Rachel Joyce: "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry"

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:56
Thanks 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 drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning to you, Rachel.

MS. RACHEL JOYCE

11:07:41
Good morning to you.

REHM

11:07:42
So good to have you here, and congratulations on being long-listed for the Booker Prize. That must have been just thrilling for you.

JOYCE

11:07:53
It'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.

REHM

11:08:06
Oh, I love it.

JOYCE

11:08:08
And 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.

REHM

11:08:13
Did they telephone you?

JOYCE

11:08:15
I had a phone call, completely out of the blue. I couldn't believe.

REHM

11:08:17
How wonderful. And this your debut novel.

JOYCE

11:08:21
Yes.

REHM

11:08:22
You started writing this for your father. Tell us what was going on.

JOYCE

11:08:30
I 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...

REHM

11:08:44
I see.

JOYCE

11:08:45
...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.

REHM

11:09:31
Did you have a chance to say what you wanted to say to your father while he was alive?

JOYCE

11:09:43
Do 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.

REHM

11:10:14
He knew.

JOYCE

11:10:15
Yes.

REHM

11:10:17
Harold Fry is henpecked.

JOYCE

11:10:21
Yes.

REHM

11:10:22
And 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.

JOYCE

11:10:53
Well, I'd love to. I've got a little passage here which is right from the opening pages of the book.

REHM

11:10:58
Good.

JOYCE

11:10:59
So 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

11:11:39
"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

11:12:18
"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

11:12:59
"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."

REHM

11:13:43
Rachel 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.

JOYCE

11:14:09
Oh.

REHM

11:14:10
And 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.

JOYCE

11:14:29
It 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.

JOYCE

11:15:00
But 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.

REHM

11:15:30
Did you participate in the acting on the BBC?

JOYCE

11:15:37
Of 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...

REHM

11:15:48
Mm-hmm, stayed back.

JOYCE

11:15:49
...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.

REHM

11:16:00
Well, 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.

JOYCE

11:16:25
Oh.

REHM

11:16:26
And 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.

JOYCE

11:16:40
Thank you.

REHM

11:16:43
Harold Fry sets out, and he meets a great many people along the way.

JOYCE

11:16:49
He 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.

JOYCE

11:17:21
And 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.

REHM

11:17:29
Tell me about Harold's wife.

JOYCE

11:17:33
About 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.

REHM

11:18:07
And he's quite respectful, but keeps his distance...

JOYCE

11:18:13
He does.

REHM

11:18:13
...knowing that whatever he might say or do might elicit some negative response from her.

JOYCE

11:18:22
Yes. Yes. They've become so careful and so, I mean, they're living separate lives really, but within the same space.

REHM

11:18:31
Rachel 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.

REHM

11:20:05
Harold 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.

JOYCE

11:20:55
Queenie 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.

REHM

11:21:24
Just walk.

JOYCE

11:21:25
Yeah, 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.

REHM

11:21:54
Do you think that in any way had Maureen, his wife, been jealous of Queenie?

JOYCE

11:22:06
I 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.

REHM

11:22:33
I 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.

JOYCE

11:23:30
Do 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

11:23:56
...where they are. And there's a dog.

JOYCE

11:23:59
Yeah, 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.

REHM

11:24:28
Harold runs into homeless people.

JOYCE

11:24:31
He 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.

REHM

11:24:54
Really.

JOYCE

11:24:55
I 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.

REHM

11:25:13
I see, I see. Your husband, I gather, is a psychotherapist.

JOYCE

11:25:19
He is, he is.

REHM

11:25:20
How did -- or did he in any way influence the thinking that went into some of these characters?

JOYCE

11:25:32
Paul 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.

JOYCE

11:26:07
And 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.

REHM

11:26:19
Give me an example.

JOYCE

11:26:20
So 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.

REHM

11:26:53
The other thing that you've just mentioned, Harold's feet, he has only sort of like Dockers on.

JOYCE

11:27:03
Yes, he does. Yes.

REHM

11:27:04
And surely they can't protect his feet very well.

JOYCE

11:27:11
They 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?

JOYCE

11:27:35
So 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.

REHM

11:27:57
Did you ever try to do this walk?

JOYCE

11:28:01
I 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.

REHM

11:28:20
You know.

JOYCE

11:28:20
So 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.

REHM

11:28:55
That would not surprise me absolutely. Where does Harold sleep? He has virtually no money.

JOYCE

11:29:05
No.

REHM

11:29:06
He 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?

JOYCE

11:29:27
Well, 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.

JOYCE

11:30:08
But 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.

REHM

11:30:15
How much of your father's character is within Harold?

JOYCE

11:30:24
I 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.

REHM

11:30:49
And he was getting ready to do whatever (unintelligible) .

JOYCE

11:30:54
Go 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.

REHM

11:31:12
You know, there's a point at which, even though you say Harold is not a religious man, he begins to attract a following.

JOYCE

11:31:27
He does.

REHM

11:31:28
Now what's that all about?

JOYCE

11:31:31
That 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.

JOYCE

11:31:56
So 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.

REHM

11:32:20
Did you see him or feel him to become kind of a Christ figure?

JOYCE

11:32:29
I 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.

REHM

11:33:00
You know, it's interesting, all of a sudden you bring to mind the character that Peter Sellers played, the gardener.

JOYCE

11:33:14
I know what you mean. I know what you mean.

REHM

11:33:16
When he would simply respond quietly and he really knew virtually nothing.

JOYCE

11:33:27
That's right. And then other people projected onto his...

REHM

11:33:30
Exactly.

JOYCE

11:33:30
...what he said there in meaning.

REHM

11:33:32
Is that kind of what happens here?

JOYCE

11:33:35
I 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"?

REHM

11:33:40
Yes, that's it, "Being There."

JOYCE

11:33:41
I 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.

REHM

11:34:05
And 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.

JAMES

11:34:35
Good morning. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

11:34:36
Surely.

JAMES

11:34:37
You 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.

JAMES

11:35:01
It 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.

REHM

11:35:22
All right, sir. Thanks for calling.

JOYCE

11:35:24
But that's a very pertinent remark. That's exactly what I intended.

REHM

11:35:27
He finds himself.

JOYCE

11:35:29
He 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.

REHM

11:35:38
You 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.

JOYCE

11:36:35
I 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.

REHM

11:37:05
I wonder whether the Bed and Breakfast along that route are going to be prepared for all the tourists who are going to come.

JOYCE

11:37:15
Well, 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.

REHM

11:37:24
Oh, 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.

REHM

11:40:05
And 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?

SUE

11:40:54
I am.

REHM

11:40:54
Go right ahead, please.

SUE

11:40:56
I'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.

SUE

11:41:31
And 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.

JOYCE

11:41:59
Thank you very much. That's very, very kind of you. And I appreciate it.

SUE

11:42:03
You're quite welcome.

REHM

11:42:04
All right.

SUE

11:42:05
Congratulations.

JOYCE

11:42:06
Thank you.

REHM

11:42:06
Thanks 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?

JOYCE

11:43:03
It'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.

REHM

11:43:34
Now, your four children...

JOYCE

11:43:37
Yes.

REHM

11:43:37
...tell us their ages.

JOYCE

11:43:40
My 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.

REHM

11:43:51
Okay.

JOYCE

11:43:51
And then I have a teenage daughter who's about to be 15, and another who's about to be 17.

REHM

11:43:55
Wow.

JOYCE

11:43:56
Yes.

REHM

11:43:56
And so you're writing in between all -- not only their schooling, but their activities and the like?

JOYCE

11:44:06
Absolutely, 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.

JOYCE

11:44:45
So 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.

REHM

11:45:10
And tell us what Harold's relationship is to alcohol?

JOYCE

11:45:16
Harold 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.

REHM

11:45:59
And of course, at one point, a character he's just met describes Harold's journey as a pilgrimage for the 21st century.

JOYCE

11:46:13
Yes, 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.

REHM

11:46:49
To Greensboro, N.C. Good morning, Lee.

LEE

11:46:54
Good morning, Diane. How are you?

REHM

11:46:56
I'm fine, thank you, sir.

LEE

11:46:58
Good. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

11:47:00
Surely.

LEE

11:47:03
So 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.

LEE

11:47:48
So 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.

LEE

11:48:42
So Monday morning -- it's a little hard story, but Monday morning, my brother called me and my dad had died Sunday night...

REHM

11:48:53
Oh, dear.

LEE

11:48:54
...in his sleep. His heart stopped.

REHM

11:48:57
Oh, I'm so sorry.

JOYCE

11:48:58
I'm sorry.

REHM

11:48:59
But you know what's lovely about that story is reconciliation and a feeling perhaps of peace on all sides.

JOYCE

11:49:12
That was the word I had in my mind, yeah.

REHM

11:49:14
Is that the word that came to your mind?

JOYCE

11:49:15
Peace was exactly the word that came to me.

REHM

11:49:17
Yeah.

JOYCE

11:49:17
Yeah.

REHM

11:49:18
I'm sorry for your loss, Lee. Let's go to Chris in Pentagon City, Va. Good morning to you.

CHRIS

11:49:27
Good morning, Diane. How are you?

REHM

11:49:28
I'm good.

CHRIS

11:49:29
Good. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

11:49:30
Sure.

CHRIS

11:49:31
I 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...

REHM

11:49:38
Oh, you've gotta go back and hear the whole thing.

CHRIS

11:49:42
I'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.

REHM

11:50:15
All right. Thanks.

JOYCE

11:50:17
That'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.

REHM

11:50:54
Do you think that he was also dealing with his own anger? I mean, we've created this figure in our conversation...

JOYCE

11:51:10
Yeah.

REHM

11:51:11
...of this peaceful man...

JOYCE

11:51:13
Yeah.

REHM

11:51:13
...passing through.

JOYCE

11:51:14
Yeah.

REHM

11:51:14
But there's a great deal of anger inside him.

JOYCE

11:51:17
There 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.

REHM

11:51:42
Did you feel anger when your father died?

JOYCE

11:51:47
I 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.

REHM

11:52:32
And your mother?

JOYCE

11:52:35
My 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.

REHM

11:53:09
How long were they married?

JOYCE

11:53:12
Gosh, they were married a good 40 years.

REHM

11:53:17
You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a caller in Pittsburgh, Pa. Good morning, Ben.

BEN

11:53:28
Good morning, Diane. It's awesome to be on the show. I'm a longtime listener.

REHM

11:53:33
So glad to have you with us.

BEN

11:53:36
I 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.

JOYCE

11:53:53
That'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.

REHM

11:54:20
Sure, time each day.

JOYCE

11:54:22
And 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.

REHM

11:54:27
Are you a walker?

JOYCE

11:54:30
I'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.

REHM

11:54:36
Sure.

JOYCE

11:54:36
And 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.

REHM

11:54:55
Do you and your husband walk together?

JOYCE

11:54:58
Yes, 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.

REHM

11:55:16
Do you ever listen to anything as you walk?

JOYCE

11:55:20
I don't tend to, no. I just tend to...

REHM

11:55:23
Think.

JOYCE

11:55:23
...see what's there.

REHM

11:55:24
Yeah, lovely. And to Columbia, Md. Good morning, John.

JOHN

11:55:31
Good morning, Diane. How are you?

REHM

11:55:32
I'm fine, thanks.

JOHN

11:55:34
Good. 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."

REHM

11:56:03
Interesting, interesting.

JOYCE

11:56:03
Oh.

JOHN

11:56:04
So if -- yeah, if you haven't seen it, I think you would love it.

JOYCE

11:56:07
I will look out for it. Thank you.

REHM

11:56:09
John, 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?

JOYCE

11:56:56
It 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...

REHM

11:57:09
Rachel Joyce, you will I'm sure before too long see a version of this beautiful book "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry." Congratulations.

JOYCE

11:57:27
Thank you. Thank you so much.

REHM

11:57:28
And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

ANNOUNCER

11:57:32
"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.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 FM American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and international law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.

Our address has changed!

The Diane Rehm Show is produced by member-supported WAMU 88.5 in Washington DC.