Wilson Quick was on the radio show New Day Today to talk about his new book.
NDT: Welcome to the show, Wilson. Tell us a little about your latest novel.
WQ: Thanks. Well, it’s basically about a drummer who travels back in time and winds up in Liverpool in 1962. He meets an amazing family from nearby Allerton and they invite him to stay with them. While he’s there, he realizes that the Beatles, who are his absolute favorite band, are about to change drummers and he comes up with the idea that he should try and beat Ringo to the punch.
NDT: You’re quite obviously a Beatles fan. Is that an understatement?
WQ: Oh yeah, very much. As they were for so many people, the Beatles were a huge part of my life and influenced me in many ways. I was born in England and was a little kid when they first hit the national airwaves. I remember watching them on Top of the Pops and wanting to be one of them.
NDT: Who was your favorite?
WQ: At that point I liked George ‘cause he looked so cool to me. Later on I switched to John, then in the later years, Paul. They were the complete packageand all brought so much to the table. They’ve stayed with me ever since.
NDT: They continued to be a big part of your life?
WQ: Indeed. We moved to Toronto when I was nine and my Beatles 45’s moved with me. I played them non-stop on my flip-top record player. I mean non-stop. Then, two years later, we moved to the US and I continued to listen to them almost exclusively.
My dad wasn’t really a rock ‘n’ roll fan, being in his 40’s at the time, but he loved the Beatles and would buy each album for me as it was released. I remember sitting down with him to listen to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for the first time and it seems very strange now. My dad was a businessman and fairly straight-laced, but we were both blown away by the music. It was an absolutely profound moment in my life.
NDT: Is that your favorite Beatles album?
WQ: I’m not sure I could pin it down to just one album really. They’re all great, but there are some that shine even brighter than others for me, I guess. For the earlier Beatles, I don’t think anything strikes as strong as A Hard Day’s Night. That record just leaps out of the speakers, one great Lennon-McCartney classic after another. It’s so fresh and alive.
As a kid I listened to that a lot, plusHelp!, Beatles ’65, Beatles VI, Rubber Soul and Magical Mystery Tour.Then cameRevolver which, to me, is every bit as revolutionary as Pepper’s – and George really comes into his own as a songwriter on that one. And then the White Album, and Abbey Road. Let’s just say I love all their albums and leave it at that!
NDT:Noted. Let’s talk some more about your book.
WQ: Yes, let’s.
NDT:I was intrigued by the title. It’s almost too perfect, Strawberry Fields For Evan. How did you come up with that?
WQ: By accident. I was trying to think of a name for the protagonist and was stuck. Then I started thinking about Beatles’ songs and it just fell into my lap. I’m very grateful for that title, actually.
NDT: I imagine it felt pretty good.
WQ: Yeah, that’s the point when I knew I had to write the book. I couldn’t leave a title like that hanging out to dry. It really did inspire me to press on.
NDT: I read your bio and see you’re also a musician and songwriter. Is there a lot of you in Evan?
WQ: No doubt. I was, and still am to some degree, a very frustrated musician and songwriter and, like Evan, I played in a lot of cover bands and couldn’t see any way out.
NDT: This is actually your first novel, right?
WQ: It is. I’d tried to write one for years, but I could never get past the first chapter. I couldn’t find the right story, but then I got the best advice possible. A writer friend of mine told me the thing to do is write about what you know. So simple, but absolutely what I needed to hear.
I thought about it and figured that I certainly know about musical frustration and about the Beatles.I’ve always loved stories about time travel and everything started to fall into place. I started sketching out the characters and locations and the plot seemed to work itself out. Once I’d passed page 50 I knew I could go the distance. I was nervous about it being my first one, but there’s not much I can do about that.
NDT: I have to tell you that it’s really well-written and whether it’s your first or your hundredth doesn’t change that fact. It must have felt like a great accomplishment after all those years.
WQ: It did and still does. I can’t quite believe that I actually finished it sometimes.
NDT: What was your writing process? Did you have a specific schedule?
WQ: Not really. I was so fired up to tell the story that I basically used any available time to write. Lots of nights and weekends, but also at work during down time. I pretty much lived and breathed 1962 Liverpool for the entire six months. I listened to the early Beatles every day and started to feel very detached from the present.
What was really stunning for me was that after a while, the book seemed to be writing itself. Sometimes I’d find myself having conversations with the characters while I was working out the dialogue.
NDT: Did they answer you?
WQ: Yeah, they did in fact (laughs). That’s a bit disturbing I guess, but it seemed quite normal at the time.
NDT: Did you do a lot of research on the Beatles? And Liverpool?
WQ: I already knew a lot about them from being an obsessive fan, but I checked and re-checked a lot of details about their gigs, equipment, schedule, and stuff like that. It gave me a great excuse to buy a bunch of Beatles books that I’d had my eye on for a while. As for Liverpool, yeah, I got maps and tourist books…and Wikipedia was a real help too.
For the dialogue involving the Liverpool characters, I spoke each line out loud in a faux-Beatles accent to see if they sounded authentic. I’ve had some Liverpudlians tell me I got it right, which is a great relief.
NDT: I was amused by the prominence of Marmite in the book. For our North American readers, could you explain what that is?
WQ: (laughs) Sure. It’s a yeast extract, which doesn’t sound very appealing I know. Most people use it on bread or toast with butter. It’s very salty and just about all of my friends in the US who’ve tried it can’t stand it. My kids run when I get out the jar!
NDT: And you like it?
WQ: I love it. There’s always a jar in the house, but I’m the only one who eats it. Being English by birth and being raised by English parents, it was a staple for us. It’s kind of like peanut butter and jelly is for American kids. Marmite is just a part of growing up British and, I have to say with apologies to the Australians, it is much better than Vegemite which is similar, but not in the same league!I’m sureyou remember the Men At Work line from the song Down Under that went, “She just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich” right?
NDT: Yes. I can still picture the video.
WQ: Right, well, I’m thinking the singer (Colin Hay) might have done a lot better with the girl if she’d have given him a Marmite sandwich instead!
NDT: Have you contacted the makers? Maybe they could pay you for the plugs you give them in the book.
WQ: Or at least give me a lifetime supply!
NDT:I thought the relationships between the characters really gave the book its strength. The way Evan and Colin fell into step with each other and bridged the gaps of not only culture, but of time as well.
WQ: Thanks for saying that. Colin and Evan, well, they would have been friends in any situation at any time. Some people just click and they were bound to get along regardless of the surroundings and circumstances. I remember an old album from the early 70’s by an obscure band (the Jaggerz) called “We Went To Different Schools Together” and I think that sums up Evan and Colin pretty well.
NDT: For sure. You seem to know your music, Wilson. I assume it played a big role in your life.
WQ: Absolutely. Every key moment in my youth was immersed in music. I used to study the bands and spent hours reading the liner notes on albums, getting to know all the players, producers, etc. I was most fascinated with the writers of the songs and it all began, at least for people my age, with Lennon and McCartney. They set the bar and I don’t know that anyone will ever surpass it, let alone reach it.
NDT: Are there any current artists you think are rising to the songwriting challenge?
WQ: The Pearlfishers’ David Scott is wonderful. He keeps coming up with amazing songs. Elbow’s in that club for sure and Guy Garvey’s lyrics are first class. Regina Spektor and Chris Martin are two others that come to mind.There are so many great writers out there, but also a lot of junk…and junk seems to rise to the surface much too often these days!
NDT: Agreed. So, will you name some of your favorite bands?
WQ: If you have a few hours (laughs) I could list a ton. In addition to the above, I like a very wide variety of music from Elvis Costello to the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Claude Debussy,Harry Nilsson, Nirvana, Divine Comedy, and on and on. I lean to the rock side of course, but as they say good and bad are the only types of music, which is totally subjective. I really go for English melodic rock and the Beatles are the foundation to be sure. One of the great purveyors of the craft was the band Jellyfish who, although they only made two albums, stand tall in the genre. I wish they’d reunite and I know plenty of other people who agree. Now I think of it, I should have mentioned Andy Sturmer (Jellyfish vocalist/songwriter/drummer) in the book. He’s amazing.
NDT: I am a fan of theirs as well. Speaking of drummers, how do you think Ringo would like your novel?
WQ: I would like to think he’d be happy with it. I think he comes off very well in my descriptions of his style and approach to drumming. He never gets enough credit.
NDT: And Pete Best?
WQ: Ah, I thought you might go there. Well, as I hope I made clear in the book, I am of the opinion that while Pete certainly deserved better treatment than he got, he brought some of it on himself by separating from the others socially. I’m just finishing up Mark Lewisohn’s incredible book Tune In: The Beatles All These Years and he goes into some detail about that same thing. Pete Best is the great tragic figure of modern times, isn’t he? I mean, I don’t know how he made it through, but he seems to have come out the other side all right and appears to be a really nice and gentle soul. I would hope that if he readsmy book, he’ll be fine with it. I meant no offense to Pete.
NDT: Pam’s relationship with Evan was really special for me and I’m sure for others too. It was a love story doomed by time and circumstance, but very special and warm for the brief moments it existed.The tenderness and chemistry between them was truly romantic without being sappy.
WQ: Yeah, Pam was a fun character to write. Kind of every guy’s dream of the perfect woman. I was nervous writing her character and with all the female characters to be honest. I know music and how guys relate to things, but I felt a little out of my depth trying to cover the female points of view. As time went on though, I can say I felt a bit more at ease with Pam, Edith, and Jill.
NDT: You did a great job, Wilson. Actually, unlike many books about the rock world, I think yours is very sympathetic to women and that thought is shared by several of my friends.
WQ: That’s a relief. Thanks.
NDT: It’s the truth. Back to the music, I was impressed to see that you weaved the song Stardust into the book. You only used the lyrics to the first verse and they fit so perfectly at that point in the story. You mentioned Evan being a big fan of the song, so I assume that applies to you as well?
WQ: In spades. I share Evan’s belief that the combination of the writing and performance in the Nat King Cole version of the song represents quite possibly the finest song ever recorded, especially that opening verse. It breaks me up every time I hear it and, in fact, they used that exact version and verse in the intro of the film My Favorite Year.
NDT: I love that movie. One of Peter O’Toole’s best moments in my opinion.
WQ: Mine too. Love it and that opening just tears me apart. Stardust indeed. It’s a magic song and creates such a mood and I felt that it needed to be in the story. Even though the music isn’t in the book, obviously, the lyrics stand just as tall on their own. What a marriage of words and music that song represented. I could go on and on and, in fact, I am.
NDT: No problem. Speaking of films, I would think that this book lends itself very easily to the silver screen.
WQ: I agree. Now, if we can just get Spielberg or Scorsese on board! Actually, I’d love to find a filmmaker out there who’d be interested. It would have to be someone with a good feel for the time and place. If only it were easy to get a multi-million dollar production together, I think people of all ages would enjoy the story.
NDT: I was going to mention that earlier. This book appeals to a wide variety of people and those of many different ages. That says something.
WQ: That’s nice of you to say.
NDT: Well, it’s the truth. I’ve noticed that you have the same passion when you talk about the story that I felt when I read the book. I have to ask, is there a sequel in the works?
WQ: Well, I’ve thought about it, but I’m not sure yet. I think there’s a story to be told about what happens with Evan after the Liverpool experience, but part of me thinks maybe it’s best to let it rest. I’m picking the old brain for the next book, but right now I’m just letting various ideas float in and out. So, the answer isa definite maybe.
NDT: Fair enough.Before we finish, I need to ask if there’ll be any personal appearances in the near future. I know a lot of Beatles fans who would love to chat with you about the book in person. Anything planned?
WQ: Nothing yet, but I’m sure that will be on the agenda soon. I’d love to do a book tour and I’m hoping to pack my bags in the near future.
NDT: Wilson, it’s been a pleasure talking with you. Strawberry Fields For Evan is the kind of book that one could read many times without tiring of the story. As others have said, the book makes you feel as though you’re really there in that time and place with all those incredible characters. It just feels good. I would also add that it’s not just for Beatles fans. It’s a story that can touch many hearts. Thanks for spending this time and I look forward to future books.
WQ: It’s been my pleasure. Thanks for everything and all the best to everyone who got the book. Cheers!