I had the pleasure to do an interview with the author of Heaven sent. I absolutely loved the book so I was very curious about the answers the author would give me.
So give a warm welcome to: Xavier Leret
Can you tel lus a little bit about yourself?
I was brought up in Bristol. My father is an Orthodox priest and my mother is a teacher. I have no idea how I made it through school with any qualifications but some how I did and managed to get a place at Reading Uni to study Film and Drama – this was back in 1987. After my degree I trained to be theatre director and then became the founder and Artistic Director of KAOS Theatre. It was important for me to have my own company because it was the only way I was ever going to get the plays that I was writing performed. I was lucky and KAOS took off, we travelled the world and won awards. And then it stopped. I had fallen out of love with theatre. Anyway, at the tail end of KAOS I made my first feature film which was selected as a “Breakthrough Movie' for LUFF 2007 and then my second film was released on DVD in 2009. And last year I did an MA in Creative Writing. I wanted to make the jump script writing into writing prose. They are different crafts. I also felt that I had lost touch with why I was writing. Every time I directed something I was moving further and further away from what I wanted creatively and how I imagined the piece when I was writing. Or worse than that I would be lazy in my writing and think, 'don't worry about it now because you can work it out in rehearsals'. But there is also a much more profound reason why I walked away theatre and film and it is this. Nothing moves or engages me quite like a novel. You are inside the story with the characters and I love that. With film (and I do love movies) you are always on the outside observing, but with a book you are right there in the moment hearing the thoughts of the character or author. That's just brilliant. And nothing can tear me apart like a novel.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
From a very early age. But I thought I would never do it because I could never finish anything when I was child. In fact finishing Heaven Sent has broken a hex that I felt was hung about my shoulders since I very young age.
What comes first? The story, the charater(s) or the idea for the novel?
Characters, then a bit of the story, then the characters change and start doing their own thing so the story changes. I have been through so many drafts on Heaven Sent. I began with, what I understand now to be, character studies – though at the time I thought I was writing the story. These early drafts were very dark and none of that material remains in the book – it was a little too much. There was a whole back story to Daisy that was frankly horrifically disturbing. I will reveal all this working out on my blog at some point. I was blogging it at the time but have hidden it for now so that I can launch the book.
What would be your favorite past time activity, when you are not writing?
I have three children and they seem to take up most of my time. But I enjoy walking, I live in a beautiful spot in the countryside of England. I enjoy looking after my garden and growing my vegtables. I have a very soft spot for wine. And I love reading.
Are there any writers out there that have inspired you?
So many and all for different reasons. Mikhail Bulgakov, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cormac McCarthy, Jiri Weil, J.M Coetzee, Albert Camus, Michel Houellebecq, Emille Zola, Solzhenitsyn, Paul Auster, Alan Paton, Brecht, Shakespeare...
Can you tell a little more about your book: Heaven sent?
Essentially Heaven Sent is a love story that take the reader on a journey into some dark harsh places without ever loosing its sense of humanity – at leasts that's how I see it.
What inspired you to write this story?
My mum once worked in a temporary accommodation for kids who had been removed from their parents and she told me a story about a girl who's step-dad had sold her to sailors from out of the back of his van when she was just three years old. This girl became the inspiration for Daizee.
Which character did you enjoy writing about the most and why?
Writing Carlo made me address many things about my childhood, some of which hurt – but of course he isn't me, just an aspect of myself – the bit of me I wish I was. I love his naivety – because I'm a bit of a cynic.
When I first started writing both Daizee and Carlo had an equal presence and over the summer of last year Carlo's narrative was punctuated by Daizee talking directly to the reader. This stuff was tough to write an d in the end I cut it because it was too much – it was important for me to know the stuff, but it was not necessary for the reader. But I love Daizee - I love the way she survives and is a force to be reckoned with. I love the way she exacts revenge and that ultimately she Is quite a powerful force for good in a world in which examples of what is good are so often not.
Can you tell us why you decided to give Daizee such a thick accent?
I'm from Bristol, so it was an accent I grew up with. Whenever she spoke to me her accent was thick, though at first I didn't write her with an accent I began to experiment with the accent over the summer, breaking her language down and found that it made me experiment with her vocabulary. Using the accent gave her a very clear poetry and rhythm. The next big job was to make the accent consistent because it really was all over the place. Bristolian is not just an accent but a language. There is a Bristolian dictionary.
If you could have dinner with one of your characters who would you choose and why?
Daizee, because her story really moved me. She was the character who forced me to write. She was the one that would scream at me in the morning to get writing.
Do you get a lot of responses from your readers?
It's early days on the book. But yes, so far I've been getting an amazing reaction, that once they have picked up the book they can't put it down – which considering how dark some it is leaves me stunned. But better than this, people have said that it is story that forces them to take a second look at the world and re-judge it. That's quite an extraordinary reaction to have and more than I could have hoped for.
What are you currently working on?
It is about three young children who's parents disappear and they find themselves running from the authorities headlong into a revolution.
The second is a novel called The Boy about a poverty stricken man called Will who's wife dies whilst giving birth to their son. Will brings up his son. When the boy is fifteen he disappears. The father assumes that he has joined the army to go and fight in the first world war. The father goes to find him and they meet the night before the first charge of the Somme.
That's the plan. It'll probably all change.
So thanks again Xavier Leret for taking the time to answer my question!!