"Life is like a rollercoaster ride, full of ups and downs."
So says Tom Grey, a man who has been on a down for as long as he cares, or dares, to remember. But with his 50th birthday fast approaching, he feels a burning need to experience an 'up' again, to recpature his lost youth, to feel like he is living, not existing, to make a memory.
He needs an adventure. But if he is to achieve all that he wants to, this can't be any old adventure, it has to be the proverbial 'big one'. And with that in mind, perhaps the actual Big One will fit the bill! So begins an adventure to drive from Weston-super-Mare, in the South West of England, to Blackpool on a day trip, purely to ride one of Europe's tallest and fastest rollercoasters.
The feel-good factor rides high in this gentle, young-at-heart, British comedy about the misadventures of four friends who are old enough to know better, but who stubbornly refuse to grow up, unless they can do it without growing old.
After many months in the planning, I took a week off work in 2003, sat down on the Sunday morning, and by the end of the following Friday, I had written The Big One from start to finish, which I was quite proud of. I did tout it around a few publishers and agents, using the old "send three chapters" approach. One did actually ask to see the whole thing, and told me he thoroughly enjoyed it, but felt that it was "too English" for them to take on as they would not be able to generate enough overseas sales.
A few friends had read it, and by all accounts, enjoyed it for the most part. The general consensus is that it’s a little slow to get going, but then is an amusing read. I liken it to one of my favourite funny films, Home Alone. There’s the establishment of character and slightly prolonged scene-setting, but then the "action" of the bungled break-in gets underway. The Big One is similar - getting into the minds of the characters before the road-trip itself gets under way.
My first "reviewer", Kieron,had promised to read one chapter at a time, and provide me with a no-punches pulled critique. When I chased him up for this, he told me he was already on chapter 12; not because it was a tense, gripping, edge-of-the-seat, page-turner, but because he said it was a laid-back, effortless, read, written in such a way that he had got to chapter 12 almost without realising he’d read so much. And I liked that.
As for the idea; well, my best friend at the time was my work colleague, although he was 20 years older than me. I made a throwaway comment in the office one morning about having seen a TV programme showing this awesome rollercoaster at Blackpool. Before I knew it, a trip had been arranged. On June 6 1998, four of us, me by far the youngest, did, indeed, drive from Weston to Blackpool and back in a day (It’s a good four hour drive up at least!) with the sole aim of riding The Big One. Afterward, we retreated to the bar of a hotel called The Princess, which my travelling companions were nostalgic about, having been there many years before. We had a photo taken of the four of us standing at the bar of this hotel (see below left).
A few days later, I saw my parents, and they asked if I had enjoyed the trip. I showed them the photo. It was the first time my parents had seen these people I was now socialising with, and my mum’s first remark was something like "you went on a rollercoaster with them? But they’re all too old." And the seed of the story was sown! Why should they be too old to ride a rollercoaster?
So I fleshed out the characters, thought of a few misadventures for them to have on the way, and it became a kind of British "road movie" story, with strong tonal influences from David Nobbs’ Reggie Perrin stories and, I suppose, a touch of The Last Of The Summer Wine about it.
My single biggest problem in writing it, was the plot. My dilemma was simple; would they get to Blackpool? If they did make it there, would they actually ride the ride, or bottle out? And if they did ride the ride, would we, the readers, experience it with them? Would the book end with them about to get onto it, or would we get a full description of it? I went to bed one night, almost ordering myself to dream of going to watch The Big One as a movie in a cinema. And that’s exactly what I did. And I saw the "ending" on screen, woke up and scribbled it down.
The first draft was finished in 2003. Three years later, I revised it, with the police chase scene being substantially re-written, and instead of a lorry full of soap suds, I took it into a toy factory. A year later, I made some more revisions because I realised that, during the journey, the one character we saw the least of was Tom Grey - the star of the story. So I had to change that.
In the course of preparing the book for publication through Lulu, I made a few more minor revisions and then, in January 2015, I did one more substantial revision, adding ten pages in total to the book, with a total re-write of a scene involving two characters in a woodland skirmish.
My "definitive" version was completed in January 2015. The difference between this and the other two of my "original" three books to be published is that there’s no sci-fi element at all; while it is all very silly and daft, everything that happens in The Big One could, very easily, happen in the "real world".
My aim is for The Big One to be the first part of a loosely-connected trilogy, the link between all three books being the fictional "Jolly Roger" public house in Weston-super-Mare, where the characters of all three books drink.