WE HAVE all answered the phone to someone who has dialled a wrong number.

But that wrong number is generally from a caller on the same planet. In 2015 UK astronaut Tim Peake dialled a wrong number from the International Space Station and asked a woman on the other end of the line: "Hello, is this planet Earth?"

Grandmother Betty Barker thought it was a drunken reveller and put the phone down.

The incident amused Bradford author David Barnett, sowing the seed for a novel. “Then David Bowie died in January 2016 and it all sort of came together,” he says. Calling Major Tom - Barnett’s eighth novel - hits the bookshelves this week. “It centres around a grumpy, curmudgeonly man whose only real love is music, who is the only person able to help a family with their problems, and at the same time allow him to confront his own demons,” explains the former Telegraph & Argus journalist, who is appearing at Bradford Literature Festival on Thursday July 6.

Barnett’s life-long love of writing led to a career in journalism - he first worked on local and now freelances for national newspapers - while novels came later.

“I was one of those kids who always enjoyed writing stories at primary school, but although I read a lot it never occurred to me that being a writer was actually a job you could do or, at least, certainly not a job that a working class kid could aspire to. So it wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I thought I could really have a go at trying to write fiction professionally.”

His first novel, Hinterland, looking at life’s strange underbelly, was published in 2005. He later saw success with his Gideon Smith trilogy, about a plucky Yorkshire lad sucked into a series of fantastical adventures.

“I read a wide variety of writers, both fiction and non fiction, and I’m attracted to novels that put ordinary people in extraordinary situations, or where writers scratch the surface of real life to show the sometimes dark things underneath which is the stuff that makes people tick,” he says.

Calling Major Tom represents a change of direction. “Although it does feature a man on his way to Mars, it’s not really fantastical or even science fiction… that sort of thing is just around the corner. I wrote a series of Victorian fantasies starring Gideon Smith who got embroiled in all kinds of magic and mayhem, but for this book I wanted to do something that was funnier and more tragic, and got under the skin of people.”

“It allowed me to really explore human emotions and lives. The Gideon Smith books were a lot of fun to write but this time I could get into the nitty-gritty of northern life a lot more.”

His new promises to make readers smile. “Thomas Major is the world’s most unlikely astronaut. He shouldn’t even be going to space, but for a series of mishaps. When he’s there, he accidentally makes contact with the Ormerod family, and over the course of the book he realises he’s the only one who can sort out the trouble that Nan Gladys and children Ellie and James find themselves in. At the same time, they help him to confront his past,” Barnett, who lives in Wilsden with wife Claire, children Charlie, 14 and 12-year-old Alice, and cats Kali and Maurice, is currently working on his next book for Orion, the publishers of Calling Major Tom. “It’s called The Lonely Hearts Cinema Club and is set in a very unusual old folks’ home near Morecambe, which takes in students to make some money. There are mysteries, generational conflict and hopefully a lot more warmth, comedy and tragedy.”

*David Barnett is appearing at City Hall Banqueting Suite on July 6 from 7pm to 8.15pm, alongside author Rowan Coleman and screen actor-turned author George Costigan, to discuss hope in fiction, and how the books we read affect the way we live our lives.

W:bradfordlitfest.co.uk/event/hope-springs-eternal T: Box office 01274 238374