Ex Libris

Evie Wyld in Review Bookshop, Peckham

March 26, 2020

For several years, Evie Wyld combined writing fiction with running an independent bookshop - Review, in Peckham, South London.

“It seems like the perfect marriage, doesn’t it?” Evie says of the dual role of writer-bookseller, “but sadly you don’t absorb the books through your skin.”

Although something about her routine must have worked because the two novels that Evie wrote between serving customers and managing the store - After the Fire, A Still Small Voice and All the Birds, Singing - led to widespread acclaim and, in 2013, she was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists.

The Observer calls her ‘one of our most gifted novelists’.

Evie has now stepped back from the day-to-day of running Review but maintains a close involvement with the shop. She has also written a third novel, The Bass Rock. It is an epic, bracing novel, full of anger and heart - one that Max Porter has called a ‘triumph… haunting, masterful.’

In this episode - released to coincide with the day of its publication - Evie and Ben explore the The Bass Rock: they traverse its gothic landscape, touchstone themes and overlapping timeframes; they also browse Evie's bookshop; and, along the way, discuss everything in between - from the Me Too movement to tickling.

 

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A full transcript of this episode featuring Evie Wyld follows below:

 

Ben Holden:

Evie, thank you so much for hosting us here in your lovely home.

Evie Wyld:

Pleasure.

Ben Holden:

Can we talk initially though about Review, about the bookshop, where we'll head over to in a bit? I'm just curious how your involvement with the shop came about and the history of the place, etc.

Evie Wyld:

Well, Ros Simpson opened the shop about 12 years ago now when there really wasn't all that much in Peckham, and she just opened this nice little shop and I happened to live down the road from it, and I sort of wandered in a bit sort of fecklessly one day and was like, “Have you got any work?” [laughs] and she, she hired me - on the spot. And then I worked behind the till for about 10 years. I wrote my first book there when it was a lot quieter; we didn't quite have the footfall that we have today. And I worked there up until I got pregnant, and then we got my friend Katia Wengraf to manage it, who is a brilliant bookseller, and is much better than I ever was actually.

Ben Holden:

How so?

Evie Wyld:

I was much more of a silent, sort of glowering presence I think in the shop. I was much more Black Books and she's very good at remembering everyone's name and suggesting…

Ben Holden:

“If you like this, you'll like that”

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, and more than books really; she kind of orchestrates great friendships and relationships in Peckham, so she just sorts you out, whatever your problem is basically, she’s one of those people. And she was, at the time that we hired her, a milliner. She was making her own really beautiful hats. So the idea was, this would be a job that would enable her to carry on with that, but she loves bookselling so much that now she is a full on career bookseller.

Ben Holden:

So how did you juggle the writing and the shop over the years?

Evie Wyld:

Well, I mean, initially, with the first book, it was…we have a nice tall counter, and I just propped my laptop up and wrote a book, and ate sandwiches when no one can see [laughs]. And then with the second book, it was quite a lot more work, because with the second book, Ros had moved away to Ireland so I had more responsibility. I was managing it. And so then it was just a case of writing early in the morning, late at night, I guess. And then yeah, the third one, I was out. So then I discovered that writing with a baby is much harder than writing with a job. [Laughter]

Ben Holden:

And were you inspired in those early times, writing in the shop, by all the sort of plethora of books around you and voices?

Evie Wyld:

I'd love to say I was…

Ben Holden:

Or was it a hindrance?

Evie Wyld:

No, I don’t think it was either. I think it's one of those things that it seems like a perfect sort of marriage doesn't it?

Ben Holden:

There is a certain romance, kind of booky romance to this.

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, there is. Sadly you don't absorb the books through your skin [laughs]. So I think I looked at it much more like, it probably changed the way that I sold books rather than changed the way I wrote. A bit like if you're a butcher who rears the pig and butchers the pig you're going to sell it with more love perhaps than you would otherwise [laughs].

Ben Holden:

So your new book – we’ll go to the bookshop later and have a have a proper browse - your new book, The Bass Rock, can you tell us a little bit about the novel and maybe you might read the opening for us?

Evie Wyld:

Sure. The Bass Rock is a volcanic plug just off the coast of Scotland, off the coast of North Berwick. It's this big, dark, sort of malevolent presence and it has borne witness to centuries, millennia of, of murder of women by men. And you've got Sarah in the 1700s, who is escaping through the forest from men who say that she's bewitched them and they want to burn her. And then in the 1950s, you've got Ruth, who is sort of a housewife living in this big house in North Berwick and trying to come to terms with the fact that her new widower husband is out of control, perhaps violent and very damaged. And then you've got, more or less present day, Viv, who is cleaning up after Ruth's death in North Berwick and beginning to realise there are things in the house that are very uncomfortable.

Ben Holden:

Yeah, good précis.

Evie Wyld:

So, a load of stuff [laughs].

Ben Holden:

And would you mind reading the opening and we can then talk a little bit more?

Evie Wyld:

No, not at all. Sure.

Ben Holden:

Thank you.

 

~ Evie Wyld reads extract from The Bass Rock ~

 

I was six and just the two of us, my mother and I, took [B-] for a walk along the beach where she and dad grew up. The shore a mix of black rock and pale, cold sand. It was always cold, even in summer we wore wool jumpers and our noses ran and became scorched with wiping on our sleeves. But this was November and the wind made the dog walk close to us, her ears flat, her eyes squinted. I could see the top layer of sand skittering away so that it looked like a giant bed sheet billowing. We were looking for cowrie shells among the debris of the tideline. I had two digging into my palm, white like the throat of a herring girl. My mother had a keener eye and held six. I felt the pull of victory slackening. Resting in a rock pool was a black suitcase, bulging at the sides. The zip had split and where the teeth no longer held together, I saw two fingers tipped with red nails, and one grey knuckle where a third finger should have been. The stump of the finger, like the miniature plaster ham I had for my doll's house. The colour had been sucked from the knuckle by sea water, leaving just a cool grey and the white of the bone. It was the bone, I suppose, that made it so much like the tiny ham. I moved my arm to swat something away from my face and as I did, flies rose from the suitcase in a cloud thick and heavy. Behind me, my mother, “Another one”, she called, “I found another one”. And then the smell, like a dead cat in the chimney in summer; a smell so tall and so broad that you can't see over or around it. My mother walked up behind me “What’s…?” I kept looking at the fingers and trying to understand. My mother pulling me by the arm, “Come away, come away”, she said, and spitting over and over onto the sand, “Don't look, come away”. But the more I looked, the more I saw and peeking through the gaps between the white fingers was an eye that seemed to look back at me, that seemed to know something about me, and to ask a question and give an answer. In the memory, which is a child's memory and unreliable, that eye blinks.

~ Reading ends ~

 

Ben Holden:

Woomph, and so it begins. It’s so great. So it's quite a swirling, epic novel that then unfolds from there; as you say, it’s a sort of triptych, three timelines and female protagonists, but their stories sort of ricochet and reverberate, and then the Bass Rock is sort of watching over, haunting everything. What inspired you to visit there and those three stories…I was trying to think of other novels that have adopted that sort of structure, The Hours sprang to mind. How did you settle on that structure and as a means to explore those themes that you wanted to get into?

Evie Wyld:

I always find structure a funny one, like, I don't settle on it until quite close to the end of writing the book. So with this book, I started writing it when my son was a newborn and so I would literally sit down at my desk while he slept, usually holding his hand [laughs] - so typing with one hand - and I didn't have the luxury of time to think about chronology or what I wanted the story to be or anything like that. I just had to sit down every day and write, you know, for an hour at a time, twice a day, whatever occurred to me, and so I think that's why we have the three different timelines. There are these three different things that just kept on coming up to me, and also, I think that I seem to remember there were quite a few more times, which have maybe been partly sort of translated into the eight murders that run throughout the book that kind of start in prehistoric times, and then go forward to sort of more or less present day. The structure, even though it seems like a very structured book, and even though the last book I wrote seems incredibly kind of, like I've thought about it a lot, it's more to do with, you know, the book will show you what its structure ought to be. You don't kind of think of a frame and then impose it on the fiction.

Ben Holden:

Yes, because the structure of the last novel was quite unusual and unexpected as a reader because you use…one, you were flipping between the two timeframes, but one of them was traveling backwards as well.

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, it was quite mathsy in that way.

Ben Holden:

Yeah, it was ingenious, is another word.

Evie Wyld:

Oh thanks. Or a fluke [laughs].

Yeah, I really think it's, it's to do with getting to a certain amount of words and a story and then playing with how it creates the most impact. It's quite a nice point when you're like, “And now I'm gonna think about structure”.

Ben Holden:

And then it coalesces.

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, and it inevitably means you have to lose a load of work, and you have to change the story and all that sort of thing. But I think so far, touch wood, it's always sort of made the novel, you know, it's made the story.

Ben Holden:

And the Bass Rock as well must have anchored some of this in terms of your character's movements and the stories that you were sort of swirling through there. I'm intrigued, again, still about the location because I confess, Mr Ignorant, I didn't know much about it, and looking into it I realised that David Attenborough, no less, has described it as one of the 12 wonders of the natural world, so it makes for quite a…

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, it’s a really stinky rock. [Laughter]

Ben Holden:

But it's quite a bracing foundation for your story and also, have to say, the title was intriguing to me because your previous titles are quite, sort of, quite lyrical, you know; ‘All the Birds’ comma ‘Singing’,  ‘After the Fire’, comma, ‘a Still Small Voice’ are beautiful. And then this one's: The Bass Rock

Evie Wyld:

Comma, [laughter] full stop.

Ben Holden:

But it's just very emphatic, you know?

Evie Wyld:

Yeah. So the character of Ruth in the 1950s is based on my grandmother. We had a great aunt that lived in North Berwick and it meant that my father grew up with holidays there. There are lots of photographs of him and my grandmother together with the Bass Rock in the background. And my grandmother, you know, I borrowed her timeline; so she married a widower with two small boys quite soon after his wife had died of tuberculosis while he was at war. So he came back from war, no wife, traumatized boys, and then quite quickly married my grandmother and I'd always seen that as, he needed to marry someone so that the boys had a mother, which is quite an ungenerous kind of way of looking at it. But I knew my grandmother as a very, very intelligent woman who'd done nothing with her brain and was bored as hell. And she chain smoked, and she was a gin alcoholic, and she was, by my father's recollection, a terrible mother. And she went on to have three more kids and they all had interesting relationships with her, very different, but my father in particular found her very difficult. And so as his daughter, I sort of absorbed that and was like, it's one of those relations that you slightly roll your eyes at, and then inheriting these photo albums after her death and seeing her as a young woman - kind of really sort of vital and sexy and interesting - and you go, “Of course, there is so much more to her”.

So the story, that thread, started off with me thinking about an alternative version of her, I think, and the setting of the Bass Rock felt important because it was kind of that linchpin where my father was, she was, I was as a child as well. And I think the landscape there has always really interested me because it's, it sort of always feels off-season somehow. It's like a, it's like a 1950s holiday destination, and it's carpeted and [-] golf course; and, and then there's, there are these great rocks out in the sea and there are oily gannets washing up and tar on the beach, and the wind blows sand in your face and, and they had an outdoor swimming pool, which as someone who is half Australian seems very weird to have that in Scotland, you know, even in the summer you're like, “I mean, he's going for that”. [Laughs] But people didn't, you know, it was like…it's all that kind of postcard seaside thing.

And these strange landmarks: you've got the Bass Rock and Craigleith and Fidra; and then on the land, there's the Law, which is this really steep hill with a whalebone right at the top, like a little beacon. And it just seems like a strange, witchy place. And then there are the witch trials that happen there. There's an old church, St Andrew's Old Kirk, which is by the Seabird Centre and it's this little building where these witches were accused of all sorts of things and then they were killed and then, you know, it feels like all of the things I'm interested in, kind of pulled together in one place.

Ben Holden:

Yeah, well it works beautifully in the novel. Did you head up there while you were writing it? Because it is very, very, very vivid. And you know, just listening to you describe, in quite matter of fact terms, the place but then when it's transposed into your novel, it's very, very rich.

Evie Wyld:

Thanks. Well, I went there a lot when I was a kid so I kind of wrote a lot of that stuff from memory…

Ben Holden:

From memory, a bit like the opening of the novel as well, in terms of that filter or refraction.

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, exactly. And sort of the nostalgia is quite useful, and it always felt to me when I was a child like it was the 1950s there. But then, before I had my son, I knew that I was, that was kind of the area that I was going to be writing in, and I sort of went on a mad eight months-pregnant scramble over the rocks there and took loads of photographs and recorded the sound of the wind on the beach and picked up little smelly bits of tar [laughs]. Yeah, and I stayed in the golfing hotel, which is this really like imposing gothic hotel which is just for golfers and their wives, it's got a spa in, so the men go and play golf and the women go and have manicures and stuff. And I got a really cheap deal, and was there very, very pregnant and felt like I was being looked at like I’ve very bad luck…

Ben Holden:

Yeah, they must have wondered [laughs].

Evie Wyld:

Sort of deliberately having a drink in the evening so everyone could see [laughs].

Ben Holden:

Yeah, you mentioned the word Gothic, you know, some of your other novels as well have Gothic elements, but this really does feel very much in keeping with some Gothic tradition, you know, it's very modern in being a contemporary novel, but of course there's…Du Maurier sprang to mind a little bit for me, but M. R. James clearly, and there have been beaches in your other books, but here that beach…and Henry James as well, a little bit. How much were you interested in exploring some of those sorts of tropes or traditions, not consciously, but that sort of tradition?

Evie Wyld:

I shouldn't say this because I lecture at university, but I got a D in English at A-level and that's the last time I studied it. So these are all things that obviously I pick up on because, like subconsciously, because I love horror. I'm not any good at categorizing books. It’s just that, I don't know, maybe it's a thriller, maybe it’s…I just write the stuff that interests me and it turns out that psych, gothicy stuff; there's very little deliberate about what I do, it just…

Ben Holden:

Yeah, but the Gothic lends itself to that in the sense of the subconscious and the sort of ricochets between the timeframes that you've got and the identity but also, of course, the threat and the looming violence and male violence in all its different forms, and the visitations of the past and the present and future and between those generations. It's all very Gothic and you know, that is Gothic in its best sense should be coming from that subconscious anyway.

Evie Wyld:

I don't know. I mean, I've always read a lot. I remember a, like a driving holiday when I was a little kid, like really quite small, maybe six, and my mum had an audio cassette of Jamaica Inn, and I think we were driving in France, so we're driving for hours and we just listened to it over and over again. And something about that, and I haven't read it since, but something about Jamaica Inn stays with me like an atmosphere I think.

Ben Holden:

I mentioned that the different tropes, but the mirrors as well; there's a lot of different moments where reflections aren’t recognisable but again, it's those…the three character’s stories are spilling over into each other's timeframes or narratives, until they're kind of, do feel like one story.

Evie Wyld

I was probably about three quarters of the way through writing it and then Me too happened and there was something about that moment where I was just like “Witch hunting, and it's all the same thing. It has changed shape, but it's all the same.”

Ben Holden:

Again, there's the instinctive threat of violence etc. and the patterns are all still the same, in essence, yeah, I mean that does come through. There was a fantastic section in particular, quite late in the novel, that I was struck by, in this sense. If you don't mind if it's not too presumptuous, I'll just read it back to you.

Like I say it is quite late in the novel.

 

 

 

~ Ben Holden reads extract from The Bass Rock ~

 

There is no other point in our lives when either of us would follow these instructions, but I see Catherine close her eyes without hesitating and it feels good to follow orders. When my eyes are closed, Maggie starts humming and then chanting. I am surprised that I'm not embarrassed. “Diana, goddess of the moon, light the light; Pan, horned god of the world Earth, light the light.” She squeezes our hands and we join in and we just say these sentences over and over; and there's the feeling that you get when you're crying and shouting in the car on the motorway, but also later a feeling of elation, and all there is is the rosy black of my closed eyes and the sounds reverberating in my teeth, and it feels good. I am just my hands joined to my sisters and my eyeballs safe in their sockets, my tongue, and my spine all the way down to my base. I don't know how long we chant for, but it is like I'm a bat or a whale and I can see that there are people in the kitchen with us. There are children and women, all holding hands like us and I wonder is this the ghost everyone sees? Is it in fact 100,000 different ghosts? It's only possible to focus on one at a time. They spill out of the door way and I see through the wall that they fill the house top to bottom. They're locked in wardrobes, they're under the floorboards, they crowd out of the back door and into the garden. They're on the golf course and on the beach, and their heads bob out of the sea, and when we walk, we're walking right through them. The birds on the Bass Rock, they fill it. They are replaced by more; their numbers do not diminish with time. They nest on the bones of the dead.

~ Reading ends ~

 

It's so good. It's such good stuff.

Evie Wyld:

A chuckle a minute isn’t it? [Laughs]

Ben Holden:

I love it. No but, actually you say that, but your book, I have to say, is really, really funny, and almost made me laugh out loud, and I say that as someone who never laughs out loud at a book and I want to ask you whether you do?

Evie Wyld:

What, at my own books?

Ben Holden:

No, not at your own books [laughs]. Yeah, sitting there making yourself cry with laughter, no.

Evie Wyld:

What did I read recently that made me laugh a lot?

Ben Holden:

I like, by the way, them carrying the ashes in the bag for life, that was great, for instance. And the supermarket queue kind of ‘rom-com gone wrong’ sort of interaction was hilarious as well. It's a very, very funny novel in fairness.

Evie Wyld:

Thank you, that's really kind. I think, I don't know how you get away from humour. You know, if you're dealing with dark stuff, I just think it's such a natural thing for us to laugh in moments of horror, you know, even if it's nervousness, but life is so ridiculous, most of the time. I think because Viv, the woman in the more or less contemporary strand, is a very thinly veiled version of me, I think I was able to put in quite a lot of pratfalls and, you know, just like, just moments that you privately sort of smack yourself on the forehead for – it was quite therapeutic in that way.

Ben Holden:

They're very funny. They worked really, really well. And yeah, they bring it sort of down to earth; again, they feel very real and again, contemporary as well as, you know, the different timeframes going right back to the kind of witchery and onward. And you mentioned Me too and of course there's a strong streak of anger running through the novel as well as there was in All the Birds, Singing in terms of the looming threat of male violence, and here, there's all sorts of forms of abuse from gaslighting all the way through to rape. Again, how conscious is this? Because there is, you know, Me too, as well - there's a strong message here.

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, there is. And it's not that I set out to write a book about that stuff, and neither did I set out with the other two books to write about, you know, toxic masculinity, or…I feel like this is the book that those two books were sort of running up at in a funny way, like I was kind of thinking about all of those things, in a way, all three of them are about exactly the same thing. I don't think you, as a writer, write one book about something and then you're done with it. I think it kind of snowballs in a way. And this book, you know, as I said, I had a young baby when I was writing most of it, and that makes you very angry - I mean, you have twins, you understand the anger there. But, just trying to carry on with your life once you've had a baby as a woman - it's quite amazing how many people want to get involved and tell you you're doing it incorrectly. So, I would go and breastfeed my son to sleep, which you're not supposed to apparently, but he's fine [laughs], on a bench outside the National Theatre, and then I’d go in once he was asleep and write for an hour while he slept, and the amount of times I had people sitting down next to me saying things along the line of “You'd both be much more comfortable at home”, you know, “what are you doing?”, “He's cold”, “Why are you doing this in public…” and there's that level of rage. Then there's the level of rage of the kind of various abuses that I think in my last book, I was looking at being like a young woman and the confusion of the message that you are supposed to be, you're supposed to appear sexy, you're supposed to want sex, but you're not supposed to enjoy sex, like that kind of weird juxtaposition of like, you know, it kind of pulls young women apart, I think, and I think it has a lot to do with that anger; binge drinking, self-harm, all of that stuff, and the way that they approach sex, the weird aggression that we have towards men when we're quite young, because we're being told all of these different things that pull in different directions. Something that happened while I was publicising All the Birds, Singing is I had my drink spiked at a party and thankfully nothing happened, I just felt very unwell for several weeks, and talking to a lot of my good friends about that, and you know, being like, “Ooh, that's lucky”, you know, “Don't know who did it”

Ben Holden:

That’s scary.

Evie Wyld:

Yeah. The amount of them who had had their drink spiked and it hadn't ended as well as it did for me. It just really amazed me. And the more that we talk about it, you know, that's why that extract you just read is an important one for me because it's showing the hope of the book, which is Viv might survive because she's talking about stuff and noticing the deaths. And there's so much power in women speaking about it and that's why Me too was such a ground-breaking, incredible thing is that it got us talking about it. And I saw last night on Sex Education, the Netflix series, that they have this scene where one of the young women gets wanked on on a bus. And nearly every woman who's made it to adulthood has had that, maybe not to completion, but you know, you've had a raw penis wiped on you, at least on the tube. And you just don't mention it. Because you're just like, that is part of being a woman, you know, and the thing that you should do is you can move down the tube, you can make sure that you're always, all your flesh is covered, you can, you know, there are things you can do, but you know, everyone's had it and you just absorb that and carry it with you and then that, I don’t know, there were just layers and layers of little things like that, that affect you massively, but at the time, you're like, “This is just a little thing. I'm not physically injured”. And it's really embarrassing to tell people that “Somebody wiped his willy on me on my way to school” [laughs]. And you just don't talk about it and you cover it up, and then there are just these little rocks in you that never really get shown the light.

There are these podcasts, there's My Favourite Murder, I don’t know if you've heard of that one. That started about three years ago, and it's just two women talking about murder that they're interested in, serial killers and that sort of thing. And they're very, very funny. What was totally unexpected about it is there are women all over the world who are really fascinated by murder, and nobody knew. You know, we're all like secretly googling ‘Murderpedia’ and you know, ‘Are there any active serial killers in Peckham?’ and things like that.

What happened was this community grew up around My Favourite Murder and around All Killer, No Filler, the British version, and it's given a huge amount of power to women to pay attention to their own instinct. And it sounds like such a simple thing and why weren't we doing it before, but their catchphrase “fuck politeness” is one of those things that you realise as a woman you are…it's ingrained in you that whatever happens, you have to be polite. If a man starts talking to you on the tube while you're reading a book, and they're like, “What's your book about?” And you say, “I'm really sorry, I'm reading my book, can you leave me alone?” you get this tirade of fury, this like, “Huh, you know, I'm just trying to be friendly, and I don't fancy you and I'm not trying to do anything”. And it becomes aggressive very, very quickly, and really uncomfortable.

And so I think we've all kind of, to an extent, we just look up and we smile, and we're like, “Oh, it's a book about blah, blah, blah”, and we end up in conversation with someone we don't want to talk to, and why are they talking to us anyway? What's their plan? You know, it's all these, kind of, these little moments in your everyday life as a woman that you have to make way and be polite, and actually it really affects your day and it really exhausts you. And the amount of women, including me, who would get home after a day's work, and come in and not take their coat or their shoes off or turn the lights on or make any dinner or anything, and just sit on the sofa and just feel like “Jesus Christ”, and you know, stare at a wall. I think it's a big load; it's a big depressing load. And the more we talk about it, the more you can see it happening. And I feel like other women looking out for other women and connecting with other women, all that stuff is so important, and I've seen a huge change in it of women looking on public transport to see if that woman’s okay with the attention she's getting from that person. There was a YouTube clip recently of a woman telling some drunk men to shut up because they were singing a song about how best to fuck a woman on the tube and she just stood up and just shouted at them. And then the rest of the passengers are all like, shout at them too, and it's this wonderful moment of like, you know, “We see you, and we hear you, and if you're going to say that you can fuck off” - it feels incredibly powerful.

Ben Holden:

Yes. And do you feel positive then that things are changing a little bit? As you say, there is a sort of sense that there's a spell or a circle that is perpetuating itself in your novel, but that there are little openings of, as you're describing, change.

Evie Wyld:

There's going to be, stretching into the future, murders and murders and murders. You know, of course, it's not good, that's not going to change. But there is that hope of survival, I think, and that feeling of sisterhood I suppose, which sounds like a really weird word.

Ben Holden:

I think I should say also, for the blokes out there listening that, you know, the men in the novel, although there's a sort of core…again, it's that sort of instinctive thing that you're tapping into a lot of the time in terms of the violence and the threat of violence, they're also damaged, and there is abuse that is visited upon them along the way. And you can see why these fractured male egos, or whatever, are being forced upon the women and how this circle of violence, again, is perpetuating itself.

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, I mean, I think that it's one of the big misunderstandings of when people talk about toxic masculinity; they're not saying women are abused by men, they're saying it's terrible for everyone. That's the point and it's the male suicide rate - you only have to look at that.

Ben Holden:

Of course. And you mentioned the war as well, which features in terms of the backdrop to one strand.

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, I think the trickle-down effect of war is quite astounding. And, you know, I am of a generation where my grandfather fought in the war, my uncle fought in Vietnam, and, you know, it's really at arm's length, but you can see it in the children and the grandchildren. It's still there.

Ben Holden:

It percolates through. Speaking of children, there was one, again, in terms of how the novel is stitched together, there are lots of motifs that, as we've talked about, sort of came about, organically, but tickling was one of them and I was really struck by it. Do you know the essay on tickling by Adam Phillips?

Evie Wyld:

No

Ben Holden:

I brought you a copy because it's amazing, and I was just struck by tickling. Again, I know you were writing this while you're pregnant and your kids were young, but tickling, it's such a great expression of the threat of physical abuse and that sort of strange netherworld between pleasure and pain and as the child is laughing, and it often involves them being pinned down. But he's amazing, I mean, Adam Phillips is an amazing psychoanalyst writer. But let me just read, if I may, a paragraph because you'll like it.

Evie Wyld:

Please do.

~ Ben Holden reads extract from Adam Phillips’s essay ~

 

Ben Holden:

Helpless with pleasure, and usually inviting this helplessness, the child in the ordinary, affectionate, perverse scenario of being tickled, is wholly exploitable. Particular adults know where the child is ticklish. It is, of course only too easy to find out. But it is always idiosyncratic, a piece of personal history, and rarely what Freud called one of the ‘predestined erotogenic zones’. Through tickling, the child will be initiated in a distinctive way into the helplessness and disarray of a certain primitive kind of pleasure, dependent on the adult to hold and not to exploit the experience and this means to stop at that blurred point. So acutely felt in tickling, at which pleasure becomes pain, and the child experiences an intensely anguished confusion, because the tickling narrative, unlike the sexual narrative, has no climax. It has to stop or the real humiliation begins. The child, as the mother says, will get hysterical.

~ Reading ends ~

 

Ben Holden:

It's really good stuff.

Evie Wyld

It’s really good.  

Ben Holden:

But you tapped into that, it comes up more than once in the novel. And again, there's a great scene between one couple who are fighting after they've had sex and he tickles her and she gets mad about it. She hates…“I fucking hate tickling”. And he's baffled by this because they've just had sex and then she's having a go at him for tickling her. But again, it's that sort of, a bit like the opening of your novel, it's that childish thing, it's sort of in there, instinctive, and then we as conscious human beings have to know when to stop or when it's not funny, or can you see that someone's actually not laughing, they're actually struggling to breathe.

 

Evie Wyld:

Yeah. Well, with my son, we have a safe word. He screams “sandwich” whenever he wants it stop. And we're really, really strict about like keeping to that. But yeah, I think tickling, the after sex tickling you're talking about, there are so many things that a man can do to a woman and then afterwards just go like, “I was only joking, what are you getting upset about?” and that's really what that is. For me that is tickling, it encompasses, “What are you going to report?” And do you know, because the reaction is laughter, even though it is, like you say, hysterical laughter, you don't have a leg stand on it. I don't see many steps between that and somebody being like, “Oh, she loved it. You know, she says she didn't want to have sex with me now. But at the time she was well into it.”

Ben Holden:

It is a sort of very earliest expression of those sorts of, that sort of routine, yeah, that can in an adult, darker spectrum lead to rape.

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, absolutely.

Ben Holden:

There is, by the way, a little rejoinder on tickling, in Adam Phillips, as I say, because he has an eight year old in a session who talks about tickling, and she says “When we play monsters and mummy catches me, she never kills me, she only tickles me.”

Evie Wyld:

[Shudders]

Well, I think when you're a kid you can't imagine what somebody would do when they catch you. That is the thing that people do when those kind of chasing…you can't imagine what the next step is. So it is, it's like when you have a dream when you're a little kid, and you're like “The monster’s chasing me, and it's gonna tickle me”, why does that fill me with such dread?

Ben Holden:

Yes, and you mentioned that this is partly inspired by your family. I was curious what they…and it's dedicated to the Wylds. And by the way, your first novel After the Fire, a Still Small Voice was dedicated to the Strangers. Can this be that your families are called the Wylds and the Strangers?

Evie Wyld:

They are.

Ben Holden:

That’s so cool.

Evie Wyld:

That's why they got married [laughs].

Ben Holden:

Perfect, perfect, yeah. How have your family reacted to this one so far?

Evie Wyld:

They haven’t read it yet [laughs]. They all understand, I hope, that this is a reimagining of something. They understand by now about what fiction writing means and though there are always going to be things that you draw on from real life, I don't think I'm exposing anyone in any way that they wouldn't kind of feel comfortable with.

Ben Holden:

Do you feel like your grandmother, who I assume is no longer with us, would feel a sense of validation or in some way gratified or grateful that you've given her some sort of voice that perhaps she wasn't afforded?

Evie Wyld:

That’s a really interesting question. I'd love to say yes, I think she would probably not read the book and just go, “Darling, isn't it marvellous?”, and that would be it. I think she had kind of checked out a long time ago. Maybe the person she was in the old photographs would feel a link. But really, the Ruth in the book, you know, I allow her to do a lot more things than my grandmother ever allowed herself to do. And I don't think Ruth is ever bored; she's anxious and confused and angry, but she's never bored like my grandmother was.

Ben Holden:

Well maybe we should think about heading over to Review shortly? Normally, there are three of us because I meet with an author and a librarian or bookseller, but here we are in your home and it's just you because you're wearing both hats, you wear both hats. But normally, I ask in the venue in situ, how our guests decide to catalogue their books or organise their shelves, but I feel really sort of nosy and wary of being prying as we're in your place, looking around at the books. But it’s coals to Newcastle, you work in the shop, or worked, and then, how would you then fashion your shelves here? Or how are the books here? Is it sort of like “Oh whatever, they're just going to go where they're going to go?” because they're so regimented there?

 

Evie Wyld:

Well yeah, in our last flat we alphabetised them, and you know, in fiction, nonfiction, and we spent several weeks doing that.

Ben Holden:

And your husband, your partner…your husband's in publishing?

Evie Wyld:

He is yeah, so now we just have piles and piles of books round the place, and then if I need a book to teach with at Kent, I generally end up buying it again [laughs], which is a bit aggravating. I sort of don't know who I was when I had the time to sort them out, which feels really sad. But there is no order sadly, there's just lots.

Ben Holden:

Yes, yes. It would be lovely to have a browse of Review with you and perhaps you'd let me buy you a book? Although again, it feels like coals to Newcastle, at least I can support the shop or you, if you don't want to choose one there, you can recommend one for me or whatever you like, but I do like to celebrate these places and as well as the serendipity of the shelves there and the browsing process, so that'd be fun. Thank you so much.

Evie Wyld:

Pleasure.

 

~ Evie Wyld is invited to select a book of her choice from Review bookshop ~

 

Ben Holden:

This is so great, love it. Do you have customers come in and buying your book, asking for your book? Have you ever had anyone ask for your book and not realise that it’s you?

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, quite a lot, which is the much more comfortable way round [laughs].

Ben Holden:

Yeah. Do say, “Do you want me to sign it?”

Evie Wyld:

No

Ben Holden:

You just let them buy it?

Evie Wyld:

Yeah. I mean, I have in the past, if we've been in a conversation, you know, if we’re kind of getting on well, and occasionally they'll be like, “Why would I want you to sign it?” [laughs].

Ben Holden:

Do they get a bit spooked?

Evie Wyld:

Yeah.

Ben Holden:

I can understand that.

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, it’s like why do you want just a perfect stranger to sign this book you’ve bought? It’s very odd [laughs].

Ben Holden:

But then you must get a fair number of local…being a local sort of author figure in the community as well?

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, ‘a figure in the community’ – that’s how I like to think of myself [laughs].

Ben Holden:

It's a beautiful shop though and it smells of new books.

Evie Wyld:

Thank you. Yeah, well you'd hope so [laughs].

Ben Holden:

It's lovely.

Evie Wyld:

I’ll just close the door to the toilet [laughs].

Ben Holden:

It's tough to know where would you begin if you were going to choose a book for pleasure. Does that feel funny to be coming in here to choose a book for pleasure, because it’s a worky place?

Evie Wyld:

It does. Yeah, I think most of the books that I read at the minute are to do with helping other people learn to write.

Ben Holden:

Right, because you're teaching…

Evie Wyld:

Because I’m teaching creative writing at Kent. It sort of changes how you think about books. You're kind of like, “Oh, is there a section in there that I can photocopy and it will show them how to do a good image or significant detail?” or, or something like that.

Ben Holden:

Are there texts that you return to?

Evie Wyld:

Yeah, I'm a big fan of, and it's a very old one, but the Artist’s Way. I just think is really useful in terms of kind of relaxing people into a sort of creative process and it's all really embarrassing talking about it, as it makes it sound…

Ben Holden:

Why?

Evie Wyld:

I think, because writers often want to keep it quite mystical and actually, the reality of writing a novel is it's a lot of hard work and a lot of time and graft.

Ben Holden:

Application.

Evie Wyld:

Yeah. I always feel like it's better to try and err on the side of being a bit kind of brutal about it, rather than, you know, have a nice drink and smoke a pipe and, you know, wait for the muse, you know. [Laughter] But I think the Artist’s Way is really good, because it has practical stuff about if you're sat looking at a blank page, you know, do this, and I find that it's useful. But I think Max Porter is really good for people writing now, to just show that you can really do whatever you want with the page. I think that's really inspiring. It seems to surprise students quite a lot which is nice.

Ben Holden:

Yeah. Have you read The Diary of a Bookseller?

Evie Wyld:

No, I haven't.

Ben Holden:

Talk about again, coals to Newcastle…

Evie Wyld:

This is very good, actually, Easier Ways to say I Love You by Lucy Fry. And it's a memoir. I think it's literally just come out and it's about her learning to live within a polyamorous marriage with her wife and her son. Yeah, it's quite a startling book I think.

Ben Holden:

You absolutely loved it, according to the cover.

Evie Wyld:

I absolutely loved it - such a great quote [laughter]. I do hate writing quotes for people.

Ben Holden:

An important voice and beautifully written. It’s a fantastic cover as well.

Evie Wyld:

Yeah.

Ben Holden:

Easier Ways to say I Love You - it’s a nice title as well. Well thank you. That's, I think, as good a recommendation as I could want for.

Evie Wyld:

Good.

Ben Holden:

Thank you.