Interview with Frank Egerton

9:00am Thursday 27th January 2011

By Gill Oliver

The village of Bampton, used for the filming of TV series Downton Abbey, now features in a rather different fictional story. A fight for democracy involving mutiny, courage and betrayal that took place almost four centuries ago is one of the main inspirations for Frank Egerton’s novel, Invisible.

Clayfield, the fictional village where the main action is set, is based on Bampton, where he lives with his wife Jess.

“Clayfield is not too dissimilar to Bampton, but I have changed the geography and taken other liberties to suit my purposes.”

The Levellers’ Day celebrations in Burford and other parts of the county each May are a key element in his story of obsessive love and loss. In 1649, at the tail end of the English Civil War, a group of disgruntled soldiers who called themselves The Levellers were captured at Burford by Cromwell’s heavily-armed cavalry. The prisoners, herded into the church, were later taken out and executed, an event that effectively marked the end of their campaign for liberty and equality. “I’ve been to Levellers Day and was interested in the socialist side of things,” said Mr Egerton, 52.

Ownership of land, a key strand that runs through the narrative, has particular resonance for him. He spent three years at Cirencester college studying farm management, followed by another three as a land agent as an apprenticeship to taking over the family farm.

“I grew up on farms in Gloucestershire and then Wiltshire and assumed my future would be farming with my father, but it never worked out,” he said. He quit his job in 1994 to read English at Keble College which led to reviewing for publications such as The Times, Times Literary Supplement, Spectator and Financial Times. When not working on his books, he is librarian at the Latin American centre of the Bodleian Library and teaches creative writing at Oxford University's department of continuing education. The decidedly unglamorous topic of eating disorders is a central theme of Invisible. The main female character struggles with bulimia and he says his desire to write about it was sparked by watching a close friend’s similar battle.

“A friend had a chronic eating disorder which she began to confront in her mid-30s after living with it for 20 years.

“But when she finally got treatment, nothing was tailored to someone of her age.

“It is something that is not really talked about. People know about the acute form that happens to teenagers but adult sufferers do not get much attention.”

While researching the book, he was surprised by the number of people who confided they had experienced some type of obsessive compulsive disorder or cutting.

He added: “Using these experiences and the fact that I went through a mild form of OCD in my teens, I built up a composite picture. But I wanted to broaden the book to look at obsession in all its many forms.”

The lead male character’s tunnel vision is focused on creating the perfect real ale and building a pub chain. Egerton credits his insight into brewing to his friendship with the “late, great and much-missed” Chris Moss, founder of the Wychwood Brewery and the man behind its most popular ale, Hobgoblin.

While writing his debut novel The Lock, he was based in Osney Island, his home for 14 years and he describes the book as a celebration of that area. He believes digital and print-on-demand books, offer unlimited opportunities for independent publishers and writers. The Lock, first published as an ebook, is also a print-on-demand paperback. He made a decision to publish Invisible himself, set up StreetBooks for the purpose and now plans to add other writers to the stable. “My interest is in artisan publishing which involves high-quality regional fiction,” he explained As someone who is fond of a pint or two, particularly Old Hooky and Hobgoblin, he likes to compare digital and print-on-demand books with micro-breweries.

Both, in his opinion, are a heady brew of tradition and passion, powered by the wonders of new technology.

* Invisible is published by StreetBooks at £9.99.

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