Last Bus to Coffeeville is the story of five people whose lives, in one way or another, have jumped the tracks. The central story though, and the one that explains the bus journey to Coffeeville, is the fulfilment of a promise made by one friend to another almost fifty years previously, that if she inherits the Alzheimer’s that runs in her family, then he will bring her life to a dignified and timely ending.
My mother suffered from subtle stroke dementia for the last ten years of her life, and the idea for the key story came from watching her disappear and another person take her place. The experience made me wonder if someone in a similar situation, who knew the fate that awaited them, would make plans to bypass such misery.
Where would be the one place you would go if you could and why? (Present or a place in history.)
I’d like to be transported to the 1950s and spend my teenage years growing up in small town Middle America. The times were simpler then, the technology reduced, and I’d have been able to drive a large car with ridiculous tail fins. I also think I’d have enjoyed going to High School. This is an idyll, of course. If my colour changed during the transportation process I might well regret this decision. Growing up in 50s America wasn’t a barrel of laughs if you were black.
How much planning do you do before beginning a book? What has to be in place?
If I’m honest, not very much. I’ll have a vague notion about the story, know how it starts and how it ends, but no clear idea how the two dots join. For me, this makes the writing process more interesting – and also surprising.
Do you have any writing rituals and writing routine?
No rituals as such. I write most days of the week, usually from mid-morning onwards, and always in the same room (a study – theoretically a dining room – that looks out on to the garden). Some days I’ll write for five hours and others for nine. Sometimes the writing comes easy and other times I’ll struggle with a single paragraph for three days. But it’s all fun.
Which fictional character would you like to have a conversation with and why?
I’d like to talk to Egg, the small boy in John Irving’s novel The Hotel New Hampshire. I’d tell him not to catch the plane to Zürich with his mother, or by p206 he’d be dead.
Out of all the books you’ve read, which book has impacted you most and why?
It’s not the best book I’ve read by any means, and I’ve had difficulty re-reading it, but Trout Fishing in America by the late Richard Brautigan probably impacted me the most. It got me back to reading fiction again, and for this kindness I’ll always be in his debt. It was unlike any book I’d read before, the complete opposite of the dreary texts that had been set at school, and left me thinking that maybe, one day, I could write a book.
What is your favourite word?
What five pieces of advice would you give to new writers?
Write the novel you want to write in a way that suits you, and don’t listen to people who tell you that you’re breaking conventions.
Don’t wait for inspiration, just sit down and write.
Don’t stick to writing about what you know.
Don’t be afraid of offending people.
Always have a good dictionary and thesaurus to hand.
About JP Henderson:
J. Paul Henderson was born and grew up in Bradford, West Yorkshire, gained a Master’s degree in American Studies and travelled to Afghanistan. He worked in a foundry, as a bus conductor, trained as an accountant and then, when the opportunity to return to academia arose, left for Mississippi, returning four years later with a doctorate in 20th Century US History and more knowledge of Darlington Hoopes than was arguably necessary. (Hoopes was a Pennsylvanian socialist and the last presidential candidate of the American Socialist Party). American History departments were either closing or contracting, so he opted for a career in academic publishing. He now lives in a house in England, drives a car and owns a television set. And that’s about it.
Last Bus To Coffeeville is published by No Exit Press on April 2014. It is available from most major bookshops. Click here to view on Amazon UK.