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Wes Brown
Interview Date: Wed 11 May 2011
Wes Brown was born in Leeds in 1985. He is a novelist, short story writer, critic and blogger. He blogs regularly at The Information and writes for a number of journals. Wes is the Coordinator for NAWEs Young Writers' Hub and is currently writing his second novel, When Lights Are Bright, a fictional account of the Shannon Matthew's kidnapping.

Daniel Sluman was born in Oxford, in 1986. He started writing poetry when he embarked on a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing in 2008. Since then he has been published widely in UK based print journals and e-zines, and has performed regularly in the Gloucestershire area. He is currently finishing off his first pamphlet-sized collection ‘Alphabet’, before approaching publishers in the UK.

Your Questions Answered:

Shark has been described as 'Northern realism'. How important is it for writers to explore the grittier aspects of modern life, and how has basing your novel in the north made life easier or harder for you in writing it?
Question By: Daniel Sluman
It's interesting how interlinked the words 'Northern' and 'gritty' are and how often they're used to described Shark.

There's a danger that we can fall into a trap that David Forrest talks about where 'the North' is become a negative-stereotype of itself and not truly representative.

That said, their are still gritty, dark, violent, racist, misogynistic, nihilistic, alcoholic, and narcotic elements to Leeds - like any 'regenerated' city. Like any city living in the 21st century. Not all of these vices can be simply explained away.

For me, the Leeds I write is a mythic city. It has elements of the real but it's located somewhere deep in the subconscious. Maybe even preconscious. Near the nub of the spine. Oddly enough, I don't think of it as the North. It's more of a ghost house.

There are moments int the novel of laughter and bigheartedness, of hope and grace. So yes, gritty, but, hopefully, a lot of other things too. Beauty being the central consideration. Writing completely uncensored.
How do you think 'writing completely uncensored' fits in with the literary world today? Who are the influences for you in terms of that visceral, immediate style?
Question By: Daniel Sluman
Given the furor every time anybody says anything controversial on the likes of the Guardian, you'd be forgiven for thinking we live in a censorious climate. That freedom is speech is seen as some sort of cover for incitement and hatred. And terms like 'misogynist' and 'reactionary' are too easily banded about, devaluing their currency.

But that's not been my experience with Shark. By and large, readers and critics have been decent enough to differentiate between the uncensored thoughts of of the likes of John Usher, and the thoughts of the author. Some don't like the 'graphic' content or the 'valourising' of a Sun-reading, ex-soldier. Though I see it more as an act of Jacksonian democracy.

With the immediacy, I needed something that could capture John Usher's awareness, his experience of the world. It ended up being third-person localised, free-indirect style heavy under the influence of Updike and DeLillo. In the end, I started to focus more on the shape and the sound of the words.
Talking about John Usher, was it the interest in his character which sparked the writing of 'Shark', or did you have a broader idea in mind when you came to writing the novel? How much research was necessary for creating the psychology and past which defines Usher's decisions in the book?
Question By: Daniel Sluman
The novel began with a vision. A sense of a mood. A lone man dressed in black, working his way around a pool table. I couldn't see his face, and didn't know who he was. The unfolding of the novel was me trying to find out.

There's that Ian McMillan quote that basically says if you try to write about the meaning of life, you hit a brick wall. Write about a brick wall and you might find the meaning of life.

As the character grew, this little petri dish of language, the back story announced itself. The sense of John. Who he was. What he wanted. Why he was disassociated.

I did a lot of research into pool, snooker and the war in Iraq. I knew soldiers. But Usher came from somewhere else.
And how long did it take to beat the novel into shape? Are you the type of writer who waits until all the details are assimilated in your mind before putting them down on paper, or were you constantly revising and redrafting the book?
Question By: Daniel Sluman
I spent about two years writing it. Part of this was a long, meandering, useless first draft.

It took about six months to bang into shape with my editor, Alexa Radcliffe. That really tightened everything up. I try and write a thousand words a day. The majority of time is spend editing and changing words, the rhythms of sentences. The shape of a paragraph.

I'd been trying to write a novel for about four years before. And there was a lot of reading and 'practicing' - experimenting with short stories. And like David Peace, writing out other writers sentences and seeing how they work.

I'm glad I write journalism and failed as a poet too. The journalism give you directness, discipline and an ability to make deadlines. The poetry gives you a sensibility. A feel for the shape of words.

If I can't write, I just leave it. Go read. Do something else. I always end up coming back.
And what can readers expect next ? Are you working on the second book yet?
Question By: Daniel Sluman
I've started work on a second novel, When Lights Are Bright. It's part fact, part fiction about the Shannon Matthew's kidnap. The main themes being class, motherhood and betrayal.

There are two worlds in Leeds - they live coterminously but barely touch one another. James Oisin, a working-class turned middle-class contrarian journalist starts pursuing an 'era defining story' and ends up crossing the boundary into an underworld of darkness, away from media-glare, and into a world of poverty, violence, political incorrectness, strip-clubs and wisdom.
I wanted to talk for a moment about the Nawe Young Writer's Hub. How did you get involved with this project? What does it try and achieve for the younger generation of poets and prose-writers?
Question By: Daniel Sluman
The Hub came out of a consultation into young people's literature in Yorkshire. A number of recommendations were made we came up with a plan - that being the Young Writers' Hub and that it should be part of NAWE.

A year in, and the Hub is a news-driven resource, mapping the landscape of opportunity for writers across the UK. We help groups and individuals promote their work. We have an enabling fund giving young people funds to get ahead. We also have interviews, profiles, events listings, bloggers and a team of interns learning on the job and a coordinator to advocate opportunity and offer advice.

For the first time, young writers, teachers, parents and arts practitioners have a resource that can be a window in to a complex sector. And it's completely liberal -– you can take as much or as little as you want. It's up to you how much or how little you want to get involved – an approach perfectly suited to different ages and ability levels.
And on that note, have you got any specific advice for young writers out there? What kind of thing do you wish you'd been told when you were just starting to write?
Question By: Daniel Sluman
Read a lot. Read everything. I think reading popular physics, psychology and biology has developed my writing. Writing about writing. Reading history and politics gives me a sense of perspective and continuity, of even discontinuity. And fiction - it shows you how writing works. Why we love it.

Starting out, I got a lot of help from Steve Dearden and Danny Broderick who gave me the facts of life. I think one thing that shocks young writers is how little literary authors earn and how small their readerships are.

But one thing I didn't realise was the level of work. To be a writer - at any level - it's work. Hard work. I thought you'd just lounge about, scratching your arse. But you've got to get out there to events, review books, be reviews, be interviewed, keep up a profile. The level of research and dedication to a full-length work.

Seeing as that's the case, especially for writers just climbing up the first rung of the ladder, why do you write?
Question By: Daniel Sluman
Haha, yes. That's the hardest question. Partly because it's so fundemental.

I suppose it's a sort of religious impulse. A longing for something more. More meaning. A fuller, more rounded understanding of human experience. Like DeLillo, I write to see how much I know.


Wes Brown's novel Shark is now available as a Kindle eBook.