Hannah Stephenson discovers best-selling ‘lad lit’ author Mike Gayle has plenty on his ‘to-do’ list as he approaches 40.
Mike Gayle has been described as ‘the male Bridget Jones’ and indeed seems to have been able to get inside womens’ minds, helped by his years as an agony uncle for a teen magazine.
He has at times written in the first person as a female, while his chick lit pals, who include best-selling authors Sophie Kinsella, Lisa Jewell, Louise Bagshawe and Chris Manby, have probably helped give him further insight into the female psyche.
However, nowadays he doesn’t mix with women as much as he did, he confesses.
“When I was in my 20s a lot of my close friends were women, but the older I get the more that has changed. Now, the majority of my friends are men - and I quite like it that way.”
Mike, a genial chap whose easy-going, witty novels include The Life And Soul Of The Party, His ‘n’ Hers, Mr Commitment and Dinner For Two, has become a master of the male confessional.
His amusing, highly observant ‘lad lit’ novels, which he prefers to call ‘pop lit’, show that blokes can be sensitive too and have explored the complicated lives of late twenty/thirtysomething men and women, their relationships, habits and foibles.
His job as an agony uncle for teen magazine Bliss may have helped him learn what makes women tick to an extent, but he reveals that it was a topic he was always interested in.
“I’ve worked with a lot of women on women’s magazines and my writing is observational. I’ve spent a lot of time studying the female mindset.”
How does he feel about being dubbed ‘the male Bridget Jones’?
“Bridget Jones is a fictional character but the books I write, while humorous, are nothing like Bridget Jones,” he laughs.
There have been bites from production companies - his sixth novel Brand New Friend is currently under option to be made into a TV series, while his debut novel, My Legendary Girlfriend, was optioned to be made into a film. But Mike is not holding his breath.
“Until I see it at the local cinema, I won’t believe it.”
Now, for the first time he has dipped his toes in the waters of non-fiction, examining his own weaknesses and strengths in his latest book, The To-Do List, in which he endeavoured to complete a staggering 1,277 tasks in the space of a year.
It started off as a bit of a lark - he chatted with his mates down the pub about making a list and then discussed it further with his wife, Claire.
“It was a mid-30s crisis,” he says. “I was approaching my 36th birthday and we were expecting our second child and I thought it was time to grow up.”
His neighbours also prompted him into action.
“We got some new next-door neighbours who were like the complete opposite of us. They were so grown-up and together compared to us, although they were similar in age, with two kids as well.
“They just seemed a lot more together than we were. I was envious. It was a bit like living next door to Nigella Lawson. Can you imagine that? They seemed to
have this fabulous life and looked like grown-ups. Claire and I just looked liked overgrown students.
“I’ve been doing the overgrown student thing for a couple of decades now, and it’s not a good look to have when you are approaching your 40s.”
The to-do list, featuring items as diverse as: Find out what happened at the end of the X-Files; Give Harry Potter a chance; Make a will; Speak to checkout staff more; Clean up spilt milk under fridge and a mass of other jobs, became a voyage of self-discovery.
Mike says the most difficult task was trying to lose weight, because it has been on his to-do list since before he got married (and he’s been married 12 years).
“I was thin before I got married. I do a lot of work from home and food can be a distraction. You think, I’m not sure I can make it through the day without a Mars Bar. I lost some weight, six or eight pounds, but it’s hard. And the first thing I wanted to do for achieving that was treat myself to something delicious.”
Claire had just had their second daughter, Maisie, when the list idea became reality.
He slowly but surely started to tick off items, in between writing about them, coping with two young children and battling his own tendency to leave things unfinished. “I discovered that I do procrastinate a great deal,” he admits.
One of his to-dos was to investigate his family tree, but he didn’t get much further than his parents, who emigrated to the UK from Jamaica in the 60s. His father was a business studies lecturer and his mother a nurse.
“I didn’t get any further than talking to my immediate relatives. My parents can barely remember anything beyond their grandparents and aunties and uncles.”
Growing up in Birmingham, Mike had always wanted to write and was a big reader.
“I remember being eight or nine and reading a Just William book and being so excited about it that I remember getting out my dad’s typewriter and doing my own version of Just William.”
He read sociology at Salford University and later did a post-graduate diploma in magazine journalism, writing for a number of publications including Just Seventeen before becoming the agony uncle at Bliss magazine.
“I was a big brother figure in the magazine,” he reflects. “Most of the problems were along the lines of, ‘How do I get this boy to fancy me?’ and ‘How do I get rid of him?’”
He became a draw card at dinner parties when fellow guests found out what he did for a living, he recalls.
“They absolutely loved it. It was my party piece. As I write fictional books about relationships, people like the idea that there’s somebody who might have all the answers.”
He’s now working on his 10th book, a novel called The Bachelor, and is hoping to do more non-fiction in future.
He’s still not as organised as his next-door neighbours - but he’s not worried, he says.
“I understand them a bit more and am glad that I know I can be organised if I want to be. I could do it - but I choose not to.”
* The To-Do List by Mike Gayle is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £12.99. Available now.