If I'd had a legitimate story that I'd wanted to tell based around a dog, I would, but I had told the story I wanted to tell. I didn't want to manufacture something just because it would be commercially successful. In fact, even as six publishers were bidding for Marley and Me, another story was unfolding. Almost at the same time he got the news of his six-figure book deal, he got a phone call from his father telling him that his leukaemia, diagnosed two years before, had become acute.
Hour to hour I went from ecstasy over my first book deal, to feeling heartsick about my father's health, worrying about him. While The Longest Trip Home strikes a similar balance to Marley and Me — it is funny, poignant and honest — it is very different. Though there is a dog in the story, he barely features. It's the story of a boisterous, happy childhood in Harbor Hills, Detroit. There are childhood pranks — altar boys swigging communion wine, a teenage attempt to grow marijuana — and he is disarmingly frank about his early attempts at romance a clinch with a girl with braces leads to a dramatically cut lip.
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It is also a loving portrayal of his parents: playful mother and stolid, practical father. The more serious aspect of the story is about how he overcame his parents' disappointment at his rejection of their Catholic faith. He had fibbed about attending mass for years, but when he married Jenny, a non-Catholic, and they decided not to raise their children within the church, his parents were quietly devastated, and it threatened to create a permanent distance in their relationship. I knew I needed to fix that and I knew it would be painful to try to correct, so I kept putting it off.
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I made that trip home and had a wonderful reunion with them, said the things I knew I needed to say, heard what my dad wanted to say. We really felt that we'd come back together, found a place of mutual respect and admiration. He says writing the book was a "journey of discovery", and one which led him to admire his parents deeply, but adds that he could not have written the story while his father was alive. His mother, now 92, suffers from dementia.
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He is aware that, as he was reflecting on his own upbringing, his own three children, Patrick, 16, Conor, 15 and Colleen, 12, were beginning to find their feet in the world. One of the things that I learned from my parents that I didn't want to repeat was being too unequivocal about imposing my will on them.
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Although Marley has made him a millionaire, Grogan works hard to stay grounded. The family has bought an 18th-century farmhouse with 18 acres, but they remain in the same small Pennsylvania town, close to their former home where Marley is buried. The children continue to go to the same school, and apart from playing football with Owen Wilson on a movie set, are largely untouched by celebrity.
It was a great experience and exciting and fun and something we'll be talking about for the rest of our lives, but I also realise that's not me, that's not where I belong.
Grogan himself says he knows where he belongs: behind a desk, writing. Since quitting his day job as a journalist two years ago, he says he's had more ideas for books than he's ever likely to complete in his lifetime.
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He is in that most enviable of states for a writer: able to write whatever he wants. Edinburgh named one of the world's most serious 'overtourism hotspots'. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an Easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark, in a breezy spot—say Saint Paul's churchyard for instance—literally to astonish his son's weak mind.
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