At Community Care we’re sent a fair amount of review copies of books but when David Sindall’s novel ‘After Alyson’ hit my desk it stood out. There aren’t too many novels about a sex-obsessed director of social services after all. Are there?
Intrigued, I asked Sindall a bit about where his inspiration came from…
What, in a nutshell, is the book about?
DS: ‘After Alyson’ tells the story of Mark Garvey. He moves from being assistant director of social services in one area to work as director of social services in another local authority.
He is mourning for the end of his relationship with Alyson, an Australian physiotherapist. Oh, and he can’t control his sexual desires.
Mark is obsessed by West Bromwich Albion, football, women and wine. After his move to the new local authority, and area, he hopes to start afresh but finds life becomes just as chaotic.
The story is about a bloke trying to be a modern man, on one level. It has a comedic tone but serious bits as well.
And, of course, it’s fiction. To my knowledge it’s the first fiction to be set against the backdrop of a social services department.
What’s your background as an author?
DS: I’ve written plays before but not a novel. I also write a regular column for the disabled persons railcard website called Ramblings with a Railcard. After Alyson is my first novel, but I am already working on my second.
As you say, it’s quite unusual to have this kind of story set against a backdrop of social services. What made you decide on that profession?
DS: Well, I could have made him director of highways but I don’t think it would have had the same juxtaposition. I’ve had a fair bit of contact with social services in my career, including periods working in local authorities.
I’ve also known a fair few social workers and people from the ‘caring professions’.
Ultimately there was something about the nature of the guy being in personal crises that made social work fit. At the same time, there is the political undercurrent to local government that also creates an added tension. It was the right job to put Mark in.
Have you had previous personal experience of working in social services? Did that influence the narrative at all?
DS: Yes. I worked in two central policy teams in local government. I worked quite closely with a couple of directors of social services and have a reasonable feel for the tensions.
I’ve also worked in the voluntary sector and had lots of contact with social services in Britain and in Northern Ireland. I drew upon some of that experience for the book.
Then again, I also wanted to avoid long accounts of committee meetings and management groups. As far as I know there is an absence of bestsellers from committee services departments.
How did you research Mark’s career as a director of social services? How real did you try to make it, or did drama take priority?
DS: A little. I have a good understanding of the track that a social work career involves. So early on he’s a basic grade mental health social worker. He later becomes a team leader, then an assistant director and finally a director.
Having said this, in real life, I’m sure his life would not be able to become so chaotic. I think anyone with a social care background will recognise this as fiction.
What’s the reception been like to the book? Have you heard from any directors’ of social services about whether they think it rings any bells?
DS: So far people who have read it have been very positive. They like the narrative and seem to enjoy being in new territory. I think they can also root for either Mark Garvey or for Alyson.
I’ve yet to hear from any directors of social services. I haven’t heard from their lawyers either, which is good news.
Hopefully most people will find it entertaining. Some will think they could do better, which would be great because more people need to write.
Andy McNicoll is Community Care’s community editor