James Goodhand is the author of Last Lesson, published by Penguin on 2 April 2020.
James kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Last Lesson.
Hi Janet, thanks so much for inviting me on to your blog! Last Lesson is about a gifted schoolboy who takes a homemade pipe bomb to school. As it gets ever closer to home time, we start to understand what has driven him to such extreme measures. But the big question remains: can anybody stop him?
2. What inspired the book?
The subject of mental health, especially in young men, is one very close to my heart. But I also wanted to write about the way we bring up our boys, and the men we expect them to grow into. Last Lesson is a story about the potential consequences of the ‘man-up’ culture – a warning of what can happen when disregarded mental health issues and toxic masculinity meet. It feels timely to tell this story now, when funding is being ripped out of CAMHS and school pastoral facilities.
But much as it may sound like it, Last Lesson is not all bleak; there are oases of brightness and warmth in amongst the darkness.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I have a few scribbled notes and I’ve been known to sketch the occasional geeky graph to judge character arc, but I find there’s only so much planning one can do. I find characters develop lives and personalities of their own as they grow on the page, and so they start doing things that couldn’t be planned. For example, one of my favourite scenes in Last Lesson is where the teacher Mr Clark sits on a booby trapped seat. I couldn’t have planned that. It only works because Mr Clark grew into the sort of knobhead you’d love to see falling off a chair!
4. Having been through the publishing process, is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
The thing I’ve noticed about publishing is that it all moves rather slowly. Except every now and then, when it goes at a hundred miles per hour. There’s nothing in between.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Gosh, not sure I can remember when I last got away from it all! As well as the writing I work full-time as a car mechanic and I have a two-year-old, so life’s pretty busy. I play a bit of piano and I’m usually fixing-up something or other (I currently have an old grandfather clock in bits), but if anything it’s the writing itself that enables me to ‘get away from it all’. For all its frustrations, I live for those moments when I slip into an almost meditative state, living the scenes in my mind and pounding out the words, oblivious to world around me and the passing of time. It’s bloody great being in that zone!
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
Laurie Lee published a collection of his short stories called I Can’t Stay Long. His writing is so evocative and wise – lovely, lovely stuff!
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
I’d like it if someone asked me to name and shame the real-life people who have inspired my characters, especially the really nasty ones! I’m joking of course; this is a work of fiction, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental – everyone knows that.
About the book
Last year, Ollie Morcombe was a star pupil, popular and a gifted musician.
Then, after the accident, everything changed. Now he’s an outcast, a prime target of the school bullies who have made his life a living hell.
Today – the last day of the school year – he’s brought those bullies a gift. A homemade pipe bomb.
What has driven a model student to plan an unspeakable revenge? And with the clock ticking down to home time, what can anybody do to stop him?
About the author
James Goodhand lives in Surrey with his wife and young son. A mechanic by day, much of his work has been written at an oil-stained workbench whilst ignoring a queue of broken cars in need of his attention. James is also a keen musician, regularly gigging as a rhythm and blues pianist.