About The Author
His short stories Formerly a bookseller and editor, Stuart Evers is a writer and reviewer. His short stories have appeared in have appeared in The Best British Short Stories 2012, Prospect and on The Times website. He has reviewed for a wide range of publications including the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Telegraph and New Statesman. He lives in London.
His first book was published in 2011, a collection of short stories entitled Ten Stories about Smoking. It was described by the Daily Telegraph as "original and quietly devastating", while New Statesman noted echoes of Raymond Carver and Alice Munro. The book won the 2011 London Book Award at the London Awards for Art and Performance.
His new novel is If This is Home. Living in a nondescript town in the north of England, with his mother vanished and his father a broken man, Mark Wilkinson hatches a plan to move to America with his girlfriend. A decade later he has reinvented himself as Joe Novak, living in Las Vegas at the mysterious Valahalla complex. There he flourishes, known only to his super-rich clients as Mr Jones, as he sells the them the opportunity to fulfil their wildest and darkest dreams, until a shocking act of violence persuades him that it is time to return home to face the tragedies he left behind.
In this exclusive interview for Foyles, Stuart talks about the delicate issue of portraying violence, the ruthlessness and amorality of the alpha male and which pseudonym he would choose himself.
Questions & Answers
When Mark reaches New York and changes his name, he also constructs a new background story for himself. Does this mirror how you create your characters or are their natures revealed by the composition of the plot?
I'm not one for note-taking or for character plans; I don't tape mini biographies to my study wall or work out every detail of people's histories. I always have an idea of them, of who they are and how they feel, but the detail and the nuance tends to come from a lot of writing and rewriting of scenes - some of which don't make it into the finished narratives, but do inform my understanding of the essence of the characters. It's a messy, inexact method, prone to false starts and to dead ends, but it - hopefully, at least - means that even minor characters feel like they've wandered in and out of the book of their own volition.
Why does Mark feel such a sense of betrayal at finding out that his two colleagues O'Neil and Edith, have begun a relationship?
A very early version of Mark and O'Neil's friendship appeared in 'Lou Lou in the Blue Bottle', published in Ten Stories about Smoking. In that story they have an easy, but almost debilitatingly close relationship: one that precludes them from truly engaging with others. I wanted to explore this in greater depth, in a more pressurised situation - in this instance putting them at the point where one of them is moving on.
For Mark, O'Neil's relationship with Edith is another example of his 'home' being ripped from underneath him. In the years they've been together, O'Neil and Mark have become a strange kind of family: sons and fathers both. Breaking from that is something Mark simply can't accept. All Mark wants is to be back in New York, in their small shared apartment; but O'Neil has always had different dreams. It's part of Mark's self-delusion and deception that he never saw O'Neil's aspirations as being attainable.
There are two pivotal scenes of brutal violence in the novel. In both cases, you depict the aftermath, rather than describing the violence itself, a technique which seems to work very well, avoiding gratuitousness while remaining shocking. Were these difficult scenes to write?
I'm more interested in the effect of violence, of what happens afterwards, than I am in describing the horror of its committal. By having those two scenes occur off page, I could intimate at their brutality without having to go into the details. It took a lot of revision and rewriting to ensure I was happy - if that's the right word - with the balance between description and concealment, and so they were, in some ways, the most difficult sections of the book to write.
There are marked differences between the two Bethanys: the real one whose final day we follow and the presence haunting Mark. Did you feel you were creating two discreet characters or is the ghost simply Bethany perceived through Mark's eyes?
There is a certainly a lot of the 'ghost' Bethany that is seen from Mark's perspective, but I always wanted her to feel like a very real dream - or, perhaps more accurately, a nightmare. In dreams, narratives, thoughts and images occur and you wonder how something so odd can feel so normal. That's the kind of space that I wanted Bethany to occupy, one that was familiar, but skewed through Mark's sub-conscious.
Is Valhalla, the extraordinary luxury complex for which Joe/Mark is looking to find clients based on anywhere real?
The idea for the Valhalla came from watching a documentary on Las Vegas. The film followed a whale watcher - a butler-cum-concierge who looks after big spending gamblers at the big hotel and casinos - as he ran around after this incredibly rich high-roller. His only job was to ensure that this client had exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it. I just took the idea to its logical conclusion - an apartment complex that always offers you exactly what you, when you want it and all under one roof. I don't know if such a place exists in real life; it wouldn't surprise me if it did.
One of the potential clients for Valhalla, Brooks, quickly stakes his claim to be the alpha-male of the group and later behaves in a deeply disturbing way. Has wealth caused him to lose his perspective or does he start out with psychopathic tendencies anyway?
Brooks is the kind of person I fear most in the world: cravenly ambitious, complacently ruthless, ultimately unknowable. I don't think money has corrupted him; he would, I think, be the same if he was a street hustler or an insurance salesman. There is a hyper-masculinity to him, a particularly male kind of cruelty - he's an all too recognisable kind of monster. Money simply helps him to do exactly what he pleases - and I can't imagine him ever not having the guile to make as much money as he needs.
Brooks says that America understands the DNA of success. Do you think there is a cultural difference between how Britons and Americans view their own potential?
I recently went on honeymoon to the Deep South and there, all cab drivers wanted to talk about their 'real' job, the one that was going to make them rich enough to quit cabbing. And I think this perhaps is the difference: in the UK we'd be paranoid that either someone would steal the idea, or that someone would ridicule it. I think the drive and determination is the same on both sides of the Atlantic; it's just the confidence with which it is presented is different.
If you ever had to change your name, what do you think you might choose?
I'd probably do what Salman Rushdie did and combine two writers' names - Rushdie went by the name Joseph (Conrad) Anton (Chekhov) during the Fatwa years - so probably Patrick (Hamilton) Carver.
Can you tell us anything about what you're writing at the moment?
I'm currently writing a long novel about four members of a family, set over the course of the last five decades. It's been something I've had in mind for a long time and it's satisfying to finally be immersed in its world.
You can follow Stuart on Twitter: @Stuart Evers