A Conversation with Xan Brooks
Every year the Falmouth English and Creative Writing course host a new writer-in-residence, and this year we have writer and film critic Xan Brooks.
After starting his career writing for the Big Issue, Xan worked his way up to become a film critic with the Guardian. After a number of years, he left to write his acclaimed debut novel, The Clocks in this House All Tell Different Times.
As well as being our writer-in-residence, Xan is also working with Falmouth University and the National Trust to produce a short story based on the Penrose heritage site on the Cornish coast. A place linked with Arthurian mythology and Cornwall’s own Faustian legend, Xan’s story is sure to be a fascinating read.
Following an interesting and insightful talk in The Lighthouse, we got the opportunity to sit down with Xan and learn about in detail the ins-and-outs of his career, why he thinks place in fiction is underrated, and his top tips for writers.
When talking about his first about his career, Xan observed: ‘It [journalism] leaves literary fiction and being a novelist very much like the poor cousin. It’s a hard, lonely discipline being a novelist. So, I was very content with being a journalist.’ Though after a while he thought that maybe he’d stayed in that profession for too long, believing that in order to develop further, he and others like him needed to ‘try other things, and to try things they are not good at’. This then lead to Xan writing his debut novel, a story about a young girl who meets disfigured war veterans she has named ‘The Funny Men’ in order to earn extra money. The multiple perspectives of his novel not only kept the reader engaged, but also were a necessity for his own experience of writing it, feeling that he needed, ‘other stories that I could go to, just to break it all up’ allowing an intriguing and engaging story to form.
The transition from a being a journalist and critic to writing a novel was a new challenge. ‘It was failing and picking yourself up and seeing what worked and seeing what didn't work, and learning on the job.’ There was no set way to do it, having to work until he found what worked for him as, like he says: ‘Basically writing a novel is really hard’.
With the National Trust Publishing Project, the sense of place in writing is vital. This is an aspect of the book that Xan is really interested in. He believes that ‘not enough attention is paid to space and place when we’re discussing great works of literature.’ After his visit to Loe and learning of the history behind the site, Xan added that it will be ‘really interesting to write a piece where the place is almost the main character.’ Although Xan has no ideas for his story so far, he doesn’t seem worried. He informs us that ‘the story picks you, you don’t pick the story.’ He doesn’t believe in seeking out ideas for his stories, but rather sitting and waiting for them to come to him.
When asked for advice to aspiring writers, Xan simply has this to say: ‘Don’t think of yourself as a writer. Think of yourself as someone wanting to write a story.’
by Hannah, Hope and Seren