A Quickie with Anthony Cartwright

Anthony Cartwright is a judge for this year’s BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University, a short story competition open to writers aged 14 – 18. The deadline is 25th March. For more information, please visit www.bbc.co.uk/ywa.

Tell me about your latest book and why we should read it?

My most recent book is called The Cut. I was commissioned to write a fictional response to the Brexit debate by a great independent publishers called Peirene Press (I’m usually published by Serpent’s Tail). Writing it was a bit daunting, because of all the politics around Brexit, but it’s really a story set in Dudley, the town I grew up in, where most of my work is set, so I’d say read it for the main character, Cairo Jukes, who is an ex-boxer and whose job now is digging up copper pipes from abandoned factories. He says things about place and identity and history that I wanted to get across to people.

If someone was to write your life story what would the title be?

I suppose because of my writing being so much connected with one place the title would have to include ‘Dudley’ or ‘The Black Country’. I’m not sure how interesting the story would be would be: a man sits at his desk and tries to write books, occasionally teaches some lessons. Some days he takes his children to school or goes to the shop for some tea-bags, then he goes to the football or to the caravan with his family. I’m thankful of this, by the way.

What’s the strangest fan question or request you’ve received?

Someone asked me once if Dudley was real. I said I wasn’t sure.

This wasn’t a request, but I am in Italy quite often and at a festival I went to recently, my reading was paused for an interval where we all ate chocolate, which had been especially created to celebrate the festival, which had an archaeological theme. The chocolate was delicious, with layers of flavour to represent different historical periods. It made me think I would love to have a chocolate created in response to something I had written.

If you could co-write with anyone in the world (alive or dead) who would it be?

I’ll stick with the living, otherwise the choice is way too big (the temptation would be to go big and pick the greatest Midlander of them all, Shakespeare himself).

On planet Earth, I love the work of the American writer Willy Vlautin, who is also a great singer and songwriter. He usually writes about people’s lives drifting along in the American West – freeways and diners and motels and so on – but the melancholic sound of his and his bands’ (Richmond Fontaine and now The Delines) music is the kind of bittersweet effect (that’s what the chocolate should taste like) I’m at least aiming for in a lot of my fiction.

Tell me something nobody else knows about you (yet!).

I would love to write a massive fantasy novel, a series preferably – one with pages of maps, set in a world with its own histories and mythologies and so on – although I’m not sure I’ll ever do it. I grew up reading a lot of fantasy and love writers who somehow manage to move between the real and fantastic, such as Italo Calvino. I’m about to read the new Marlon James novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf, which is just this kind of book, I think.

Finally please recommend 3 books that you have recently read and tell me why you’ve chosen these.

In preparation for judging the BBC YWA I’ve been reading the stories in the collection Counting Stars by David Almond (I love his work, another story of his, Slog’s Dad, is one of my favourites of all time, I think it’s the genuine warmth and sense of wonder in every day life he gets across which I like best) and also the collection by Anthony Anaxagorou, The Blink that Killed the Eye. And the poetry collection, Black Country, by Liz Berry, which is set in almost exactly the same physical landscape as my novels: she manages to say in about a dozen lines what I’ve spent half a dozen books trying to get near! There’s a lesson about economy in communicating big emotions in all of these three books which I’m thinking about regarding the prize and telling stories in general.


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