Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in a small market town in the North West of England. Its principal claim to fame is selling the town bible to pay for a bear to use for bearbaiting during its annual wakes. This claim is, however, not true: the townsmen decided to use the money they’d been saving to buy a bible (16 shillings) to purchase the bear. I have a wary relationship with the town; I spent my teens desperate to escape, and most of my thirties writing about it.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
We had few books in our house: a dictionary of British history, in which I would look up Nelson and Scott (I had a thing for noble deaths); a book on the hunt for Tutankhamun’s Tomb; a family health bible, probably written by Miriam Stoppard; a dictionary used almost exclusively to settle Scrabble arguments; an incomplete set of Young Person’s Encyclopedias from the 1950s. We got all our books from the library. Its musty stacks and silence were probably the most formative influences on my life and my writing.
Why do you write?
I dread to think. Ego, probably: the need for controlled parameters; the desire for people to do exactly what I tell them; a compulsion to justify myself; the fear that if I stop writing I will cease to exist.
Your advice to new writers just starting out?
Read. Read more. Read more again. Write. Write more. Do not give up. Read everything you can, from advertisements to medical textbooks; from science fiction to footballers’ autobiographies; from the classics to the trash. Write as much as you can. None of it is wasted, not one word. Write more. Read more. Don’t give up.
How do you choose your subjects?
Harold Pinter talked of the persistence of an image; a situation, phrase or memory that is deeply cauterized within, and will not dissipate until its possibilities are explored. It’s in that working out, at least for me, that subjects catch the breeze, begin to fly, become visible.
As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing?
I try not to think about what I have written, only what I’m writing now. I do not succeed in this endeavour.
Your views on success?
While success can be quantified by prizes, sales and reviews, it seems to me that no amount of success is ever enough for a writer. Perhaps the driving force behind all writing is a dissatisfaction with what is around you; which is why the artist is never fully satisfied with what they have created, or with the way it has been received.
Do you write every day; what is your writing process?
I write when I can; I have a day job, so I grab hours when they present themselves.
Do you do many drafts?
It depends on what you consider to be many. I do believe that revision is important, but over-editing can lead to a certain airlessness and lack of spark, a dulling of the fizz that made the original vital.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel called The Blind Light, which is set between 1959 and 2019. I’ve described it as a Cold War Wuthering Heights, but even I’m not sure what that means.
Your views on book publishing?
I’ve been in the book-trade for twenty years, and I have more opinions on publishing than is probably wise. In a nutshell: it’s not as bad as people make out; but it has significant areas in which it could improve.
Your views on how new technology and social media have (or have not) changed your writing life? Do you enjoy reading ebooks?
I use ebooks probably in fifty percent of my reading life. My first love remains the physical book, however; the holistic pleasure of opening a book, cracking its spine, the way they line up on the shelf, or huddle in stacks, the way they smell, they memories they can evoke just by looking at the cover.
Which is more challenging to write: a short story or a novel? Why?
They present different challenges: short stories mean there is nowhere to hide; novels require longer-term memory and energy. They’re both a complete ass to write.
If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
I’ve thought about this at great length, and I’ve come back to my original first thought: my wedding day, 2012.
Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
The most common answer to this seems to be along the lines of Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, Dorothy Parker, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, which sounds like a nightmare to host. Wilde and Parker competing for control of attention, Gandhi and Mandela looking awkward and trying to make small talk while Churchill drinks all the wine and smokes throughout the fish course. And would you get a word in, aside from asking if they’d like more sauce (what would you even serve to these people?)? I’d rather just have my wife and friends over. But if I was forced into it I’d invite Dolly Parton, James Joyce, James Baldwin, Grace Paley and Georges Perec. Menu: beef carpaccio, Caldeirada (Portuguese Fish stew), cheeses.
Your our heroes in fiction? And in real life?
My heroes are single parents.
Your three favourite books?
At this moment in time, without too much considered thought: Life a User’s Manual by Georges Perec – my desert island book, probably the best thing I’ve ever read; The Notebook Trilogy by Agota Kritoff – still livid in my mind three years after having read it; Ulysses – because it might be a cliché, but it really is a special book.
Your chief characteristic?
You’d have to ask someone else; I wouldn’t like to say,
Your chief fault?
I operate a strict flat operational structure to my faults – they are legion, but there is no overall chief.
Your bedside reading?
The Double by Jose Saramago, The Stories of Bernard Malamud and Fear: A Cultural History by Joanna Bourke. I usually have several books on the go at once.
I’m not grand enough for a motto.
The Blind Light by Stuart Evers is published in Protest! Stories of Resistance edited by Ra Page | Comma Press, July 2017, 460pp | ISBN 978 190558737
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