Wyl Menmuir (photo © Dave Muir)

Coastal Calling

16th September 2016

The Many is available now from all good book shops £8.99 saltpublishing.com For Lisa’s full review, see http://optimamagazine.co.uk/read/leisure/books/1491-manbooker-2016-the-reviews

While winning the big prize is the ultimate goal, of course, just being selected for the Man Booker Longlist is an achievement in itself, especially for a debut author. To conclude our 2016 Man Booker ‘season’, Lisa Botwright talks to first-time novelist Wyl Menmuir about his experience of being included – and takes the opportunity to clarify some of the aspects of his allegorical tale ‘The Many’ that so perplexed and intrigued her.

LB: Firstly, congratulations on being Longlisted for the prestigious Man Booker prize. How did you feel when you you found out and how has this impacted on your life and career so far?
WM: Thank you! I wasn’t really sure whether or not to believe it when I heard the news – it wasn’t something that was even on my radar, and it had never occurred to me that it might be picked out on such a high profile prize list. It really means a lot to me, as I’m a big fan of many of the novels that have been listed for the Man Booker over the years. As for how it has changed things for me, it has been pretty huge. Before the long-listing, I had a couple of reviews on book blogs, which was fantastic, but nothing in print, and all of a sudden it propelled the novel into the spotlight and I had articles and reviews in The Guardian, The Observer, The Times, The Telegraph, Financial Times as well as in magazines, journals and book websites. Quite a few of the phone calls I took on the day of the Longlisting were from national newspapers just asking who I was and if they could find out a bit about me, as The Many hadn’t been covered at all really. I’m thrilled that it has found a broader readership through the long-listing
Personally, it has changed things too – I’m well into the second novel now and rather than feeling any pressure because of the success of the first novel, the Longlisting has given me a big confidence boost. And aside from anything else, it has meant I can put aside more time to write my second novel.

LB: The Many is set in an isolated fishing village on a contaminated sea, where the introverted residents are hostile to strangers. When you moved from London, to the north coast of Cornwall three years ago, I do hope you had a much warmer welcome than Timothy. How did you find the transition from city to village life?
WM: Our move to the coast was entirely different to Timothy’s. We’d wanted to move down here for ages and were just waiting for the right opportunity to come up, and when it did, we went for it. We have two young children and our main reason for moving was for them to grow up close to family (their grandparents live in Cornwall too) close to beaches and the sea where they can have more freedom than you can living in a city.

LB: Whereas us townies tend to view the coast as soothing, idyllic and and romantic, the sea of The Many is toxic, threatening and violent. You have said before that being close to the sea is important to you; but do you have a complicated and respectful relationship with the north Cornwall coastline that is famously much more rugged than the prettier south?
WM: I love both the north and the south coast and have a massive respect for this place. While The Many isn’t explicitly set in Cornwall, I took much of my inspiration for the setting from the Cornish coastline and did lots of my research in fishing villages. I also took elements of coastal villages in the North East, round Northumberland and further north up into Scotland, and the west coast of Ireland too. The setting I have created, though, isn’t supposed to represent anywhere that actually exists, but a landscape that is infused with the novel’s themes, and its characters’ emotional states. In many ways, the village and the sea are as much characters as anyone else in the book. I don’t see the village in any of the places I surf, or from the cliffs when I’m out walking; it’s a place that exists mostly in my head. I love the Cornish coast and if I’m away for even a couple of days I can feel something pulling me back here – it’s stunning in entirely different ways throughout the year, but for me it’s when the late autumn and winter swells roll in that it’s at its best. It’s a great place to write too – there’s something about sitting on the edge of this island and looking out to sea that really helps the words flow. I heard from a friend that Kazuo Ishiguro can often be seen walking along the coast path and I wonder sometimes if he finds the same thing.

LB: The Many has a dreamlike and, at times, nightmarish quality. Are the vividly described dream passages very important for the reader to gain further insight into the main characters of Timothy and Ethan?
WM: I wanted the dream sequences to feel as real (or as unreal) as any of the other parts of the novel – blending with the rest of the novel in a way that would create a (hopefully delightful) sense of unease or uncertainty in the reader, making them think about the nature of reality within the novel, making them really want to explore what the narrative truths of the story are.

LB: Your novel has been referred to variously as gothic horror, dystopian and psychological thriller; personally, I think it transcends all of these definitions. How would you describe it to your readers and what would you say were your major influences?
WM: I still find it difficult to describe as I know it’s not an easy novel to pigeonhole. It would be so much easier if I could say ‘it’s a dark suspense novel’, but the novels I love are the ones that play with the idea of genre, that tip their hat to genres, but follow their own rules; novels that try something a bit different. That’s what I wanted to do with The Many – to play with form, to challenge readers’ expectations and hopefully to lead them to think on the novel in different ways over time. I hope it’s the sort of novel readers will want to come back to again and again and perhaps find something new in it, or a new understanding of it.
As for my influences, I read really widely and it’s difficult to narrow down the authors who inspire me. However, right now, the writers inspiring me include David Vann, Mark Richard, David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami, Cormac McCarthy and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

LB: The overriding theme of The Many is that of grief. Do you intend there to be hope too?
WM: I’d like to think readers will find hope in The Many – and if there’s one thing I really hope readers will care enough to do, it’s to re-read it after finishing it the first time. I think it’s quite a different experience the second time round and the reader may be able to find different meanings after coming to the end for the first time. For me, there’s hope in the story, hope and redemption, found in the strangest of places.

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