The world of wine is full of conundrums. Just how do you define natural wine? What exactly is minerality, why do Americans love Yellow Tail so much and just who is Peter Stafford-Bow? Yes, this mysterious figure suddenly appeared out of nowhere with a top selling book, Corkscrew, detailing the apparently fictitious, yet also so very accurate, lives of supermarket wine buyers and the producers and distributors that supply them. He is now back with his second book, Brut Force, that picks up the adventures of his hero Felix Hart. The Buyer managed to track him down – admittedly via email and not face to face – to try and reveal just a little more about who the real Peter Stafford-Bow really is.
Whoever Peter Stafford-Bow really is he’s very good at keeping secrets. For over two years he has kept his true identity hidden from just a few in the wine industry. Here he draws back the veil just a little to explain why he has created such a fictitious world for him to live in and for us all to enjoy.
First of all Peter Stafford-Bow is not your real name. For those that don’t know you and without giving away the ‘secret’, what motivated you to start writing books under a ‘nom de plume’?
A number of reasons. Firstly, I wanted a more winey-sounding name. I’ve always been a social climber and I fancied something double-barrelled. Secondly, it allows one to conduct marketing and social media without muddying the message with one’s own personal ‘brand’. Thirdly, I was concerned at reaction in the local community. I didn’t want to be talking to the vicar at my local residents’ association meeting and have him thinking I’m some kind of drug-addled sex fiend.
How hard has it been to keep your real identity a secret?
I’m extremely good at keeping secrets, so relatively easy. I have concealed my identity within a fiendishly clever web of obfuscation, so it’s all but impossible for anyone to discover the truth. I suspect there are fewer than five hundred people who know my real identity, mainly national account managers, PR executives and journalists.
Have you had any writing experience before?
Not long-form writing, no, though I used to write pretty long emails, earlier in my career. “Keep to the bloody point, you meandering fool!” my bosses would say. And that gave me the idea to turn my hand to the highest of all art forms, that of the novel.
How hard – or easy – have you found novel writing?
I’m lucky in that when I’m in ‘the zone’, the creativity just flows. I suppose I’m a little like Daniel Day-Lewis in that sense. A glass or two of wine, a few shouts of ‘What-ho!’, and I’m in the head of my protagonist, in all his glory.
Explain how you came up with the idea for your first book Corkscrew?
I am no stranger to the art of buying, as you may be aware, though those days are long behind me. And some of my best friends were wine buyers, before I started moving in more literary circles. Back in the nineties, when I was involved in the cut-and-thrust of negotiating ‘3 for £10’ multibuy deals, I found the parallels between my own role and that of the eighteenth-century, East India privateer quite striking. So Corkscrew is essentially a historical adventure novel, with all its blood, guts and glory, set in the world of grocery retail.
How did you come up with your hero’s name: Felix Hart?
Felix is from Felix Leiter, the CIA operative in Fleming’s James Bond series. Fleming himself took the name from his friend Ivar Felix Bryce, a British intelligence agent. And a hart is a stag, a mature male deer, rutting gloriously, as nature intended.
How much of it is based on real situations/experiences?
Some of the episodes have been slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect. I have never deliberately killed anyone in the workplace, for example. But episodes such as the Store Walk or the Supplier Conference should ring a bell for anyone even slightly familiar with the world of Big Retail.
What was the reaction like?
Exposing one’s art to the masses can be a traumatic experience, but the critics were, in the main, extremely kind.
Do you have a typical reader – people who are in the wine trade or non-wine people as well?
Corkscrew was clasped to the bosom of the UK and US wine trade first, without a doubt. But, gradually, word spread to the civilian population. Now, the majority of my readers are non-trade, though I suspect most like a tipple or two.
Tell us about the new book Brut Force...what can we expect?
Brut Force is precocious and full-bodied, but also poised and balanced, with a magnificent finish. It begins where Corkscrew ends, with Felix Hart at the mercy of Paris-Blois, the malevolent luxury drinks corporation. Hart is forced to take part in The Judgment of Basildon, a corrupt wine tasting, and soon finds himself on the wrong side of his employers, his suppliers and a gang of organic wine fanatics. There’s action, there’s drinking and there’s sweet, sweet loving. Something for everyone, really.
What was the inspiration for this book – any real experiences here as well?
I’ll let my readers deduce the inspiration for the Judgment of Basildon themselves. And the Minstrels of Wine may sound familiar to some more academic members of the trade. As for Gatesave, the carnivorous supermarket chain, for legal reasons I must declare that entity to be entirely a work of fiction.
Which novelists and writers do you admire or have inspired you?
I love John le Carré. Hilary Mantel is a favourite too. I owe a debt to Wodehouse, Waugh and Sharpe, and as a child I was inspired by George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman Papers. I’ve just read The Diary of a Nobody and it’s hilarious – written in 1888 but so contemporary.
Have you met any novelists who have given you any advice?
All aspiring novelists must read Stephen King’s On Writing, his combined memoir and writing tutorial. After that, there’s little more to add, other than Peter Cook’s retort to the man who boasts he’s writing a novel: “Neither am I.”
Where next? Can expect your hero Felix Hart to have more adventures?
Oh yes. The third novel is well under way. I suspect Felix will be heading back to South Africa before too long…
Can we expect Felix Hart to hit the big screen!?
I think it’s inevitable. Just a matter of time before Netflix call, I suspect.
If so which actor would you think would be the best person to play him?
Someone with a little va-va-vroom. Best ask the ladies. Bradley James, perhaps?
- If you would like to catch up on the phenomenon that is Peter Stafford-Bow then his first book Corkscrew (published by Thistle Publishing) and Brut Force, his new novel (published by Acorn Independent Press) can both be bought here or check out more information here www.PeterStaffordBow.com and follow Peter Stafford-Bow on social media at @PonceDuVin.