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An Interview with Mike Norris, author of Reap Sleep Rock Repeat

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Mike Norris lives in County Durham with his wife Kayleigh, their daughters Eleanor and Imogen, and their three needy cats. This is his first novel. When Mike isn’t pondering the inner workings of the AfterLife, he presents the popular podcast ‘My Classic Album’, where musicians share their love for their all-time favourite album.

Mental health is a huge passion for Mike. After struggling with depression and anxiety throughout his twenties and early thirties, Mike now supports others in his day job as a Senior Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner.

Mike loves rock and metal (he also has a soft spot for the Corrs) and has spent the last 23 years cheering on his favourite professional wrestlers. Buy him a pepperoni pizza and an Apple Tango, and he’s yours for the night!

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I have always loved the idea of writing a book from a very young age. I was massively inspired by Roald Dahl as a child and James and the Giant Peach is still one of my favourite books to this day.

I met professional wrestler and author Mick Foley in 2013. A personal hero of mine, we talked at length about his two novels Tietam Brown and Scooter. While very different in tone to Reap Sleep Rock Repeat, my chat with Mick lit a fire under me to write my own novel. Fast forward ten years where I got married, had two children, changed careers and lived through a global pandemic, I finally came through.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

Like my protagonist Ben, I too have struggled with my mental health over the years. I lived with panic disorder in my twenties and recurrent depression in my early thirties. Death anxiety has been present for me since I was first aware that our time on Earth is fleeting. Ironically, writing a book about what happens after death has helped me deal with my death anxiety in a far more productive way.

I originally had the mental image of someone being hit by a bus driven by the Grim Reaper about fifteen years ago. I thought it might make a fun sitcom or screenplay. Thankfully the idea blossomed into a book I’m extremely proud of!

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The working title for the longest time was ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’. The book nods to lots of classic rock and metal so it just made sense. However, there are so many books out there with that name and I wanted mine to stand out.

I floated with ‘The Anomaly’ as a title too but it just didn’t click. It was actually my wife who landed on the title. I think it fits the tone of the book perfectly!

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

In a weird way I guess it has one already! The pages are full of salutes to great songs by classic rock and metal bands. My favourite character Tom (the rock obsessed Reaper) has a mixtape full of songs he plays on his bus from Frank Zappa’s ‘Watermelon on Easter Hay’ to Styx’s ‘Come Sail Away’.

Then there’s some more subtle references in there too. Whoever can tell me where I got the phrase ‘Borrowed Heaven’ from gets a gold star!

Describe your dream book cover.

In my mind’s eye, I wanted the cover to look like a Meat Loaf album. Bombastic, histrionic and generally insane. I even reached out to an artist who had worked on some of Meat’s albums but her considerable skills were out of my price range.

However I can genuinely say that I love the cover of the book. The artist I went with just nailed the spirit and tone of the book completely.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

For a good chunk of my life I worked in retail and absolutely hated it. In fact the earliest drafts of Reap Sleep Rock Repeat included Ben getting a disciplinary at work in a supermarket. I can’t complain too much as working in retail helped me to get a mortgage and start a family. However five years ago I moved into a career in mental health and have never been happier.

My readers may not know (but my editor sure does!) that I have massive imposter syndrome and can convince myself my words are utter drivel and I’ll be banned from writing forever. Thankfully my readers and reviewers don’t seem to agree with that!

I also have two webbed toes on each foot. They are the two next to my big toe and the web only goes about halfway up. No, I can’t swim.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

To be honest with how integral music is throughout the book, I tended to go to that rather than literature. I would often play particular songs while reading something back to ensure I had created the mood and vibe I wanted. I’ve just finished my second book which is going through my editor and because there are some nods to Norse Mythology in that one; I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Neil Gaiman’s interpretation of the myths. Highly recommended!

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

Good question! To be honest my only aim when writing it was to hold a physical copy in my hands. I always get a warm feeling when people tell me they connect to Ben and Tom, particularly with concerns to mental health. I hope that means my words are authentic and people feel heard. As for the perfect reader? As soppy as it sounds, if you pick up my book and enjoy it then you are my perfect reader. A love of Mötorhead wouldn’t hurt either!

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