Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Emma Gibson interviews talented new writer Evie Wyld

Evie Wyld won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize in 2009, with her first novel, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, a powerful tale of loss set against a richly depicted Australian landscape. She was also shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers 2010, and it was at a celebration of this prize at the Southbank Centre that I was first captivated by her lush, evocative prose style.

I catch up with Evie on the fifth floor of the Royal Festival Hall, where we grab a coffee and settle down to talk about the writing process, gendered writing, and what it feels like to become a published writer.

EG: Did you come up with the idea for After the Fire, a Still Small Voice whilst studying for the MA in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths?

EW: At university I focused on short stories, and there was one particular short story that I wrote about a man going to Australia from England, half chasing, half just looking for his girlfriend who’d left him, and I think that was the starting point with Frank, because he’s in this relationship with Lucy that has all gone wrong, and I think that there are strands of him in that. Apart from that, no. I got an agent through having a short story on the Goldfish website and she just asked me to write a novel, it was as mercenary as that! But I really didn’t have any plans as to what it was going to be about, I just started with a voice.

EG: So how did the ideas develop and become the novel that they are now?

EW: Well, without wanting to sound like ‘I found it in the woods under a willow tree’, it felt much more like I was developing the characters and then just following them. I started with Frank being on his own in the shack and then tried to work out why he was there, and that seemed to involve his family, and it just sort of kept on, a bit like a kaleidoscope, just going back and back… Writing my second novel now it’s a relief that I had no idea what I was doing with the first one because I have no idea what I’m doing now. I just hope it works the second time round, just following and not trying to get anything too black and white too early on.

EG: Do you usually plan to the end of the book? Do you know the ending before you get there?

EW: No, not at all. I’d find that really difficult. I think it’d be a little bit like reading a book you’ve already read. It’s really exciting writing a book because you don’t really know what’s going to happen, but there are elements there, and maybe I had an idea that three or four things would happen along the way, but I didn’t know which one was going to be the main crescendo. I didn’t really know how I wanted the characters to be by the end. I think I did decide on the ending a few times, but they were all completely different endings, which didn’t work, and you just have to muddle through. There’s so much muddling through!

EG: And what about the physical process of writing? Do you stick to a schedule? Are you very strict with yourself?

EW: No, I’m not very strict with myself at all, I’m rubbish! I try to come here whenever I have a free moment, because it just gets you away from things like housework, and telephones... even just staring into the fridge! I normally come here three days a week and work in a bookshop two days a week. The bookshop is called Review and it’s a really small independent bookshop in Peckham, where I live.

EG: At the Orange Prize discussion the term ‘gendered writing’ was highlighted, and I just wondered how you feel about it, personally. Do you feel that you’re at a disadvantage as a female writer?

EW: Working in a bookshop I know that people do tend to buy men’s novels more. I’ve never seen a woman come into the shop and pick up a man’s book, realise it’s by a man and then put it down, but you do get men doing exactly the same thing. Someone actually came in once and complained that they’d bought M J Hyland’s book assuming that because it had murder in it that it was written by a man. She actually came in and said she was horrified to discover it was written by a woman, and she stopped reading. I think it’s quite similar to the weird belief that women aren’t as funny as men, I think it’s tied in with all of that sort of stuff… but I write as two men in After the Fire, a Still Small Voice.

EG: Was it a conscious decision to have male protagonists?

EW: Before I wrote the novel I had written quite a few short stories as men and it really hadn’t occurred to me that it was an unusual thing to do. I don’t know if that’s because when I was finding my feet I read a lot of what you might call ‘masculine novels’. I was always interested in really fun, action books and writers, such as Chuck Palahniuk, so it didn’t occur to me that I was making a statement; I still don’t think I was.

EG: Being quite a new writer yourself, do you have any advice for new writers? Maybe you were given some valuable advice yourself?

EW: I’d say the main thing, and this just sounds so trite and obvious, but just keep writing and don’t take offence at rejections. It’s really hard but try to take it on the chin and actually listen to what people in publishing and the agents are saying, because they’re not against you. I’ve met a lot of people who are potentially fantastic writers but have stopped at a certain level because they’ve decided the thing to do is to self-promote before they’ve got their book to a level where people will accept it. If they just spent an extra six months working really hard, instead of doing all the stuff they’ll do anyway once the book’s published, they’d be much more successful. Yes, so just take it on the chin and keep trying.

EG: I’m sure all our readers and writers would love to know: how does it feel to be a published writer?

EW: Very nice! I sold the book two years ago and it still hasn’t really sunk in. I won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize and that was amazing, and really led to so much incredible stuff, like Woman’s Hour, so yes, it’s amazing, and I never would have imagined it etc etc!

EG: And how do you feel when you see your book in a shop?

EW: Really smug! Especially with the Orange Award for New Writers sticker on the book, and being in the 3 for 2s at Waterstones. As much as I’m very much firmly on the side of independence, it’s very exciting seeing your book with a sticker on!

EG: Your novel is set in Australia. Do you find it easier to write about somewhere that you’re not? And are you tempted to go to Australia and write about England, or London?

EW: Yes, whenever I go over there that seems to be what happens, which is really odd. I was thinking about this today. I think that sometimes, when you’re faced with the reality of something, it’s quite difficult to get over the fear that what you’re writing or painting or whatever is not exactly what’s in front of you, so I think it can be a bit of a hinderance sometimes. Also, because I’m half Australian, when I’m over here I miss Australia, and when I’m over there I miss England, so I think I slightly work out of a sense of homesickness. And, well, if you’re in Peckham it’s quite nice to imagine you’re on a beach in Australia.

EG: You mentioned that you’re working on a new book now. Can you give anything away?

EW: Well so far, which is very early days, it’s set between Australia and coastal towns in the UK, and it’s about a very tall woman… that’s about it so far… and sharks!

Evie Wyld is currently the Writer in Residence for the Booktrust. You can read her weekly blog here:

For more information visit her website:

After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is out now and is published by Jonathan Cape.

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