UK 2008 cover

Jonathan Coe writes:

“My grandfather, James Kay, was a great influence on me when I was growing up. He was a warm, funny man, slightly to the left politically, a great reader and a fan (like me) of good comedy. (One of my best early memories is of watching Tom and Jerry cartoons with him, the tears of laughter running down our faces.) He became ill with lung cancer in his eighties, and died in 1985.

I was very affected by his death: it was pretty much the first thing that made me realise my childhood had finally ebbed away, and it made me profoundly nostalgic for all the time I'd spent with my grandparents in Shropshire, where they had retired to a pretty country house called The Rise, just outside Newport. Close to this house was a large, rambling, red-bricked farm built in the early nineteenth century, which belonged to my great uncle. This farm always seemed to me an impossibly romantic and mysterious place, with a network of cellars and attics and acres of shady, overgrown grounds, and I always jumped at the chance of visiting it.

After my grandfather died I began to wonder how I could memorialise this Shropshire part of my family history in fiction. I conceived of a series of interlinked stories and novellas and novels which might have the general title An Easterly Wind. In the mid-1980s I made some early, very fragmentary notes towards this project: I imagined a novel which would begin with a family party, in the garden of a house on the outskirts of Birmingham, where the attention of the guest would be drawn to a young, fair-haired girl who would be blind, and whose relationship to the other family members would not at first be understood.

The idea was abandoned for a while as I worked on my other novels. Then, in 1990, I was commissioned to write a short story for a Christmas issue of the (now defunct) newspaper The Sunday Correspondent. I wrote a story called ‘Ivy and Her Nonsense’ which took place over Christmas in two Shropshire houses which were closely based on my grandparents' and my great uncle's. The paper's literary editor didn't like the story and it wasn't published – at least not until 1995, when an expanded version appeared in a boxed set of ten short stories published to celebrate Penguin's 60th anniversary.

None the less, this story sowed the seeds for The Rain Before It Falls, by introducing the characters of Gill and her brother David, and the Christmas party which it describes is precisely revisited in the fifteenth section of that novel. Because the story is now out of print, I've posted it on this site in the ‘Odds and Ends’ section.

Apart from this, I've discussed the various sources of inspiration for The Rain Before It Falls many times in interviews. Among other things, of course, it is meant to be a sustained hommage to the novels of Rosamond Lehmann – the clue is in the main character's name – which I first encountered in the 1980s, and which I've written about in this Guardian article.

The novel also owes a big debt of inspiration to Theo Travis, whose album of solo, multitracked flute improvisations Slow Life was playing on my iPod during much of the writing.”

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jonathan coe portrait imageJonathan Coe was born on 19 August 1961 in Lickey, a suburb of south-west Birmingham. His father worked in the motor industry as a research physicist; his mother was a music and PE teacher.
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