Rob Lock on his debut novel, Murmuration

PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 January 2019

Bingo in Blackpool

Bingo in Blackpool

Rob Lock

Fomer press photographer Rob Lock is starting a new chapter as a novelist, more than 40 years after he started writing his first book.

Photographer-turned-author Rob LockPhotographer-turned-author Rob Lock

As a photographer on the local newspaper, Rob Lock has been a familiar face on the Fylde Coast for years. And he has now used his experiences covering news stories, community events and sporting fixtures for the Blackpool Gazette to help him fulfil his lifelong dream of becoming a novelist.

Many of the characters he met – both in the newsroom and while out on jobs – have fed into the book which came out towards the end of last year. And while Blackpool is not named as the setting for the novel, it is unmistakably the template for the resort where action unfolds.

The first murmurings of Rob’s literary ambitions came as a teenager growing up in South Yorkshire when he hand-wrote 140 pages of a science fiction novel. And although he now acknowledges that first effort was ‘appalling’, he kept writing and was a proud winner of a runners-up certificate from the 1984 South Yorkshire Literary Competition.

For many years it seemed as though that might be the pinnacle of his writing career as he amassed a collection of rejection letters from publishers, many of which, however, contained enough encouraging phrases for him not to hang up his pen. ‘Secker & Warburg read my first proper novel with “very considerable interest” and it went through three full in-house readings at Chatto & Windus before being rejected,’ Rob said.

The first day of summer on the Comedy CarpetThe first day of summer on the Comedy Carpet

‘Not fazed by this, I wrote another and sent that off, to similar enthusiastic dismissal. Always a stranger to self-doubt, I sent the manuscript to The Literary Consultancy in case there was something I was doing wrong. Catherine Blyth, while brutally honest in her assessment, also said that my writing had “a spark, a verve, which is out of the ordinary”. Needless to say, I carry this phrase burnt into my consciousness. I’m thinking of having it tattooed somewhere.’

In his late 20s, after a spell working in a Paris restaurant, he returned to England and started to look for paid employment, while waiting for his literary career to take off.

Photography had always been a hobby, and after a chance meeting at a rugby match with one of their photographers, he began freelancing for the Rotherham Advertiser, learning on the job what newspapers did and didn’t want in their photos. After gaining a distinction in Photo-Journalism on a course in Sheffield he was given a job at the Blackpool Gazette.

‘It didn’t take me long to realise that this surreal, deprived and occasionally beautiful town would make a fantastic setting for a book.

A laughing donkey on Blackpool beachA laughing donkey on Blackpool beach

‘I think all would-be writers should work on a newspaper for a while, for not only is it the perfect education in how the world works, it’s also a brilliant way of meeting every conceivable type of character, how they behave, how they fit into a certain environment, and all this is invaluable material for your novel. As if this wasn’t enough, my paper was based in Blackpool, which attracts a huge variety of eccentrics and oddballs, which luckily, are exactly the type of people I love writing about.’

And 34 years after his first rejection letter he received a more positive email from Legend Press of London. ‘In three lines of an email a 43-year-old dream became reality,’ he said.

‘Not long after that the contract arrived for me to sign, full of wonderful phrases like net receipts, film and documentary, and world rights, so I signed on the dotted line,

‘Two months later I was invited to London, so naturally in the week beforehand I somehow managed to fit the sentence “oh, yes, I’m popping down to London next week to see my publishers” into every conversation I had. Even the chap who rang to sell me some insurance had to hear it before I hung up.’

Titled Murmuration, it follows the inter-connected lives of a cast of well-drawn characters in a seaside resort – comedians, deckchair attendants, a fortune teller and an historian – from the 1860s to the present day, all watched over by flocks of starlings.

The book was launched at a party on Blackpool’s North Pier and Rob added: ‘I wrote Murmuration Murmuration on my days off, in evenings, mornings before late shifts – anywhere I could fit in a few hours. Just the Victorian section ran to over 100 pages, so I knew I was in for a long haul, but gradually it came together, as did several connections between time zones that I hadn’t seen coming.’

Murmuration by Rob Lock is published by Legend Press.

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