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Wyldfire: An interview with Evie Wyld

Interviewed by Alan Kelly.

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Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for fiction, winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and recently listed as one of Britain’s best writers under forty, it would be a tad daft of me to describe Evie Wyld as an important new literary voice. But I’m about to go ahead and do just that. Evie Wyld is a damn fine writer. A searing, eloquent, brutal, beautiful wordsmith whose debut novel After the Fire, A Still Small Voice explores themes of violence, loss, loneliness, redemption and how people wear the stains of their individual pasts, how we run from such things only to look over our shoulder and find the hectoring spectres of our past, the one we thought we’d abandoned, waiting a few paces behind us, watching, wearing a malevolent grin.

3:AM: How hard was it thinking your way into both Leon and Frank’s heads while at the same time thinking yourself into two different times, two different places?

Evie Wyld: I didn’t find that they were so separated out when I was writing. The story follows a path which happened to involve different people, places and times but it wasn’t like I needed to ever ‘put my Frank hat on’ or anything like that. It’s interesting, similarly I often get asked about writing in male voices. It wasn’t something I set out to do particularly with much thought that I was a woman and so therefore a male voice would not be my natural writing voice. Writers make stuff up, it’s sort of the job in fiction, and it seems bizarre that people see writing as the opposite sex as such a leap of imagination, but writing about being chased by a shark is just a run-of-the-mill experience everyone has and can access. That said, yes, it was hard, but no harder than if I’d written a straightforward story one person in one place and time, I don’t think.

3:AM: One thing I noticed while reading was your descriptions of Leon in a dangerous almost alien wilderness when he is conscripted during the Vietnam war, decades later Frank runs way from his own past to his parent’s shack on the beach. It almost felt to me like the land was a reflection of their internal torment. The desolation, the violence, the loneliness. Was that your intention?

EW: Yes, I think that landscape shapes a person, and vice versa. Landscape is as important to me as the characters.

3:AM: The idea of movement is prevalent throughout the book. That movement can keep one sane, safe from others and themselves – whether it is Leon in the aftermath of war or Frank fleeing the violence of a past relationship. I got the impression that these men weren’t running as much as they just couldn’t stop, there could be no stillness for them, no closure, and they could only communicate with violence. Both men stained by terrible things. Would I be half right when I say this?

EW: I think that ‘fleeing’ is common in people who have been though trauma. Thinking that taking some time to yourself, alone, will mean you can figure things out. There’s this idea that by talking a problem or a dreadful experience through you have solved it, like the brain is a puzzle, but sometimes a physical action is needed, a chance to be someone else for a while.

3:AM: The presence of the Bunyip, a folkloric beast from Australian lore, stalks the parameters of each man’s life. Was this an allegory for the ghosts of memory that plague families, the poltergeists of torment which stalk the damaged?

EW: The aboriginal myth is that the Bunyip lurks by waterholes and devours women. The leftovers of war seem to me to do the same thing. Though not always by the water! The idea that the past is always watching was something that interested me, that this very old creature has hounded people for generations.

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3:AM: You won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and have been listed as one of Britain’s best new authors under forty, alongside Scarlett Thomas, China Mieville and Zadie Smith. After the Fire, A Still Small Voice is an excellent book and most inspiring. How does it make you feel that your book is getting this recognition?

EW: I’m giddy about it, though there is a certain amount of disbelief. I finished writing After the Fire what seems to me like a long time ago. It’s strange that people still want to talk about it – it’s strange that other people know the book better than me – I’ve never read it the whole way through as a book, without looking out for edits.

3:AM: Do you believe that it is possible for a person to walk away from doing something awful in their past and somehow find redemption, or do you believe the past is like a piece of old clothing which you can never remove, always clinging to your skin, always dirty?

EW: I don’t think there’s an answer to that. It’s certainly something I’m interested in. When self preserving things like religion and self belief are not there, when you can’t convince yourself and believe it that what you did was for the best or an accident how do you get over things? Some people do walk away some people don’t. The people that do, mostly, seem to find God.

3:AM: Another theme is that of violence – Frank is really quite gentle, especially his interactions with Sal, yet he admits to being capable of beating his ex-girlfriend. To me, violence in your story seems almost like something outside these men, they are infected by it. That it isn’t an internal thing, but something outside them which finds its way in, an external influence.

EW: Violence is a part of life. The thing that I was concerned with showing with Frank was that sometimes nice gentle people hit people weaker than themselves. And sometimes the people they hit don’t just leave and become ‘stronger’ for it. Sometimes they still love the person and go back and it doesn’t mean everyone will end up dead or in prison. In the real world people forgive each other things like that, and in the real world stuff moves on. Of course I’m not condoning domestic violence, I’m just saying that it is far more complicated that a bit of girl power. Sometimes I think people can be very cruel if they think someone has made the wrong decision. I’m not interested in what is right or wrong in these situations, I’m interested in the situations themselves.

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3:AM: You possess a very unusual linguistic style – some of your sentences made my head spin. Do you carry a notepad around with you? What I mean is, there is something very physical about your prose.

EW: Ta. I do carry around a notepad, but mostly it’s just to jot down ideas in. Most of the good writing I do is an hour or so into my writing day, once I’ve written myself into the imaginary world I’m sorting through.

3:AM: You have an MA in creative writing from Goldsmiths College. How much did this benefit your development as a writer – I know you’ve been asked this before.

EW: The MA was excellent. Not everyone gets the same amount of benefit out of creative writing courses, but I think it depends on your expectations. The tutors are not there to explain to you how to write, there’s no secret they let you in on. I learnt that most of the stuff I wrote was not good enough, and then I learnt to see where the good parts were. It’s surprising how difficult it is to see that. It also gives you the space and time and the chance to take what you’re doing seriously.

3:AM: What is your next project? Sorry to end the interview with a cliché, I’m just really excited about what you do next.

EW: I’m working on a novel, but it’s still early days. I’m writer-in-residence at the moment for the Booktrust and they’ve got me doing little projects here and there, including a regular blog.

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ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Alan Kelly is the author of Let Me Die a Woman, published by Pulp Press. If he looks hungover, he probably is.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, July 3rd, 2010.