Bestselling author Robert Goolrick is one of those decades-long overnight success stories you hear about.
After 30 years in advertising, he found himself out of work, but not out of energy. And that energy coalesced into the novel A Reliable Wife… and 25 publishers rejected it.
Instead, Robert’s first published work was 2007’s autobiographical The End Of The World As We Know It, which was sold in a dozen countries. On the back of that, the novel was picked up and has become a huge success.
“I think every story chooses its own style. The style for A Reliable Wife is very lush and romantic, gothic, as a number of people have said, but The End Of The World As We Know It is much more straightforward, almost as simple as a letter from a friend.
“I think, like a lot of southerners, I am most influenced by southern writers like Faulkner and Styron. But Wife is very influenced by Walt Whitman, so the inspirations come from many sources,” Goolrick tells Weekender.
A Reliable Wife, set in Wisconsin in 1907, is a tale of longing, love, estrangement and forgiveness – and a lot more. While the text is resonant with atmosphere, there are elements that readers have picked up on that have been somewhat unexpected, too.
“For instance, one reader noticed that every character spends some time in a child’s nursery, which is true. The novel really is about people trying to find their way back to the innocence and wonder of childhood, so it’s logical. But it wasn’t a conscious decision.”
The book has also been picked up by Columbia, which is planning a movie based on the text.
The journey from advertising copywriter to author has been rather interesting; Goolrick was 53 when he was fired from his job.
“It’s an amazing thing to find yourself with a brand new career, a whole new world, right at the moment when most people think about retiring. It astounds me every time I think about it.”
Any benefits of fame? “People tend to pronounce my name correctly, which has never been the case,” he says wryly.
Books & Books, Camana Bay and the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism have teamed up to host Goolrick as a resident writer at Books & Books.
The bookstore and Camana Bay are taking care of his accommodation and transportation, while the Department of Tourism has similarly assisted with flights for the writer, says Bianca Freeland of the bookstore.
“The purpose of any writer’s residency is to give the writer a block of time for concentrated work, and Robert is visiting the island for two weeks in order to complete his latest novel. In effect, we are facilitating his creative process and for this we will be acknowledged in his forthcoming book.
“Hosting a number one New York Times bestselling author for a writer residency is an exceptionally unique opportunity that will put Cayman on the literary world map. We believe this is the start of something big and that Robert’s writer’s residency will create future opportunities to host other authors. Such a programme will not only benefit the people of Cayman, but the authors themselves will become ambassadors for the islands.”
In addition to finishing his new novel, Goolrick tells Weekender he’s looking forward to visiting Cayman – again.
“I have not been to Cayman since 1967, so I expect to find a few changes,” he says with beautiful understatement.
Robert Goolrick will be discussing and signing A Reliable Wife at Books & Books on Friday, 4 March.