Q&A: TANNADEE by Maurice Gray @matadorbooks

Good morning everyone! Starting my week with a fantastic Q&A with Maurice Gray whose new novel, TANNADEE, was published in February by Troubador Publishing.

First of all, what is TANNADEE?

Tannadee, a picturesque village in the Scottish Highlands, finds itself suddenly forced to fight for its life when Gordon Weever, a billionaire bully, reveals plans to build an exclusive golf resort nearby. Though most of the locals oppose him, Weever pushes on, employing dirty tricks and splashing cash. He trashes a rare woodland, he annexes land. Somebody needs to stop him. But who? 

Step up local teacher, Chizzie Bryson with his out-of-the-box idea for the villagers to compete in a Highland Games to raise funds – with a surprising ally. Weever’s own daughter rejects her father’s rapacious antics, time after time attempting to remodel him into someone she can respect… and failing.

The time of the Highland Games dawns, and a diverse range of local characters compete on behalf of Tannadee including a greasy wrestler, a hypochondriac miler, a suicidal hill runner, a pretty-boy hammer thrower, a hen-pecked cyclist, and a wild-boy sprinter. Can good morals and fairness win the day? And can they be the iceberg to sink Weever’s titanic ego once and for all?

Maurice Gray was so nice to answer a few of my questions…

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Can you tell us more about your new novel, Tannadee?

Tannadee is a humorous novel about a fictional village in the Scottish Highlands. The village is forced to fight for its life when Gordon Weever, a bullying billionaire, plans to build an exclusive golf resort nearby. Though most locals oppose him, Weever pushes on, employing dirty tricks and splashing cash. He trashes a rare woodland, he annexes land. Somebody needs to stop him. But who? Step up local teacher, Chizzie Bryson. He inspires villagers to compete in a Highland Games to raise funds. He is helped greatly by Weever’s own daughter who rejects her father’s rapacious antics. She even confronts him in the hope of persuading him to become someone she can respect. But Weever is his own man, and he has no compunction about exploiting weakness, particularly that of a local aristrocat who is bedevilled by booze and gambling.  Through a mixture of satire, farce and challenging issues I think the novel delivers a story that is original, timely and engaging.

How did you come up with the plotline for the book?

As an adviser to golf courses throughout Scotland I had seen quite a few small communities benefit from the construction or upgrading of golf courses. They sometimes became the hub of the community’s social life and made the place more attractive to young families. So when Donald Trump submitted plans for a new golf course in Aberdeenshire, I was very much in favour of the project – it promised jobs and a higher profile for the region. However, the plans required  the acquisition of a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and a lot of debate and mixed feelings arose from this. With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to see what could happen when another billionaire proposes a major golf project near a small community in the Scottish Highlands.

Do you have a favourite character you can tell us a bit more about?

My favourite character is Yolanda, the billionaire’s daughter. She could quite simply take on her father’s mantle and run the global business while enjoying the best that life has to offer. But she chooses a different path, her own path. She’s a confident young woman without being overly assertive and she is aware that life has a spiritual aspect to it, something that her father only now, in his sixties, is coming to realise. She may not take up the most space in the book, but she arguably has the greatest impact. She takes on men in a men’s world. And most tellingly of all, she is able to act as a bridge between the single-minded dynamism of her father and the community spirit championed by the other lead character who is opposing her father.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

For most of my professional life I was a sportsturf agronomist advising venues ranging from the renowned to the very humble. Before that, I was a biology teacher in Zambia and Scotland. Now retired, I’m not active in sports, but once was a prize-winning sprinter on the amateur Highland Games circuit.

What is a great book you’ve read recently that you would recommend to others?

I would recommend My Life on the Plains by General George Custer. This book, published two years before the Battle of Little Bighorn, provides a first-hand account of the ill-fated General Custer and his cavalry as they set about confronting native Americans on the vast plains of America. Well written, though in a slightly archaic style, the book draws the reader into the sights and feel of the plains as ordinary men edge their way ever forwards. But ordinary though these men were, they  were about to sweep away not just a nation, not just a people, but an entire civilization. These ordinary men changed the human face of America. Also changed in these reminiscences is Custer’s image, popularly known as a rash and arrogant man, the book reveals Custer as a more complex person capable also of dry humour, sensitivity and genuine empathy for the native Americans.

When did you decide to write and what prompted you to start?

While I was a student at the University of  Aberdeen, I wrote some articles for the student newspaper and did some script writing for student revues. This gave me an appetite for writing sitcom scripts, but when I took up full-time employment as a schoolteacher I didn’t have enough time to continue writing. It was only later when I became established as a sportsturf agronomist  that I decided it was now or never and I would use what little spare time I had to attempt some serious writing. I wrote two plays which were never performed but were held for a time by two theatres for possible production and one of them received a reading by professional actors, with a famous Scottish comedian, Chic Murray, in the leading role. As for the sitcoms, a BBC editor told me that my scripts would never reach production stage because I enjoyed my job too much. And he was right; I just never had enough time to do all the writing and re-writing required to produce scripts of professional standard. When I finally retired, I had the time I needed and I had a large heap of notes accumulated from years of jotting.

What comes to you first – the setting, the characters or some aspect of the story?

For Tannadee it was a combination of the setting and particular events, but future books will be based around a set of characters.

Has any other writer in particular influenced the way you write?

I wouldn’t say I was influenced by any particular writer, but I can think of many writers whose work I admire and whose styles I probably have been influenced by to some extent. They include the works of Henry Fielding, Dickens, Chekhov, Tolstoy, the essays of J.B. Priestley, Garrison Keiller, Philip Roth, Spike Milligan, and John Grisham, to name but a few.

Can you describe Tannadee in 3 adjectives?

Humorous, Highland, enlightening.

Can you tell us a bit about your plans for the future?

I have two books in mind at present. One is a sequel to Tannadee, and the other is based in Africa featuring Chizzie, one of the leading characters in Tannadee.

More about Maurice Gray…

Maurice Gray Photo

For most of his professional life Maurice Gray was a sportsturf agronomist advising venues ranging from the renowned to the very humble. Before that, he was a biology teacher in Zambia and Scotland, and was once a prize-winning sprinter on the amateur Highland Games circuit. Now retired, he is based in Perth. This is his debut.

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