are deliberately dumbed-down, much acclaimed contemporary fiction sets out to dazzle,   It’s often brilliantly savage but ultimately dry and academic. I do believe that the discourse of novels contributes to the openness or closed-offness if an era and that our imaginations are currently limited by the post-modern and neo-liberal consensus.  In my own small way, I dream of changing that.


Purple  is the first in a trilogy. It begins with Matthew Lavender’s coming-of-age story, going up to university in 1969 and dating women while hiding his sexual naiveté behind a mask of wildness,  His story alternates with his gran Mary describing her harsh 1920s upbringing,  Mary’s story offers clues as to why Matthew and his parents are the way they are.  The two protagonists come together at the end.  Matthew’s section is deep and lyrical. describing the up-and-down, chaotic and posey business of attraction and repulsion, between fired up young people.  It’s also wildly comic when he escapes to a 60s style commune.  But I’ve made sure it’s true to life and not full of hype or nostalgia.  Mary’s section is direct and shocking, showing family conflict and rebellion.  Her upbringing is intensely individualistic, a theme which runs through the book. But Mary is a warm, likeable characters an accommodator who sees and shares things which go deep,  In both stories I’ve tried to create a fully rounded characters who change and develop as a result of what they go through.



Don’t chase the market but study the literary tradition and write from the soul, using character and language as your guide.


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