Interview: Jim Bob and Frank Derrick return

jim bob

Following last year’s critically-acclaimed novel, “The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81″ writer/musician J.B. Morrison, better known as Jim Bob, returns this June with “Frank Derrick’s Holiday of a Lifetime”. We have a chat with Jim about this sequel and about his final ever gigs with his band, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, which took place last November:

Hi Jim. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us again. We’re excited to learn that you have another Frank Derrick book coming out soon. Can you tell us a little about this new story?
Frank is a year older, his daughter in America is ill and has broken up with her husband. Frank is worried about her and finds a way to get to Los Angeles to see her. In America he bonds with his 20-year-old granddaughter. They visit the Hollywood tourist sights and together attempt to reunite the family. It’s part part Kramer vs Kramer and part Holiday on the Buses.

The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick Age 81 came out almost exactly a year ago. So presumably you must have started writing the follow-up almost as soon as you finished the first book. Did you find it easier to write this new story because you had already established the character/world of Frank Derrick? Or was there more of a Difficult Second Album vibe in that you felt pressure because of the success of the first one?
A sequel was suggested when I signed the deal for the first book and I started thinking about it immediately. It was interesting, with the characters already established certain aspects of the first book dictated the story of the second. For example, Frank’s daughter living in LA and Frank not having enough money to visit her there. His granddaughter was mentioned in the first book, as was Frank’s late wife, who features a fair bit in the new book. I had to make sure that whatever happened to Frank in the second book was believable and could have happened to the Frank who was in the first book. The negative aspect would be that I couldn’t suddenly send Frank Derrick to the moon or make him a former pop star or a murderer or something.

Talking of the success of the first book, it has been translated into several languages and we found copies for sale in bookstores as far away as Australia. The next logical step would be to turn it into a movie, right? Has there been any talk of this and, if not, is it something you’re aiming towards?
I’d love a film to be made. That’s completely out of my hands though. It’s a question of someone really wanting to make a film as it’s such a huge commitment. I’d truly love that though.

frank derrickWithout giving away any plot spoilers, is the Frank Derrick story going to be a trilogy? A quadrilogy? An ongoing series? Or is that something you haven’t decided yet?
I really haven’t decided. As a series of books it is a bit limited by Frank’s age and the inevitable happening. A prequel perhaps.

Have you got any other story ideas up your sleeve, once you’re finished with Frank?
One. I’ve been writing another novel. It’s not a Frank Derrick book. So far it is proving to be the difficult fifth novel that no one ever talks about. Sometimes I feel like I’m writing with an eraser. I’ve unwritten more than I’ve written.

What advice can you give any of our readers who would like to write a novel?
Go ahead. In my experience it’s not easy though, so be prepared for that side of it.

In November, you played your final ever gigs with Carter USM. Did you enjoy the process of playing them, or did they whiz by a blur in the way that big life events sometime tend to?
It was the usual mix of emotions. I didn’t enjoy all of the long build-up through the year. All the logistical stuff. Booking vans and so on. Once we’d started rehearsing, it was fun again and then the gigs themselves were incredible. I have such a good memory of how they went that I haven’t watched the DVD of the Brixton show and I probably never will. Just in case. We might have been awful.

It definitely wasn’t awful! How did you feel though, the day after the last show, waking up knowing that you’d never play another Carter gig? Sad? Liberated? Or did you not really feel any different?
After the previous reunion shows I was pretty down the day after and for a few days after that. I suppose that’s a natural chemical reaction to all the adrenaline and build-up, etc. But because there was a lot more fuss around the gigs this time and, as a result of people still discussing them and sharing photos for afterwards, it was as though the gigs lasted for another month after they were over. So the comedown (no pun intended) was more gradual than usual.

Considering the way Carter kind of fizzled out in the late 90s, you must be so happy you decided to do these occasional reunion shows over the past few years, as they afforded you the opportunity to see, in a very tangible sense, just how much your music means to so many people.
Absolutely. Especially with all the other things that went on around the gigs… The Steve Lamacq session and the Tom Robinson show we were on. It all helped to leave a larger footprint. Is that a saying? In the past, because the gigs sold out so quickly with barely any advertising or press, if you didn’t have tickets it was easy to not know that the gigs had happened at all. I’m now going to make a tree-in-an-empty-forest analogy by saying that, because of the radio shows and press, this time there were more people in the forest.

Sometimes when you revisit your work after a long time, you see it with different eyes. Did you learn anything new about any of your songs by playing them again after all these years? For instance, did you come away with any new favourites? Or were there any songs you used to enjoy playing that this time round didn’t feel as good?
The songs I most liked playing years ago tend to be the same ones I enjoy playing now. I don’t think here was anything new that I discovered about the songs or me. Other than that I’ve lost the top bit of my voice.

What’s the best thing about not being in Carter anymore? And the worst?
It’s a funny thing splitting a band up. In a way, I still am in Carter, we just don’t play live or make records any more. All that’s changed part from that is we won’t be meeting up ever year to decide whether we’ll do more gigs, and how we’ll do them. The best thing about not doing more gigs is I won’t have the fear of failure and poor ticket sales that I always had. Sleepless nights and bad gig dreams. I’ll really miss the great camaraderie around the band and the people who work on the shows with us, and the audience too. Even though it’s only been for a few days a year, it’s a pretty amazing dynamic. I’ll miss the money obviously. I shouldn’t lie about that.

What about your solo music career? Is anything happening there, or are you done with music now and focusing solely on writing?
I haven’t touched my guitar since November 22nd [the date of the final Carter gig]. I’ve been so wrapped up in trying to write another novel that I haven’t felt the urge or need to play it. I do expect they’ll be a time when I will write more songs though. But I want to wait until I really want to do it or if I’ve got something to say in new songs. I love music obviously but the process and the business, less so. I’m envious of Les [Fruitbat – the other half of Carter] playing guitar in Ferocious Dog at the moment. I’ve never been in a band without being the frontman. Maybe I’ll join a covers band on a cruise ship.

And finally, what do you reckon Frank Derrick would have made of Carter?
He’s pretty open-minded as far as music goes. And I think he would like Carter even if it was just to prove that he was still open to new ideas.

You can pre-order in your chosen format (paperback, kindle, audiobook) by visiting Jim Bob’s website.

bobby townsend


Interview by Bobby Townsend.