How would you describe what By George is about?
Well, it's the story of two boys called George Fisher, who are "related". One is a ventriloquist dummy who tells the story of his slow rise to fame in the 1930s, and the other is a schoolboy in the 1970s, who is the grandson of his namesake's owner. It's the story of the Fisher family, set against one hundred years of popular entertainment in Great Britain, through two wars - from Vaudeville and Music Hall, the birth of radio, the dawn of television etc etc. And there are various weightier themes which I hope are easily ignored, and from which the reader's attention is diverted by the excellence of the plot and characterization! (On the other hand, it's nice when reviewers and readers spot what's going on.)
Why did you decide to write this under your real name instead of musical name? Doesn't that spark confusion or are you one of those blokes who like confusion?
It's caused no real confusion, actually. It's simply that I didn't want people to think that because they liked JWH music, they should like this novel. And I also wanted the novel to be considered on its own terms, rather than as the side project, or hobby, of a bored musician. For example, David Thewlis, the actor, just published a novel - but very few reviewers will actually consider that book on its own terms. (Plus a lot of rock musicians have made life difficult by writing bad books.) Misfortune took me a long time and I felt very close to it, and I thought it was time to dust off my real name - John Wesley Harding would have also looked rather silly on the spine of that particular book.
Which is more enjoyable – writing music or writing books? Which is more difficult?
Writing books is more difficult, by far, though ultimately more rewarding. Making music is much more immediate. I could write a song today, and sing it tonight at a gig - and people might well even applaud. With a novel, you'd have got absolutely nowhere in one day or, at the most, made infinitesimal progress. So you do things like readings, just to remind yourself that you're alive. Surprisingly, however, I found being on a book tour more exhausting than a music tour.
Have you always been interested in puppets? Did you have a puppet? What was its name?