A conversation with Australian author Richard Flanagan about his latest book “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.” The Man Booker Prize-winning novel is based on his father’s experience as a slave laborer in a Japanese POW camp during World War II.
From Chaucer to John Bunyan, pilgrimages have always had a place in English literature. In a new novel, Harold Fry is a henpecked, 65-year-old, recently retired man living in a small town in Devon, England. When a letter arrives from a former colleague who is dying, He responds with a leap of faith, which surprises even him. Without premeditation, wearing a flimsy pair of boat shoes and a light jacket, he sets off to walk the length of England, believing his friend won’t die while he walks. “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,” is a debut novel by actress-turned-playwright Rachel Joyce. She joins Diane to discuss her story about an ordinary man doing something extraordinary.
- Rachel Joyce award-winning writer of more than 20 plays for BBC Radio 4 and former actress, performing leading roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce. Copyright © 2012 by Rachel Joyce. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" is a debut novel by British actress turned playwright, Rachel Joyce. Last week, it was long listed for Britain's most prestigious literary award, the Man Booker Prize. She joins me in the studio to talk about her story of an ordinary man on an extraordinary journey. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. If you'd like to send an email, it's firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning to you, Rachel.
MS. RACHEL JOYCEGood morning to you.
REHMSo good to have you here, and congratulations on being long-listed for the Booker Prize. That must have been just thrilling for you.
JOYCEIt's completely thrilling. I can't actually quite get used to the idea is the problem. I sort of -- I have four children, two of whom are teenagers, and my teenagers are always looking at themselves in the mirror to check that they're still, you know, the same people they were a few minutes ago.
REHMOh, I love it.
JOYCEAnd I feel like that about this news, that I just have to keep checking that it hasn't gone away while I'm not looking.
REHMDid they telephone you?
JOYCEI had a phone call, completely out of the blue. I couldn't believe.
REHMHow wonderful. And this your debut novel.
REHMYou started writing this for your father. Tell us what was going on.
JOYCEI started writing this originally as a radio play. About seven years ago when my dad was dying of cancer, and he just told us that there was nothing else that could be done, he'd had a lot of operations...
JOYCE...and he'd really, really fought it. He was a very brave man. And right at the end, you know, he was reduced and reduced, and there was really nothing left to be done, and I started secretly writing this for him, knowing that my dad would never hear the play, and I was right, he didn't ever hear the play, and he never knew that I was doing it either. But I think I was sort of doing what I do, which was I was writing him a present. So that's how I think of it. It's a little present to my dad. And when I came to write a book, it seemed a very obvious place to go back to because there was so much I still wanted to say, and so yes. Again, it's for my dad.
REHMDid you have a chance to say what you wanted to say to your father while he was alive?
JOYCEDo you know, I didn't, but he knew I loved him. So he was a very -- like Harold Fry, the hero of the book, he was a very particular kind of Englishman, and I think that particular kind finds it very difficult to say what they feel, and because they find it so difficult to express what they feel, it brings out the same thing in you. And, I mean, I respected that in him, and I didn't really want to tread on it. So no, we didn't really ever say those big things, but he knew. He knew. Of course he knew.
REHMHarold Fry is henpecked.
REHMAnd we really don't learn until much later in the book just why that tension exists between him and his wife, or even why he feels somehow the need to get away. But tell us about this journey, and perhaps the best thing you might do is read for us.
JOYCEWell, I'd love to. I've got a little passage here which is right from the opening pages of the book.
JOYCESo to set it up a tiny bit, Harold has received a letter from a friend he hasn't seen for 20 years, saying that she's dying, and he writes a reply, goes to the post box to post it, and finds that he can't quite let go. And then he finds himself in a phone box instead, and this is what happens. "Small clouds sent shadows scurrying across the land. The light was smoky over the distant hills, not with the dusk, but with a map of space that lay ahead. Harold pictured Queenie dozing at one end of England, and himself in a phone box at the other with things in between that he didn't know and could only imagine.
JOYCE"Roads, fields, rivers, woods, moors, peaks and valleys, and so many people. He would meet and pass them all. There was no deliberation, no reasoning. The decision came in the same moment as the idea. He was laughing at the simplicity of it. Tell her Harold Fry is on his way. All she has to do is wait, because I'm going to save her, you see. I will keep walking, and she must keep living. Will you say that? The voice said she would. Was there anything else? Did he know visiting hours for instance? Parking restrictions?
JOYCE"He repeated, I'm not in a car. I want her to live. I'm sorry, did you say something about your car? I'm coming by foot from South Devon all the way to Berwick-upon-Tweed. The voice gave an exasperated sigh. It's a terrible line. What are you doing? I'm walking he shouted. I see, said the voice slowly, as if she has picked up a pen and was jotting this done. Walking. I'll tell her. Should I say anything else? I'm setting off right now. As long as I walk, she must live. Please tell her this time I won't let her down.
JOYCE"When Harold hung up and stepped out of the phone booth, his heart was pounding so fast it felt too big for his chest. With trembling fingers, he unpeeled the flap of his own envelope and pulled out the reply. Cramming it against the glass of the kiosk, he scribbled a p.s., wait for me, H. He posted the letter without noticing its loss. Harold stared at the ribbon of road that lay ahead and the glowering wall that was Dartmoor, and then the yachting shoes that were his feet. He asked himself what in heaven's name he'd just done. Overhead, a seagull cracked its wings and laughed."
REHMRachel Joyce reading from her new novel, "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry." And you can join us, 800-433-8850. I'm so delighted to hear your acting voice.
REHMAnd I know that this became a play that was broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 in 2006, and then it was after that you decided to create a novel.
JOYCEIt was. It was. In fact, I've been writing for radio for about 16 years, because the radio drama tradition is sort of very strong in England, and there's an afternoon play that goes out every day. So I've been writing them for a good -- I mean, about 20 I've written, and I've also adapted -- I've been lucky enough to adapt novels like "The Portrait of a Lady," "The Tenant of Wildfeld Hall," you know, those really kind of tremendous classics and you sort of really get the chance to get inside a book and really find out about it.
JOYCEBut alongside that, ever since I was a child, I've written stories and prose, and I never really showed them to anyone because I was just a bit frightened they didn't really look like books. And so when it came to writing this, I decided, I think it was in my 48th year, I thought, all right. I'm going to do it. I am going to write this book now, and this story seemed the very obvious place to go back to.
REHMDid you participate in the acting on the BBC?
JOYCEOf my own plays, no, I never did. In fact, that was how I got into writing plays, because I had performed in them. But when I was writing my own, I felt it was very important that I didn't participate that I sort of sat outside...
REHMMm-hmm, stayed back.
JOYCE...and listened, and listened to the whole thing as opposed to, you know, taking a strand and then thinking it was all about me for instance, you know, which could be quite dangerous.
REHMWell, I want you to know that when Nancy Robertson, the producer, handed me the book, and her script, I started reading the book, and she came back into my office about an hour and 15, hour and a half later, and I was crying.
REHMAnd she said, what's the matter? And I said, I've just finished reading this book. It is a beautiful book, and I do congratulate you, truly.
REHMHarold Fry sets out, and he meets a great many people along the way.
JOYCEHe does. He does. He does. And I'm -- I suppose I am, like many writers, like many people, I'm a people watcher. In fact, I was just sitting outside earlier, and I thought, I am most happy sitting outside a café just watching the world go by, and I, you know, I notice things and I see things, and I was also remembering something I haven't remembered for years, which is when I was a child my mother had an aunt, and I don't know why, but she used to call me the window girl.
JOYCEAnd I thought, that's exactly -- that is, I think I have turned out -- maybe I'm a window woman, now, I don't know. But that's how I still think of myself. I love watching.
REHMTell me about Harold's wife.
JOYCEAbout Maureen. Maureen is, again, maybe quite an English creation, I don't know. But they have gone through something at the beginning of the book. We don't know what it is, but their relationship when we first discover them is obviously a very tired, prickly thing. And Maureen at one point realizes about herself that even when she thinks something nice about Harold, by the time it gets to her mouth, it's become something nasty. But that's just become the habit of the way that they are with one another.
REHMAnd he's quite respectful, but keeps his distance...
REHM...knowing that whatever he might say or do might elicit some negative response from her.
JOYCEYes. Yes. They've become so careful and so, I mean, they're living separate lives really, but within the same space.
REHMRachel Joyce. We're talking about her new book, "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry." Of course, we'll take your calls in a bit, after a short break. Stay with us.
REHMHarold Fry is on a journey in Rachel Joyce's new novel. And she titles the book "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry." He's on a trek all the way through England to see his friend Queenie. He hasn't seen her in 20 years, but he has received a letter from her saying goodbye and that she is going to die. And he must see her. He feels that as he walks, he can keep her alive. Tell us about Queenie, Rachel.
JOYCEQueenie Hennessy is a very old friend of Harold's from his days working in the brewery, from which he's now retired. And as the book progresses and as Harold walks, he enables himself to remember more about his past. All those things he's kept locked away that he sat on that he's even forgotten come flooding back to him in a way that I think does happen when we take ourselves sometimes out of our context and we just put our feet on the ground.
JOYCEYeah, just walk. So Queenie Hennessy is an old friend. And without wanting to give too much away, we discover why and really why a person would walk all that way for somebody and what is the nature of that friendship. But it was very important for me that this is a book about ordinary people and that Queenie, too, is a very ordinary woman, as are all the people that Harold meets. It's just that then we begin to discover that there are extraordinary things going on beneath the surface.
REHMDo you think that in any way had Maureen, his wife, been jealous of Queenie?
JOYCEI think there was that, yes. I think the husband -- a moment in the past where the husband -- a flicker of jealousy. And that's what has made Maureen do something that she too realizes she regrets. But all, I think, emotions, jealousy -- all the -- you know, love, they can somehow be more tangled than we allow them to be. And we can be jealous without realizing the real nature of the jealousy, you know. And I think that's something that Maureen comes to realize about herself at the end.
REHMI think what fascinated me so much about this book, Rachel, was that in very plain straight forward simple sentences you were able to weave such a complicated novel with so much underneath. I mean, clearly this is a man who hasn't spoken very much in the last few years in his home. His wife has been almost contemptuous of him. So as he walks he begins to meet various characters. Tell us about somebody just waving from a window and what that does for him.
JOYCEDo you know -- the person I think you're thinking of is somebody in particular who waves from her window and she's actually a friend of mine. The book is woven with things that I know and love. And -- because I felt that was the thing I could do and that was the best I could do really was to be honest. So my children pop in it. And somebody asked me the other day if my children have read it. And the truth is they've only read it in order to find out where they pop in it?
REHM...where they are. And there's a dog.
JOYCEYeah, there is a dog. A dog pops up in it. And Harold goes through places I know. So lots of people he encounters along the way, all people that I have seen and maybe I've heard a little something. And then I've gone on somewhere else with that idea in my mind. But it often starts with a seed that is true and that's simply because I as a person need to start with something that feels true in order to fly off somewhere else with an idea.
REHMHarold runs into homeless people.
JOYCEHe does, he does. And there was -- I did a great day of research with a man who lives near us. He's a forager, a professional forager. So he -- because there's a part of the book where Harold is pretty much living off the land. So this man took me out for a day and we basically ate leaves, really quite disgusting leaves.
JOYCEI mean, I wasn't ill, but I didn't feel -- I didn't feel fed. But he said to me, you can eat practically anything. And in fact, he had lived as a professional forager in New York for a good few years. But now he lives a rather different life in Strout (sp?), which is not New York by any stretch of the imagination, let me tell you.
REHMI see, I see. Your husband, I gather, is a psychotherapist.
JOYCEHe is, he is.
REHMHow did -- or did he in any way influence the thinking that went into some of these characters?
JOYCEPaul my husband influences a lot of the way I think because Paul and I talk a lot. And we talk about stories, we talk about ideas. It's just that -- the sort of nature of our friendship, relationship, love for one another that we enjoy that stimulation. So I talk to him all the time about what I'm writing. But I am very interested in his work as a psychotherapist. And it's something that sort of happens to Harold but in a more ordinary way, the idea that people feel free to unburden themselves with somebody who isn't perhaps close to them.
JOYCEAnd Harold, as a passerby, which is what he recognizes that he is very early on somehow becomes a carrier of other people's stories. And he respects that.
REHMGive me an example.
JOYCESo people feel free to tell him stories of their lives. There's one woman in particular he meets who looks after his feet. And then she tells him a story about her own relationship. And Harold, at the end of that, realizes that it is a hard thing to meet somebody briefly and know a little more than you originally knew about them and carry a bit of their hurt. But it is also a beautiful thing.
REHMThe other thing that you've just mentioned, Harold's feet, he has only sort of like Dockers on.
JOYCEYes, he does. Yes.
REHMAnd surely they can't protect his feet very well.
JOYCEThey don't protect his feet very well and in the end, he's doing all sorts of things to try and keep them on his feet. But the nature of Harold is that he is a man who is wearing the clothes that he's in when he goes to post his letter. So he doesn't have his cell phone, for instance, with him. And it's just not in his pocket so -- and he doesn't know he's about to start this extraordinary walk. So why would he think to have those things?
JOYCESo I was interested in what happens when you don't have the stuff and the props. And I did for one -- briefly I think I tried writing a scene where Harold went and bought some proper walking boots. And then I thought, no, no, no. No, Harold mustn't buy proper walking boots because he doesn't need them. What he has to realize is actually he can do the walk in the shoes that he's wearing and that's what he does.
REHMDid you ever try to do this walk?
JOYCEI haven't done the whole walk once because having four children if I ever walk, I have to be back in time for the school run. So I felt that if I ever go anywhere, I would only get to the same spot and then I'd have to return and run around fetching them. But I did make sure that the journey passes through a lot of places, you know, I know very well.
JOYCESo Kingsbridge where it starts is where my husband was brought up. And then the journey very neatly comes through where I live. It passes a lot of places I know and love. And then I researched it really thoroughly because I felt that even though the reader doesn't always know exactly which road he's on, I felt they would sort of sniff it if I didn't know. So I felt I owed it to the reader to make absolutely sure it was precise and I knew exactly what was going on. So it is plotted. And several people have said to me that they're going to do it.
REHMThat would not surprise me absolutely. Where does Harold sleep? He has virtually no money.
REHMHe has, as you said, no cell phone. He has only the clothes on his back. He's enduring not only homelessness but varying temperatures. Where, how does he find shelter?
JOYCEWell, he begins, of course, by going the more traditional route and trying sort of cheaper bed and breakfasts. But then he quickly comes to a realization, which is, I think, one that I carry a little bit, that he doesn't want to be inside buildings anymore. And that also part of his walk must involve him not having money and sort of relying on other people in the moment really. So that's when he starts sleeping in garden sheds and on the old bench, under a hedge, in the places that he finds, under a bridge, where he finds himself.
JOYCEBut the thing about Harold is the little rule he is -- is that he will never break a lock, so he won't go where he feels he wouldn't be welcome.
REHMHow much of your father's character is within Harold?
JOYCEI think quite a bit of my father is in Harold. The qualities I mentioned, that sort of difficulty with expressing emotion I think was definitely a quality of my father's. My father also was a man who wore a jacket and tie. So after one of the most painful of the operations I went to see him in the hospital and he was sitting by his bed in a jacket and tie as if everything was going on as usual.
REHMAnd he was getting ready to do whatever (unintelligible) .
JOYCEGo to work, yes. Yes. So those kind of qualities are very definitely my father and that sort of -- that generation. But then I think there are elements of Harold that are probably a bit of me, that sort of feeling of connection with strangers really that I find very moving.
REHMYou know, there's a point at which, even though you say Harold is not a religious man, he begins to attract a following.
REHMNow what's that all about?
JOYCEThat was about me feeling that in this day and age, if somebody did a sort of walk like Harold's, he'd be pretty lucky if he got to do it completely alone because we have such a strong interest in -- certainly in England, we do, in celebrity and social media that I felt if anybody got a whiff of what Harold was doing, it would attract a whole load of attention. And that's what happens to Harold.
JOYCESo unwittingly he attracts a lot of attention and then he has to cope with that. And being the man he is, he's a little bit too nice to tell everybody to go away. But also I felt that was the -- that is part of Harold's challenge is to encounter what he doesn't know and work his way around it. So I felt it had to be -- otherwise he would be walking in a bubble, I felt.
REHMDid you see him or feel him to become kind of a Christ figure?
JOYCEI didn't specifically, but I had a little awareness, I think, in my head, not so -- I mean, I think it's very important that Harold is an ordinary chap. But I think there are moments he shows of extreme humility and connection with other people and understanding. And I don't know whether they're religious or not, but I think they're about what matters to me.
REHMYou know, it's interesting, all of a sudden you bring to mind the character that Peter Sellers played, the gardener.
JOYCEI know what you mean. I know what you mean.
REHMWhen he would simply respond quietly and he really knew virtually nothing.
JOYCEThat's right. And then other people projected onto his...
JOYCE...what he said there in meaning.
REHMIs that kind of what happens here?
JOYCEI don't think it is quite what happens. I was -- I loved that film. Is it "Being There"? Am I right, it's "Being There"?
REHMYes, that's it, "Being There."
JOYCEI really love that film. And I haven't really thought -- it's interesting you say 'cause I haven't really thought of it in this context before. So I think for me the Peter Sellers character is more a character that other people can make what they want of, whereas Harold Fry is more his own man. But he's learning. He's got his eyes wide open.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Rachel Joyce is with me. Her new book is titled "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry." James is in Winston Salem, N.C. Good morning, to you.
JAMESGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
JAMESYou sort of answered my initial question, which was as you were kinda reading the passage, it sounded like Harold just sort of took off without any real thought to what he was preparing for. And I was wondering initially if you had done sort -- this is to Rachel -- any sort of thoughts about what it would take to walk that distance. And then as you answered the question, another one sort of popped into my head.
JAMESIt sounds almost like that Harold is sort of taking a trip not just to save his friend, but sort of to save himself. And I'm kinda wondering -- I have not had -- unfortunately had the pleasure of reading the book, but I definitely will -- what sort of struggles Harold went through of not, quote, you know, sort of dying as he's trying to get to his friend's will. And I'll definitely take my answer off the air.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling.
JOYCEBut that's a very pertinent remark. That's exactly what I intended.
REHMHe finds himself.
JOYCEHe does. It's a journey -- it's not just a physical journey. It's an emotional journey. It's a journey into his past and it's a discovery of who he is.
REHMYou know, I -- let's see -- on Sunday, I went for a four-mile walk and I realize that you do an awful lot of thinking when -- even if you're out in traffic. Even if you're passing people, cars are coming by, your head can be freed. Your mind can be freed. And Harold's is freed exactly the way mine was. I was thinking back to some joyous times. I was thinking about some sadder times, but mostly it was very positive thinking. And I think Harold does that.
JOYCEI think he does. He does. I think he discovers just at the point in life where we might assume that actually everything's decided, that you've retired, you have your marriage, you have your home. You're not really going to change anything else. And at 65, Harold discovers something so completely life affirming and out of everything he's ever thought or felt before. But I think it is about realizing it's never too late basically.
REHMI wonder whether the Bed and Breakfast along that route are going to be prepared for all the tourists who are going to come.
JOYCEWell, it's a lovely thought. I think -- what has been really lovely is that all the bookshelves along the route have started making their own Harold Fry windows.
REHMOh, I love it. And there is a map right here in the front of the book. I love the way this map is drawn. We are talking about "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" with the author Rachel Joyce.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Rachel Joyce is with me. She is an actress, a playwright and now an author of a debut novel, though she did an awful lot of writing as a young child. Her first book is titled "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry." It has been long-listed for the Man Booker award, Britain's most prestigious literary award. We'll go right back to the phones to Indianapolis. Good morning, Sue, you're on the air. Sue, are you there?
REHMGo right ahead, please.
SUEI'm thrilled to be on your show. And I want to congratulate Rachel Joyce on this book. I'm sitting in my living room looking at 22 figures in Rye Pottery of Chaucer's pilgrims. And I'm thinking of that was my favorite period. I taught British literature for 40 years. I love the Chaucerian period. And I'm looking at that -- some of those people were disgusting, just as some of the people that Harold Fry met, got on my nerves so much.
SUEAnd I had done lots of walking on solo trips to Great Britain and it was such a thrill for me to hear her articulate what you -- the people you meet on those walking trips. And I'm just so grateful to have someone who could say so eloquently what I have felt so often. And I think it's wonderful that the book is up for the Booker Prize.
JOYCEThank you very much. That's very, very kind of you. And I appreciate it.
SUEYou're quite welcome.
REHMThanks for calling. Here's an email from Kathy in Spring Valley, Ill. She says, "I'm wondering whether the author has actually lived in Berwick-upon-Tweed or just chose that location because it's the far end of the country. My husband and I spent a wonderful week in Berwick a few years back. It's not a usual tourist stop. We chose it because of its proximity to Lindisfarne and it's a delightful little town with beautiful scenery, lots of history and very welcoming people. I'm glad its profile will be raised by being featured in the book." You are going to take a lot of people to that spot. Isn't that fun?
JOYCEIt's extraordinary. It really -- what's so extraordinary for me still is that it started out as such a small idea in my head. And it was between me and some pieces of paper. And I write in a shed in our garden because it's the only place that's really quiet and not covered in stuff. And for a year it was just me and the shed and this idea battling it out between us. So it's still very moving and extraordinary to me to hear these things.
REHMNow, your four children...
REHM...tell us their ages.
JOYCEMy youngest was 10 on Monday. And then I have a son who's about to be 12. All my children are about to be a different age, so I've got -- my son is about to be 12.
JOYCEAnd then I have a teenage daughter who's about to be 15, and another who's about to be 17.
REHMAnd so you're writing in between all -- not only their schooling, but their activities and the like?
JOYCEAbsolutely, yes. And in fact, it got to the point where the book -- when the book was sort of near completion and was sort of like a huge thing that I couldn't get away from, I'd be up at night trying to finish it. I went to the cinema. I took the children to the cinema and I ended up writing during the film. And then we'd do things like I'd be in the car and the children very sweetly sort of took on this story. So they started spotting men by the road that they thought looked like Harold, and we'd be waving. We'd be waving to Harolds. And then they got very good because I'd suddenly think of something, and obviously I couldn't stop, taking down little notes.
JOYCESo my youngest daughter, Nell, in particular, I've got some beautifully misspelled notes in my bag written by Nell. One of which is, "Mum, what is Harold's attitude," which is woefully misspelled, "to alcohol?" Because I'd thought that's something I've got to deal with. I've got to make sure. And I just had that thought and said, Nell, can you just write this down, and that's what Nell wrote for me.
REHMAnd tell us what Harold's relationship is to alcohol?
JOYCEHarold has a -- feels that it has played a terrible part in his past. And the part of the story of the book is us discovering why. I'm a big believer in us carrying, I don't mean ghosts in a sort of, you know, the sort of spooky sense, but, you know, carrying memories, carrying family, thoughts, feelings, stories sometimes, in the same way that, you know, when Sue was talking about the Canterbury Tales, you know, that we carry myths, bits of poetry, lines of things, they're all sometimes just bubbling around inside us. And that certainly is something that Harold is carrying with his attitude to alcohol.
REHMAnd of course, at one point, a character he's just met describes Harold's journey as a pilgrimage for the 21st century.
JOYCEYes, yes. What I was trying to look at was what is -- what would faith be, could it be now, what are -- you know, these ideas, sometimes these words, in my sort of way. And I didn't want to be sort of vague. I don't want to be antagonistic about it, but I just wanted to look at some things, at some words, at some feelings that we have, and what their context is now. So I felt that Harold in his ordinary way is doing something like a pilgrimage.
REHMTo Greensboro, N.C. Good morning, Lee.
LEEGood morning, Diane. How are you?
REHMI'm fine, thank you, sir.
LEEGood. Thank you for taking my call.
LEESo it seems one of the hardest relationships in our lives is with our father, whether good or bad. And so I wanted to share a story and I wanted to know if the author, you know, came to a time where they needed to express the relationship with their father, and hence in writing the book. So I was getting ready to get married, had a bad relationship with my father. And Ash Wednesday, went to church. And it seems the Holy Spirit put it upon my heart to better my relationship with my father.
LEESo the next day, Thursday morning, I called him and just said, good morning, hello, how are you? Good, everything's fine. Okay. Friday morning, I called and same thing, all right, how are you, good, goodbye. Saturday morning, I called. He said, why are you calling me every day? And, you know, I said, Dad, we just need to -- we need to be father and son. We need fix our relationship and talk. And, you know, I'm getting married, I want you to come to the wedding and be the best man, and so and so forth. And he said he'll think about it. Sunday morning, I called and he was happy. He said he'll come, he'll be -- would love to be the best man. And we ended the phone call, I love you and, you know, talk to you later.
LEESo Monday morning -- it's a little hard story, but Monday morning, my brother called me and my dad had died Sunday night...
LEE...in his sleep. His heart stopped.
REHMOh, I'm so sorry.
REHMBut you know what's lovely about that story is reconciliation and a feeling perhaps of peace on all sides.
JOYCEThat was the word I had in my mind, yeah.
REHMIs that the word that came to your mind?
JOYCEPeace was exactly the word that came to me.
REHMI'm sorry for your loss, Lee. Let's go to Chris in Pentagon City, Va. Good morning to you.
CHRISGood morning, Diane. How are you?
CHRISGood. Thank you for taking my call.
CHRISI had the privilege of spending about four years in the UK and I haven't been able to listen to the entire show today, but...
REHMOh, you've gotta go back and hear the whole thing.
CHRISI'm absolutely dying to. But I was wondering, I heard Berwick mentioned, Berwick-upon-Tweed, and from my experiences over there, I was just curious if there's any sort of -- I haven't gotten a chance to read this either, if there's any distinction drawn to the differences and the type of British people that you might meet even in between places such as Newcastle and Edinburgh where Berwick is, and the very different types of British culture that exists and the different attitudes that you come across with these different people throughout the country, not just, you know, southern Englishmen or northern or a Scottish person or something like that. And I'll take that off air.
REHMAll right. Thanks.
JOYCEThat's a really interesting question. But for me Harold -- because Harold is walking sort of not really -- he doesn't really walk through cities. He becomes somebody who's -- as I said earlier, he's passing by all the time. So that I felt he sort of goes a bit deeper somehow than this sort of thing that makes us identified with a certain place. I don't know if that makes sense. And he also meets a lot of other people who don't always belong to the place in which they've found themselves. So that I felt that he was finding sort of I don't know whether it'd be more types than it would be people specific to a region.
REHMDo you think that he was also dealing with his own anger? I mean, we've created this figure in our conversation...
REHM...of this peaceful man...
REHMBut there's a great deal of anger inside him.
JOYCEThere is. There is a great deal of anger. And how could there not be, because there is that, that is part of loss, isn't it, is a feeling of anger that comes with it. And sometimes it's against us ourselves and sometimes it's with the people that we don't have any more. So I feel anger is definitely part of the feeling that he has.
REHMDid you feel anger when your father died?
JOYCEI did. I did. There's a line in the book when a neighbor of Harold and Maureen's who seems, again, like Harold and Maureen might seem a sort of rather ordinary Englishman. Talks about losing his wife and he says -- he suddenly says to Maureen, I should've raged, I should've raged. And that rage I felt galloping through me sometimes after I'd lost my dad. I really did. But I think that's -- as I said, it's -- big feelings are like that, aren't they? They're not -- they're not sort of nice and comfy things. And that's -- sometimes that's part of what we have to deal with is sometimes we've got a very little amount of language to deal with those enormous seas of feeling.
REHMAnd your mother?
JOYCEMy mother felt the same way. And, again, I've talked a bit about how the book has been inspired by my dad. It's definitely also inspired by watching my mum, watching my mum go out, go along, keep living without the person she really loved and wanted to keep. And I find that very moving. At one point I think my sisters and I said to my mum, we'd like to get you a dog. And she said, a dog, why would I want a dog? I thought -- we just wanted to make everything right, but of course you can't. And she was right, why would she want a dog.
REHMHow long were they married?
JOYCEGosh, they were married a good 40 years.
REHMYou're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a caller in Pittsburgh, Pa. Good morning, Ben.
BENGood morning, Diane. It's awesome to be on the show. I'm a longtime listener.
REHMSo glad to have you with us.
BENI just wanted to ask, there's a great section in a Bill Bryson book I read a long time ago that talked about the culture of walking in England. And I wanted to ask how much that culture had an effect on the book.
JOYCEThat's an interesting question. I mean, I think England is full of people setting out for a walk, but maybe less so now. I don't know whether it's a sort of rather, you know, we've lost touch with it a bit. But it happens that I live on a house right on the edge of a valley. And just down from us there's a public foot path, so I see people setting out for walks a lot. And sometimes it's the same people who walk at the same time every day.
REHMSure, time each day.
JOYCEAnd there are other people who've never walked that way before. But it's quite a lovely thing to live by a public foot path.
REHMAre you a walker?
JOYCEI'm a like Harold walker. I'm not a professional walker in any sense. So I step out of the house in the things that I happen to be wearing.
JOYCEAnd if I've got boots on, I'm lucky. And if I've got a coat on -- actually I've always got a coat 'cause I'm always cold, but that's 'cause I live in England where it's always freezing. And then I just tend to go and, you know, I never know really where I'm going to go. I just head off. And I normally head towards something that appeals to me or pulls my eye or my feet.
REHMDo you and your husband walk together?
JOYCEYes, we do. We like to walk together. But equally both of us -- I mean, I'm very happy in solitude walking. I'm also very happy. I'm a big believer in not having a mobile cell phone when I'm walking. I just like to be able to think as I walk, you know, and see and really not know what's coming next.
REHMDo you ever listen to anything as you walk?
JOYCEI don't tend to, no. I just tend to...
JOYCE...see what's there.
REHMYeah, lovely. And to Columbia, Md. Good morning, John.
JOHNGood morning, Diane. How are you?
REHMI'm fine, thanks.
JOHNGood. I had a -- just to point out something to you, Rachel, that you may or may not be aware. I liked the reference to the possible religious overlay in the Christ-like figure. And there's an association to Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, that comes in very strongly. The man who brought Sufism to the West was Hazrat Inayat Khan. His son, now in his late 70s, Pir Vilayat Khan, has written several books. The latest of which is entitled "Life is a Pilgrimage."
JOHNSo if -- yeah, if you haven't seen it, I think you would love it.
JOYCEI will look out for it. Thank you.
REHMJohn, that's so good. Thank you for calling. We have an email from Larry who says a pet peeve of his is people praising movies without acknowledging that they began as books. "Being There," he said, was closely adapted from "Being There" by Jerzy Kosinski. Rachel Joyce will someday soon find her book referred to as Sam Mendes "Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry." Is this to become a film?
JOYCEIt has been optioned, yes. But I'm in a lucky position because it's sort of done -- it's done quite well in the UK, so I'm able to be a producer on it, so...
REHMRachel Joyce, you will I'm sure before too long see a version of this beautiful book "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry." Congratulations.
JOYCEThank you. Thank you so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Megan Merritt, Lisa Dunn and Rebecca Kaufman. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones.
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