Author Mark Lamprell and I share one unusual experience: we’ve both been run over by a car. Lamprell has written a novel about that experience, called The Full Ridiculous (my review here). It’s been compared to The Rosie Project and The Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and I also was reminded of the novels of Jonathan Tropper, in that it’s a dark but humorous look at the challenges of middle age, marriage, and parenthood.
Lamprell was kind enough to answer some of my questions and share his thoughts about writing his first novel. Publisher Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press has given me a copy of this novel to give away! Please comment if you’re interested (by October 18) and I’ll randomly select a winner.
You begin this book with main character Michael O’Dell being hit by a car while jogging. Why did you begin the story in this way? Was this something you experienced?
Ha! Funny you should ask that question. I decided to begin my story this way because I thought it would be an effective way to incite empathy and compassion for my central character. It also seemed a good way to set the tone for the novel which is about the minor catastrophes that beset our ordinary lives. And yes, I have been run over by a car. In fact, what I describe happening to Michael, my central character, happened to me, pretty much blow for blow.
What inspired you to write this book? Which aspects come from your own life?
I was inspired to write this book by the everyday heroism of ordinary people. Blockbuster movies tend to frame heroic acts as grand gestures like saving the earth from destruction. But for some people, on some days, getting out of bed and wading through despair can be a heroic act. I wanted to look at that. The aspects that come from my own life are the car accident, the ensuing experience of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the sometimes harrowing experience of raising lively teenagers.
Why did you choose to tell the story in the second person? How is that unusual perspective important in this novel?
I didn’t really choose to tell the story in the second person, I just started writing it that way. After a few pages I realized what I was doing, felt it worked and kept going. I, rather naively, didn¹t give it a lot of conscious consideration. I think if I had, I may not have done it because, as you say, it’s an unusual (and risky) perspective. It’s a lot to ask of a reader to enter the second person, to become ‘you’, but I think once they commit to the conceit, it’s a bit like they’re strapped into a roller coaster ride. The story sort of rushes towards you and you have no control over it. I wanted to evoke that feeling because it is the way most people experience life. Also, I suppose, in using the second person I¹m encouraging the reader to see him/herself as an everyman/woman. The message is that we are all connected by our ordinary experiences and in that connection lies our capacity to love and care for each other.
Your background is in screenwriting. How was writing a novel different? How did your screenwriting experience contribute to the novel?
I found writing this novel very different from screenwriting. With screenwriting, you’re always taking on notes and comments from directors, producers, development executives, marketing executives, studio executives etc. It’s a constant complex collaboration. It can be brutal. Often you’re left desperately trying to cling onto the shining kernel of an idea that inspired you in the first place. Writing the novel was a completely liberating experience. It was just me, writing what I wanted. I had some wonderful editors at the end of the process but by and large I felt I got to tell the story I wanted to tell.
In this book you address some very dark topics (Michael’s health issues, drug dealing, police abuses, racism, and bullying) with humor. How do you balance humor and gravity?
For me, life comes in equal parts comedy and tragedy. Even in the most hilarious moment there’s often some sad truth and even in the saddest moment, often something absurdly comic happens. So in dealing with dark topics it seems natural to me to apply a light touch. Comedy makes tragedy bearable (and visa-versa). The trick is getting the balance right. I always try to return to what feels truthful how much tragedy can this comedy take and still feel real? How much comedy can this tragedy take and still feel real? – and work from there.
I’m not a parent, but I found the parenting issues some of the most interesting. Michael and Wendy struggle to balance trust and permissiveness, to respect their children’s privacy but also provide them with appropriate limits. Does this book reflect some of your own parenting struggles?
Ah Deb, basically this book represents my own parenting incompetence, laid bare. I tried to be a good dad but sometimes failed and sometimes failed spectacularly. Luckily for me and my children, I had a very smart wife to guide, support and pick up the pieces when necessary. Raising kids in any era is tricky and complex but in this age of instantly accessible information, it’s a moral and ethical minefield.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope that they will realise that you don’t need to wear your underpants on the outside to be a hero.
Which authors or books have influenced you the most?
Oh gosh, so many! Here’s my top 5.
- Where the Wild Things Are. I was about twenty years older than the intended demographic when I eventually got around to reading Maurice Sendak¹s story about the nocturnal adventures of Max who takes a liberating journey to his wild side, faces his demons, and returns to a reward of a hot supper and his mother¹s love. It taught me about economy and discipline: you can tell a deeply satisfying tale in just three hundred and thirty eight words. No need to rabbit on if the story doesn’t need it.
- Hero of a Thousand Faces. In his ground breaking book, Joseph Campbell analysed thousands of legends, and myths across different eras and cultures and discovered that most had something in common: the hero of each makes a journey which is constructed around certain shared milestones and turning points. I have used these turning points to structure many of the screenplays I have written, as have many other filmmakers like George Miller (in the Mad Max films) and George Lucas (in the Star Wars films), to name just a few. I also applied these ideas in The Full Ridiculous. I find it both thrilling and illuminating that we humans share commonalities that resonate across space, time and culture, and that we manifest our shared impulses in our stories.
- My Family and Other Animals. I read Gerald Durrell’s magical story of his family¹s decampment to the island of Corfu when I was a teenager. His eye for hilarity completely enchanted me. It’s the first book that made me laugh out loud and somehow that changed everything. I learnt that humour allows you to throw everything in the air, not only to surprise and delight, but to create moments of infinite possibilities.
- Zorba the Greek. There¹s a part in Nikos Kazantzakis’ classic where Zorba’s mate’s business collapses and he loses everything. Instead of despairing, he expresses “a sublime unjustifiable gladness. Not only unjustifiable but contrary to all justifications. As if in the hard somber labyrinth of necessity I had discovered liberty herself playing happily in a corner. And I played with her.” Zorba taught me a lot about the importance of failure and the opportunities that arise when you have the courage to risk failure.
- The Corrections. From Jonathon Franzen’s domestic epic, I learnt that battles could be fought, hearts won and lost, souls eviscerated in the passing of a salt-shaker across a breakfast table. Franzen is not the first writer to prove that the devil is in the detail but his exquisitely captured moments are a revelation. They taught me that the truth, when finely observed, is always compelling.
What are you working on right now?
Bio: Mark Lamprell has worked in film and television for many years. He co-wrote the film Babe Pig in the City and wrote and directed the award-winning feature My Mother Frank. His most recent project is the movie musical Goddess, which he co-wrote and directed. The Full Ridiculous is his first novel.
Please remember to comment if you’re interested in receiving a copy of this novel!