The book that made me laugh out loud prompted me to wonder how anyone could think of such a preposterous plot and off-the-chart characters. Well, British writer Peter Stafford-Bow did just that in his debut novel, CORKSCREW: The Highly Improbable, but Occasionally True, Tale of a Professional Wine Buyer. Available from Amazon.com and from links on his website, Stafford-Bow penned a book that is as entertaining as it is insane. And I’m writing that in the nicest way!
Felix Hart, CORKSCREW’s main character, rises from mischievous orphan to the ranks of a high-flying supermarket wine buyer. His astonishing and wildly entertaining tale unfolds as he is cross-examined by local authorities for some (ahem) wrong-doing of which he has been accused. Extraordinary stories of his relationships with members of the Mafia, drug smugglers, drug addicts, and seductive women are hilarious…to me, but perhaps not to those who could easily open a door for Felix to the Big House. Then again, accounts of madcap frivolity and massive amounts of wine swilling help explain his rise, with only a few slips, to the top rung of the corporate ladder. In fact, I will never drink a glass of Asti Spumanti without thinking of Felix after he crafted the biggest wine deal of his career. Sorry, though, I won’t spoil that plot line – it’s too absurd! And those aforementioned authorities? Ha!
Throughout this must-read book, I cringed and squirmed with embarrassment, uttered “Oh my God” while rolling my eyes, and laughed hysterically. I knew I had to find out more about author Peter Stafford-Bow…how did he come up with this stuff?
Following is our Q&A…
What was your inspiration for Corkscrew?
PS-B: All the passionate people and glamorous places that make up the world of wine! For many people, especially if you don’t live in a wine-producing region, your interaction with the wine trade is limited to po-faced sommeliers or snobby wine merchants (OK, I know they’re not all like that!). I wanted bring the exciting part to life – the travel, meeting winemakers, and so on.
How did you think of the plot?
PS-B: Some of it is based on my experience running liquor stores early in my career, some on my time working with big supermarkets. There are a couple of incidents in the book that are completely true, including people smuggling themselves across international borders in wine containers.
Are the characters based on anyone you know?
PS-B: Corkscrew is fiction, of course, but all writers base their characters on real people. Most of my characters are combinations of several people, some dead, some still living – so, for legal reasons, I’ll leave it there!
How much of you is in any of the characters?
PS-B: Not much, thank goodness! Felix is a cad and a bounder and a long way from a respectable role model. I’d be doing a long stretch in prison if I’d behaved half as badly as him.
Are there any true anecdotes in the book?
PS-B: Yes, people smuggling themselves across international borders in wine containers. I worked for a supermarket many years ago and Afghans used to jump out of the Pinot Grigio in the warehouse all the time. It was common in the 1980s and 1990s but these days the customs authorities have much more sophisticated detection equipment – CO2 and heat detectors and what-not – so I don’t think it happens much now.
Who is your favorite character in the book and why?
PS-B: It has to be Felix Hart, the protagonist, of course! But that’s cheating. Sandra, the fearsome multi-national executive, is a favorite. You have to respect that combination of ruthlessness and effortless glamour. And I have a soft spot for Fistule, the stoner flat-mate too. He’s way ahead of his time with his enthusiastic recycling and composting.
How did you decide to end the book in this way?
PS-B: I don’t want to give any spoilers! But Felix’s adventures deserved an enormous climax and I hope I delivered…
I laughed (and sometimes squirmed) throughout the book! What are the reactions from your readers?
PS-B: Generally, very positive, thank you! You can’t appeal to everyone but so long as my readers don’t expect an academic text book on bottle openers, they’re probably going to enjoy it.
Have you always had a crazy sense of humor?
PS-B: Thanks for the complement! I have always had a dry sense of humor but as a child most of my teachers thought I was unhappy. I wasn’t, of course, I was simply blessed with a face that looks miserable when it’s at rest. At prep school, my old headmaster used to call, ‘Stafford-Bow, try to smile!’ and I would grin like a village idiot before scuttling off to read a book somewhere.
What is your wine background?
PS-B: I have worked for wine retailers as a salesman and a buyer for over 20 years. I’ve probably visited every major wine producing region in the world and most of the minor ones too! In recent years I’ve worked as a sales and marketing consultant for retailers and wine producers.
What is your writing background?
PS-B: Corkscrew is my debut novel. All my writing prior to then was magazine articles, copy for websites and, of course, tasting notes.
What is your “day job” or are you only writing now?
PS-B: Writing takes up most of my time now, though I still do some work for wine companies if I can fit it in.
What are you trying to convey with the entertaining artwork on the cover?
PS-B: The design is by a really talented artist and cartoonist called Patrick Latimer – his website is great and worth a visit! Patrick really captured the sense of a rather knowing, caddish wine taster. And the rest of the details are from various episodes in the book, from randy ostriches to terrifying wine exams.
Any amusing/not-so-amusing events happen to you while writing the book?
PS-B: I wrote most of the book while travelling abroad – a much better use of my airplane time than watching Transformers II… Writing is a pretty unsociable activity so there’s not that much that can happen to you when you’re in the act of writing. I did find out that drinking more than two glasses of wine makes you feel like Hemingway and write like Amanda McKittrick Ros.
Are you doing any speaking engagements about Corkscrew?
PS-B: Yes, I have hosted many readings which I combine with generous wine tastings, partly because it’s relevant to the book, partly because drunk people are more likely to buy it.
What are your plans to write more books?
PS-B: Yes, I’m half-way through the sequel to Corkscrew. The working title is Screwcap. It’s going to be a cracker!
Final thoughts, Peter?
PS-B: If anyone knows a good Hollywood agent, please get in touch. I think the book would make a great movie!
I do, too, Peter!