Evie Wyld’s been all over the place lately. You know – winning prizes, snagging a spot on the Brit version of the 20 under 40 list (as the most under-40 person there), and keeping it real in the Review bookshop in Peckham where she still puts in a couple days a week. And in this year’s graduating class of young, cool writers, she seems to have infiltrated a bit of a boy’s club.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to like her debut, After the Fire, A Still Small Voice (it sounded so sad!). And it was. But I did. What really wowed me was the feeling that she had managed to concoct most of these extraordinarily lifelike details out of thin air – the Australian bush, the prickly heat of the Vietnamese jungle, the heartaches of the close-mouthed father-and-son characters. In this interview, she mentions stomping around her flat trying to get into the heads of her protagonists, Leon and Frank. It doesn’t feel like she’s writing about herself, slapping on a male moniker and a retro time period, and calling it a day. She’s, you know, imagining things! It’s almost as if she gets paid to be creative or something.
Which fictional character out there have you secretly (or not so secretly) thought you resembled?
I feel sometimes a bit like I resemble Miss Amelia from The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers. Perhaps her crossed with Garfield the cat.
If you had to get a literary themed tattoo, what would it be?
It would have to be an animal to fit in with my other tattoos. But following that logic it would also have to be ridiculous. Perhaps a really beautiful Marlin, from The Old Man and the Sea.
Do you read anything completely different from your own style of writing?
I love Gordon Burn’s books about murderers. I read a lot of graphic memoir, David Small, Jeffrey Brown and Alison Bechdel are all fabulous.
What distracts you from writing?
Food, drink, laundry, tooth ache, weight gain, rain, my partner, dogs, cats crossing the road, the next door neighbors when they play computer games, the next door neighbors when they have sex, worry, reading, baking, photographs, the internet, a bee…and everything else.
Can you tell yourself if something you’ve written is good or bad?
I think I can tell now. It took a long time to work it out though, and I still need another pair of eyes to make sure what I’ve written makes sense, even if the writing’s good. I think that can be the hardest thing for a writer, remembering that readers don’t have the advantage of seeing inside your brain while you’re writing.
Have you experimented a lot with different styles of writing to find a writing mode that you’re comfortable with?
Not really. Generally the first draft of something is very serious, and I know it’s getting somewhere on later drafts if it lightens up. When I started writing I wanted to be able to write funny action stuff, but it just doesn’t come to me in the same way as the stuff that really works.
Your next book has a female protagonist and you’ve mentioned that you feel a bit self-conscious that people will think it’s you. How are you creating that divide?
I think I’ve just had to calm down. You write what you’ll write and at the moment I just content myself with the fact that no one is going to read it in its early drafts anyway. Also, fiction is fiction – my life is not half so interesting as the people I write about, and I am not nearly as brave as they are. I don’t really feel like I’m in danger of writing about myself, because other people are far more interesting. People are always going to think you have had the direct experiences of the characters you write about, and that’s just something to expect and deal with once the book is out there and being read.
You’ve written about this before in a Booktrust blog post, but my favourite question still stands: what’s the worst thing you’ve ever written?
Oh god, there’s so much bad stuff. One particular favorite was a Y2K novella I wrote when I was 16, about a girl who has a love affair with an older man. The older man is an artist who has a twisted spine (symbolic). When ‘scientists’ predict the end of the world, (topical) lots of people can’t deal with the ticking clock and kill themselves. The girl’s lover gets cancer and is on his death bed, they have sex while he dies (intense) and then afterwards the girl shaves her hair (meaningful). There’s a huge end of the world party planned, and she goes along to it, and watches the countdown at Piccadilly Circus. But then the world doesn’t end (undercut).
ABOUT AFTER THE FIRE, A STILL SMALL VOICE
What made Australia seem like a good place to set a novel?
I feel like most of the important parts of my childhood are there. The bits that feel the juiciest with emotion and imagination. Living in London it’s a real pleasure to think about the lushness of a different country, the heat and the colour.
Frank and Leon are similar characters in some respects – they’re father and son, they’re both hugely sympathetic characters who’ve nonetheless done some pretty crappy things. What do you think is the biggest difference between the two men?
I suppose that one has been in a war where he has seen that he is capable of violence, and the other has not, but violence has come out in his life none the less. I think Frank is angry, and it’s an anger that comes from misunderstanding a lot of things about his childhood. I think Leon is mainly heartbroken.
Which character is most inspired by someone you know in real life?
My uncle was conscripted and fought in Vietnam, but Leon is not really based on him. He’s a different man with similar experiences. Personality wise, it would probably be Sal. She’s my mother and me and my grandmother. She’s also a close friend of mine.
I am aunty and sister to some dogs. My parents have two lurchers, Juno, hairy and dark, and Hebe, blonde and smooth. Juno had 6 puppies, Hebe is one of them and another one, Gus, orange and smooth with black eye makeup, works in the bookshop with me and Roz, the owner of the shop.
"The mum is Juno, and the little brown one feeding is Gus who now works in the same bookshop as me. Juno's face looks like something out of Where the Wild Things Are."