Author Q&A:
Nathan O’Hagan

The Last Sane Man On Earth
(Armley Press)

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This book sees you return to anti-hero Gary Lennon. What compelled you to revisit this character?
I felt like I had unfinished business with Gary. The World Is (Not) A Cold Dead Place was deliberately open-ended. It left some semblance of hope and the possibility of redemption for Gary, and lots of readers have wanted to know what might have happened to him since. I’d always wanted to revisit him, but wasn’t sure how. I didn’t just want to write another version of TWINACDP, I wanted him to have grown in some way, or for his world to have expanded somehow, but I wasn’t sure how to approach that. Then, over the last few years or so, there have been so many seismic changes in this country, politically and socially, that I wanted to address in fiction but, again, wasn’t sure how. Eventually I thought that it would be interesting to explore some of those issues through Gary’s eyes. TWINACDP could probably be set at just about any point in the last 10 or 15 years, and I wanted The Last Sane Man On Earth to feel like a novel very much of its time, while retaining those hopefully timeless and universal themes. I also wanted to revisit some of the supporting characters, not just the notorious Buckle, but I wanted to give some characters that were almost incidental in the first book more of a voice this time round. Obviously Gary is the main protagonist, and the vast majority of the story is told from his perspective, but I wanted to give a couple of other characters room to breathe too.

Like you Gary suffers from OCD and some of his habits about cleanliness are strangely relatable to the general population now. Is Covid-19 Gary’s worst nightmare realised or vindication?
Probably both. It’s the kind of thing he’s been waiting for his whole life, and confirms his worst feelings and suspicions about other people. The idea that he could pick up a potentially fatal virus just from being in relative proximity to another person would be like all his worst nightmares coming true. On the other hand, he’d have been well prepared in terms of cleaning and hygiene products and routines. While everyone else was tearing each other apart trying to get their hands on the last bottle of antibacterial spray on the shelf, Gary would be sat at home, smug in the knowledge that he has several months’ worth at any one time. And while lockdown has been difficult for most of us, being confined to home would suit him perfectly. He’d be strongly advocating for a strengthening of restrictions rather than any loosening of them.

Albeit reluctantly, Gary has climbed the rungs of the social ladder in this book. He’s moved from Birkenhead to Liverpool, got a job at a tech company and is living with his girlfriend but has major imposter syndrome and sets out on a path of self-destruction. Is society too prescriptive in its idea of success and how could we better accommodate people like Gary?
I think it is. Our spectrum for gauging success is still a very narrow one, and it doesn’t seem to have changed or evolved, even as other aspects of society have. We still see it in terms of the attainment of wealth and property, and that spectrum needs broadening. Success for some is just holding down a job, any job. Beating an addiction is as great an achievement as earning six figures. People should feel able to gauge their success by their own metric.

At his lowest ebb in this book Gary finds himself on a drunken rampage through Birkenhead where the kebab shops and dive bars stand in stark contrast to the hipster coffee shops and burger bars in Liverpool. Is there a chasm between the city and the rest of Merseyside and how does that affect the people who live there?
Having lived in the Midlands the last 10 years or so, I might not be the best placed person to judge that but, whenever I go back home and visit the city, I’m struck by the level of gentrification. That’s not an entirely bad thing, but it’s an odd parallel with what is happening to most town centres. Birkenhead is an interesting example of this, being surrounded by wealthier, more conservative parts of the Wirral, with which it doesn’t have that much in common, and being so close geographically to Liverpool city centre, a place many people in Birkenhead would have far more affinity with than the rest of the Wirral, even if that’s not fully reciprocated.

Gary takes aim at far right extremists, hipsters and misogynists with his vigilante activities. Is writing your equivalent and do you set out to be deliberately subversive in a way you can’t be in daily life?
Definitely, and not just in the more extreme things that he does in this book, but in his everyday dealings with other people across the two books. Many of us would like to just shut someone down or walk away from them if they’re being boring or annoying, but we don’t because of social conventions, and because most of us are considerate of other people’s feelings. When you see things that enrage you or that you see as unjust, part of your thinking shifts to what you would like to see happen to that person, or what you would like to do if you had the opportunity. Part of me would love to do the kinds of things Gary does in this book, but I wouldn’t because I’d be afraid of the consequences. Fiction is a good way to vicariously live out the fantasies that would probably lose you friends or even get you arrested.

You don’t appear to shy away from committing your darkest imaginings to the page. Does anything get censored?
Very little, to be honest. I think you just have to be true to the characters and situations you’ve created, however extreme the places that takes you to may be. I don’t think I’m gratuitous, but I do often write about extreme characters and situations. I’m a believer in the “publish and be damned” philosophy. When writing about certain subjects, I think, if I’m making people a bit uncomfortable, then I’ve sort of done my job.

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