By Sam Green
At a packed International Anthony Burgess Foundation, the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) hosted Evie Wyld, John Llewellyn Rhys Prize winning writer, and author of All the Birds Singing. Compering the evening was MMU’s own Gregory Norminton. There were also readings of new fiction from two up and coming students from the Writing School.
It was a fantastic evening, with some great insights into Evie’s work, but four key points stood out.
1. Her family drives tractors in their pants.
Evie Wyld grew up splitting her time between Peckham and the vast open spaces of the Australian farm belt. Her mother is Australian, and that side of her family are, for the most part, very macho. They herd sheep with helicopters. They drive tractors in nothing but pants and hats.
“This masculinity really interested me,” says Evie, “because my father’s family are very British… boarding school, hit with cane and all that business. So these two strands of masculinity really fascinated me and how different both sides were.”
These aspects would later help build her first novel, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice. A dual narrative of two young men generations apart, one escaping a troubled past, and a young man dealing with a crumbling family in the aftermath of the Korean War and faced with conscription for Vietnam. Both play with the notions that each generation of men have about their masculinity, and the often complex narratives these labels create around the traumas and wounds inflicted upon them.
2. She has feet in both landscapes of Australia and England.
Evie’s work has been described as ‘Unsettling, dark and extraordinarily fresh’ as well as having the ability to write both terrifying and beautiful ‘hair-prickling’ thrillers. But one of Gregory Norminton’s own points was her “extraordinary feeling and capacity to convey place.”
The settings she paints are beautifully evoked. They often carry the scars of generational and cultural violence, as though the traumas of the past somehow imprint themselves onto the landscape. It is, perhaps, something about the landscapes in England and Australia that hangover from her parent’s experience. Her mother, brought up with the infinite skies and endless horizons of the Australian farmland, found the rolling hills and close grey skies of England sometimes difficult and quite tense. Her father found the heavily cultivated land of the Australian farmland depressing. Both her parents, Evie says, “found a melancholy in each other’s landscapes.”
Not that Evie’s work is depressing. Her Australia is filled with the sound of cicadas, the smells of sugar cane and the endless beauty of rural Australia. England too finds its own treatment equally precise, conjured, in part, by her experiences growing up both in Peckham and holidays to the Isle of Wight.
3. Amazon is not the place to go for new authors.
Amazon.com has few friends in the independent book seller business, and as a manager of such a store in London, Evie has little positive to say about the retail giant. Fundamentally, her concern is that Amazon pays little attention to promoting the work of new writers. Independent book stores go to great lengths to recommend new books and stories their customers may not have read but may enjoy, and it appears there is little of that same impetus within Amazon’s self-publishing industry. If you are starting up as a writer, then you need to have the support of your indie retailers… not the inattention of a retail giant.
4. Creative writing courses aren’t a waste of time.
Creative Writing courses have come under a bit of fire recently after Hanif Kureishi’s comments in the Guardian last month. But, for Evie, her undergraduate and postgraduate courses were her chance to take her writing seriously.
“It was, in way, my opportunity to say ‘I can’t come out now because I’ve got to write a short story.” Her main aim was always to produce the best work she could, not to worry about becoming a writer or trying to get her work ‘out there.’ For her, it was often just trying to make her sentences the best they could be.
For some people, she believes, creative writing courses can conjure images of prescribed notions of ‘how to write’ and produce a certain sort of novel. “But that just isn’t true,” she says, and in any case, producing ‘one type of novel’ would be impossible. “The best advice I ever received on my course,” she says, “was that ‘there are lots of rules for writing, but you can break all of them if you do it well.’”
Sitting as one of the 2013 Granta list of best young writers, and with a host of prizes to her name, her advice is probably well worth taking.
This event was the fourth in a series of Manchester Writing School events at the Anthony Burgess Foundation, showcasing new and existing talent in the literary community. You can find more events at the Manchester Writing School’s Website.
Sam Green studies French and Linguistics at Manchester Metropolitan University, and has never driven any form of farm equipment in his underpants.