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  • Written by Patrick Gale
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  • Rough Music
  • Written by Patrick Gale
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Written by Patrick GaleAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Patrick Gale


List Price: $12.99


On Sale: January 27, 2010
Pages: 384 | ISBN: 978-0-307-49031-5
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
Rough Music Cover

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Beautifully written and deeply compassionate, Rough Music is a novel of one family at two defining points in time. Seamlessly alternating between the present day and a summer thirty years past, its twin stories unfold at a cottage along the eastern coast of England.

Will Pagett receives an unexpected gift on his fortieth birthday, two weeks at a perfect beach house in Cornwall. Seeking some distance from the married man with whom he's having an affair, he invites his aging mother and father to share his holiday, knowing the sun and sea will be a welcome change for. But the cottage and the stretch of sand before it seem somehow familiar and memories of a summer long ago begin to surface.

Thirty-two years earlier. A young married couple and their eight year-old son begin two idyllic weeks at a beach house in Cornwall. But the sudden arrival of unknown American relatives has devastating consequences, turning what was to be a moment of reconciliation into an act of betrayal that will cast a lengthy shadow.

As Patrick Gale masterfully unspools these parallel stories, we see their subtle and surprising reflections in each other and discover how the forgotten dramas of childhood are reenacted throughout our lives.

Deftly navigating the terrain between humor and tragedy, Patrick Gale has written an unforgettable novel about the lies that adults tell and the small acts of treason that children can commit. Rough Music gracefully illuminates the merciful tricks of memory and the courage with which we continue to assert our belief in love and happiness.

From the Hardcover edition.


She walked across the sand carrying a shoe in either hand, drawn forward as much by the great blue moon up ahead as by the sound of the breaking waves. The moon had a ring around it which promised or threatened something, she forgot what exactly.

The chill of the foam shocked her skin. She stood still and felt the delicious tug beneath her soles as the water sucked sand out from under them. The water was as cold as death.

If I stood here long enough, she thought, just stood, the sea would draw out more and more sand from under me and bring more and more back in. Little by little I’d sink, ankles already, knees soon, then waist, then belly.

She imagined standing up to her tingling breasts in sucking, salty sand. When the first, disarmingly little wave struck her in the face, would she panic? Would she, instead, laugh, as they said, inappropriately?

She dared herself not to move.

The moon was nearly full. She could see the headland on the far side of the estuary mouth and its stumpy, striped lighthouse. She could see the foam flung and drawn, flung and drawn about her. He was striding across the little beach behind her; she could tell without turning. Would his hands touch her first or would she merely feel the jacket he draped about her? Would he call out from yards away or would she hear his voice soft and sudden when his lips were only inches from her neck?

Her resolution not to turn stiffened her spine. Watching weeds and foam rush away from her for long enough made it feel as though the sea and beach were motionless and it was only she who was gliding back and forth on mysterious salty tracks.

I love you. She felt the words well up. I love you more than words can say. Which was true, of course, because when she felt his steadying hands about her shoulders at last and the brush of his lips on her neck, all that came from her mouth was, “I turn you. Turn my words away?”


“Actually I feel a bit of a fraud being here,” Will told her. “I’m basically a happy man. No. There’s no basically about it. I’m happy. I am a happy man.”

“Good,” she said, crossing her legs and caressing an ankle as if to smooth out a crease she found there. “What makes you say that?”

“That I’m happy?”

She nodded.

“Well.” He uncrossed his legs, sat back in the sofa and peered out of her study window. He saw the waters of the Bross glittering at the edge of Boniface Gardens, two walkers pausing, briefly allied by the gamboling of their dogs. “I imagine you usually see people at their wit’s end. People with depression or insoluble problems.”

“Occasionally. Some people come to me merely because they’ve lost their way.”

He detected a certain sacerdotal smugness in her tone and suspected he hated her. “Well I’m here because a friend bought me a handful of sessions for my birthday. She thinks I need them.”

“Do you mind?”

He shrugged, laughed. “Makes a change from socks and book tokens.”

“But you don’t feel you need to be here.”

“I . . . I know it sounds arrogant but no, I don’t. Not especially. It’s just that it would have been rude not to come, even though she’ll be far too discreet to ask how I get on with you. If I didn’t come, I’d be rejecting her present and I’d hate to do that. I love her.”

“Her being?”

“Harriet. My best friend. She’s like a second sister but I think of her as a friend first and family second.”

“You have more loyalty to friends than family?”

“I didn’t say that. But you know how it is; people move on from family and choose new allies. It’s part of becoming an adult. I feel I’m moving on too. A little late in the day, I suppose.”

“Your best friend’s a woman.”

“Is that unusual?” She said nothing, waiting for him to speak. “I suppose it is,” he went on. “I’m just not a bloke’s bloke. I never have been. I find women more congenial, more evolved. I mean I’m perfectly happy being a man, but I find I have more in common with women.”

“Such as?”

He did hate her. He hated her royally. “The things we laugh at. The things we do with our free time. And, okay, I suppose you’ll want to talk about this—”

“I don’t want to talk about anything you don’t want to talk about.”

“Whatever. We also share sexual interests. I mean we like the same thing.”

“You’re homosexual?”

“I’m gay.” He smiled, determined to charm her, but she was impervious and vouchsafed no more than a wintry smile. “I told you. I’m a happy man.”

“Your sexuality isn’t a problem for you.”

“It never has been. It’s a constant source of delight. Not a day goes by when I don’t thank God. If anything I’m relieved. Especially now my friends are all having children.”

“You never wanted children.”

“Of course. Sometimes. Hats jokes that if she dies I can have hers. But no. The impulse came and went. There are more than enough children in the world and I’m not so obsessed with seeing myself reproduced. Besides, one of my nephews is the spitting image of me, which has taken care of that. I love my own company. I don’t think I’m selfish exactly but I’m self-sufficient.”

“What about settling down? You’re, what, thirty-five?”

“Thank you for that. I turned forty earlier this year. I have settled down. I have a satisfying job, a nice flat. I just happen to have settled down alone.”

“And watching all those girlfriends settled with their partners doesn’t make you want a significant other.”

“Oh. I have one of those. Sort of, I suppose. He’s really why I’m here. I made a promise to him. It was a joke really, but I told Harriet and—”

“Tell me about him.”

He paused. Glanced out at the view again. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s private.”

“Whatever you tell me—”

“—is in strictest confidence. Yes. I know. But we’ve barely met, you’re still a stranger to me and I’d rather not talk about him just now. It’s not a painful situation. He’s a lovely man. He makes me happy. But I didn’t come here to talk about him.”

A slight, attentive raising of her eyebrows asked, So what did you come to talk about?

“Shouldn’t we start with my childhood?” he said. “Isn’t that the usual thing?”

“If you like.”

“I warn you. I wasn’t abused. I wasn’t neglected. I love my parents and I loved my childhood. It was very, very happy.”

“Tell me about it.”
Patrick Gale|Author Q&A

About Patrick Gale

Patrick Gale - Rough Music
Patrick Gale was born in 1962 on the Isle of Wight. He is the author of nine novels, including Tree Surgery for Beginners, The Facts of Life, Little Bits of Baby, and Kansas in August, and a collection of stories, Dangerous Pleasures. He lives in north Cornwall, England.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Patrick Gale

Lillian Dean lives in Los Angeles and has written two screenplays
and a whole bunch of book reviews.

I got to know English novelist Patrick Gale in that ineffably modern
way: via e-mail. After I reviewed Rough Music for Hero magazine, I
was assigned to interview Patrick for the next issue. I sent him a series
of e-mails introducing myself and trying to set up a time for a
telephone interview. I knew I had found a friend when I asked him if
he knew the time difference between California and Cornwall and he
responded that he didn't, but he could draw me a map detailing the
route between ancient Rome and Carthage. I then confessed that my
classical education had left me able to conjugate Latin verbs in the
pluperfect tense, but I had a hard time getting around Los Angeles.
Julian's education in Rough Music leaves him equally erudite in arcane
facts but adrift when it comes to understanding his own heart.

Patrick and I scheduled our interview for 11 A.M. on September 11,
2002. And, of course, the world changed forever earlier that morning.
We postponed our interview and a few weeks later, Hero magazine
went out of business. I contacted Patrick to let him know and we kept
chatting--this time about the confusing state of the world and our
own sense of loss. When Ballantine Reader's Circle contacted Patrick
about being interviewed for their trade edition of Rough Music, he
suggested me for the job. I'm so glad he did.

LD: What was the original topic you intended to explore in
Rough Music?

PG: I had originally planned to write about my parents' marriage.
They've been together over fifty years and the dynamics of
their relationship and story fascinates me. So I thought I could
pay them a sort of homage in fiction. Naturally once I started
writing I realized I couldn't possibly tell the unvarnished
truth as it would have been a gross crime against their privacy
and feelings. So instead of writing a family's historical
biography, I aimed at telling its emotional one.

LD: Did the story surprise you as it evolved?

PG: I rarely keep to the story I set out with and in this case I
was deeply surprised. I found myself identifying more and
more closely with Julian/Will until it reached a point where
I was revealing very private things about myself even as I
was shielding my parents' privacy with fictive devices. It's a
truism that first novels are the most autobiographical ones.
There's been a lot of me in all my novels but Rough Music is
by far the most personal.

LD: What inspired you to write two parallel stories?

PG: Most of my novels have fairly complex structures because I
mistrust narratives told from a single character's viewpoint.
To get to the emotional truth of a situation, I need two
or three angles on it, which means two or three narrative
threads. The big inspiration here was my editor at Harper-Collins
in London. She's a real toughie of the old school and
when I ran the initial ideas past her and asked, "Should I do
it this way or should I do it that way?" she snapped, "Do it
the hardest way, darling. That's usually best." So instead of
telling first the past narrative then the present one, as I'd
done in The Facts of Life, I set out to interweave them.

LD: Did you ever feel as if you were writing two different novels
with two separate casts of characters?

PG: The beauty of interweaving the time frames was that it
hugely enriched the initial idea. What began as a story about
a marriage soon turned into a study of memory and our relationship
with our personal histories. I didn't need to spell
out the fact that here was a group of people (Will especially)
who would never cope with the present so long as they deny
the past they're dragging around--because the structure
was doing that for me. But to answer your question, no. I
wasn't writing two novels, I was writing six. In order to ensure
that each character in a book has a narrative that hangs
together, I tend to write "their" chapters consecutively. This
causes terrible headaches when I come to weave the different
strands together.

LD: Your title comes from the old-fashioned practice of a
community making a ruckus near the homes of people
whom they found sexually offensive. Can you talk about the
title and how it relates to Will's and Frances's emotional

PG: Rough Music is about transgressive sex and its consequences.
In both sections of the story a character commits
incestuous adultery and gets caught. Rough music was a
time-honored way in which a community expressed its disapproval
of sexual misconduct. In England there are recorded
instances of this in rural communities as recently as the 1960s.
More recently we have witnessed bloodcurdling scenes in
which communities mobilize against suspected pedophiles
exposed by the tabloids as living quietly in their midst. In
the novel I play around with the resonances of the title too,
so that there's the soul music young Frances dances to on
the beach and the clattering of Roly's sound sculptures as
well as the social clamor that erupts when the two adulterous
liaisons are exposed. I wanted, too, to show how that exposure
might set one character (Will) free to love more
openly, but for another (Frances) only emphasize the extent
to which she is socially trapped.

LD: Memory plays an important role in this story. How has
memory figured in your own life and in the writing of Rough

PG: The novel was full of things I thought I'd made up and when
my mother read them she'd say, "How did you remember
that? That's exactly how it was!" She was a very keen
photographer. Every moment of her marriage and our childhoods
was photographed and stuck into a series of meticulously
kept albums. So I think I not only went to those albums
to research, but--by looking at them all during my childhood
and teens--swiftly reached a point where I couldn't tell
my actual memories from the memories my mother had
recorded. It was amazing, too, how cathartic writing this
story became. When I wrote the chapter where Julian's parents
leave him at the choir school without saying good-bye, I
felt this volcanic anger boil up in me because I remembered
how my mother had done that to me when she left me at my
choir school. So after all these years of never discussing it, I
had to ring her up and yell "How could you have been so
cruel?" And she got all teary and said she'd cried and cried
for days afterwards but had thought it was all for the best.
We both felt so much better after that. I didn't realize until I
got so angry that I'd never really forgiven her for abandoning
my eight-year-old self to a bunch of schoolmasters.

LD: You relate the Greek myth of "Pandora's Box" to the secret
lives of the characters in Rough Music. Can you comment on

PG: As part of my research for getting inside Julian's head, I
reread the books I was reading at his age, and among my favorites
was a well-thumbed book of Greek myths. I've always
found the myth of Pandora far more effective than the
story of Eve as an explanation of how so much sorrow and
sickness got into the world. Like the story of Eve, it begins
Rough Music with a woman being categorically forbidden to do something,
which of course she goes straight ahead and does.
What right-thinking woman wouldn't? It stands to reason
that you should have whatever it is they least want you to
have, because that must be the thing they value most. But
unlike Eve's story, "Pandora's Box" has a touch of humanity
to it, because although her curiosity lets out all the bad
things from the box, she shuts the lid in time to keep hope.
Many of my novels have grim events in them--violent
deaths, suicides, madness--but I like to think that I make
these bearable for the reader by giving the characters reasons
to hope. In Rough Music there was no arguing with the
terrible fate that Alzheimer's has in store for Will's parents,
but I was able to end the novel with Will on the verge of
what might turn out to be real happiness.

LD: Like Julian, you grew up in the shadow of an English prison.
Aside from growing up in a governor's house, have you taken
other facts from your own life and family to tell this story?

PG: Oh yes, and most of them will remain closely guarded secrets.
Julian is emotionally me, that much is true, but his life
in the prison is an amalgam of the things my older brothers
and sisters got up to. I did have an affair with a married
man. And in the middle of an unhappy time in my childhood,
a kind schoolteacher and his wife invited me to stay
with them in their house above a glorious beach in North
Cornwall so that we could all take part in a music festival.
This has far reaching consequences, not least my moving to
Cornwall when I grew up and writing a series of novels set
down there, including Rough Music. As for the music festival,
I'm now on the committee!

LD: Do you have personal experience with Alzheimer's? You
write about Frances's affliction so compassionately.

PG: My mother always tended to have friends much older than
she and, inevitably, I watched several of them become very

Also my grandmother, whom I adored, became horribly
confused and had to be put into a nursing home before she
died. But a lot of Frances's experience of Alzheimer's is
based upon my mother's experience of having several
strokes in her life. She was in a car crash about thirty years
ago, which caused her such severe brain damage she lost the
ability to speak, write, walk, anything. She made an almost
full recovery, apart, tragically, from her ability to play the piano.
As a result, I've always been haunted by the way in
which our personalities, our public personalities at least, are
so rooted in our use of language. When Alzheimer's destroys
that language, or when a stroke does, it's as though the personality
is being torn apart like a cobweb.

LD: One of the themes you explore throughout Rough Music is
forgiveness. Each member of the Pagett family seriously betrays
another at some point during the story, but is subsequently
pardoned. Do you think the Pagett family is
unusual in their capacity for forgiveness?

PG: I hope not. I think the rise of a therapy culture may be creating
a climate in which we're too ready to blame rather than to
forgive. I worry sometimes that we're apt to confuse forgiveness
with forgetfulness. The potency of forgiveness comes
precisely from the fact that it must be done while being
goaded by an unhappy memory. Especially in the context of
relationships and marriage, I fear we're coming to have crazily
high expectations of each other. I'm not saying unhappy wives
and miserable husbands should stay together at all costs, but I
do think a lot more could fashion something lasting, maybe
even, ultimately wonderful from their relationships if they
could stop expecting those relationships to be perfect.

LD: Will is a happy man, despite his loneliness. And Roly has
taught himself techniques to stay focused on the positive.
Do you believe that happiness can be learned? Do you
think of yourself as a happy person?

PG: One of my inspirations for Will and Roly was a documentary
I saw about an Oxford University clinic where it has been
proven that happiness consists largely of learnable techniques.
The idea is basically "Count Your Blessings." Some
of us are lucky in that we develop that habit of stressing the
positive from an early age; others go the other way. But the
bad habit can be unlearned, using much the simple techniques
Roly uses. Before beginning the novel, I was talking
with some friends about my childhood and they asked me
how someone with such a miserable start in life could be so
positive. This made me realize that I did think of my childhood
as basically happy, even though the actual facts of the
case don't tally with my attitude. So I set out, in Will, to explore
someone facing up to just that challenge, someone
whose idea of themselves as basically happy could be shown
to be based largely on self-delusion.

LD: What are you writing now?

PG: I'm working on a novel with an even more complex structure,
effectively four novels in one. It's set in the present in
the far west of Cornwall. It's about two men, two women
and the child who holds them all together. In some ways it's
pretty grim--much as Rough Music is--but it's a hopeful
book too. Having given my childhood a good digging over, I
now seem to be rooting through the murkier corners of my
relationship history

Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. How do the three quotations at the beginning of the novel relate
to your understanding of the book's themes and characters?

2. The novel's alternating chapters underscore the contrast between
children's and adults' perspectives on the world. In what other
ways does the novel suggest that children and adults often have
very different realities?

3. Most of Rough Music is set on and around the beach in Cornwall.
How does the beach--the ocean itself, the shoreline, the sand--
function in the novel?

4. Memory is at the heart of this novel, both in terms of the Pagetts'
recollections of their summer at Beachcomber and Frances's Alzheimer's.
Do you see any connections between these two kinds of
remembering? What kind of personal issues seem to be at stake in
the suppression and failure of memory?

5. What role do nostalgia and homesickness play in the novel?

6. Prisons and various kinds of imprisonment are recurring themes
in Rough Music. Which characters are most concerned with rules
and boundaries? How do family and marriage seem to confine
certain characters?

7. In what ways does language have a capacity to incriminate the
novel's characters? In what ways does it help to liberate them?

8. When Julian frees Lady Percy on the beach, he says, "Go . . .
Quick. Before they can catch you again." What exactly is he trying
to accomplish by releasing his pet? How does this event reflect
his changing sense of the world?

9. How would you describe the betrayals--both intentional and
otherwise--that occur in Rough Music? Do you think the novel
suggests that at least some of these betrayals are inevitable?

10. Skip and Julian's new names represent an attempt to begin new
lives--a reflection of Frances's hopeful "Clean slates all round?"
What do you make of this concept and of the particular name

11. Julian's enrolment into the Barrowcester Choir School is somewhat
mysterious. What do you imagine is behind this dramatic
development? How does Julian's time at the school seem to
shape him?

12. The book plays games with gender roles and with perceived norms
of masculinity and femininity. How do Julian's ideas about his own
sexuality and maleness develop against this background?

13. How would you characterize our expectations for the novel's female
characters? How do they differ from our expectations for
the male characters?

14. What does "Rough Music," the sculpture, signal or represent for
the novel's characters and for us as readers? Do you think the ti-tle
has another significance?

15. How do you feel about the novel's ending? If you were going to
write an afterword, what would it contain?

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