Interview - Wes Brown: Real life inspires writer seeking to encourage new voices

Wes Brown is the kind of author young writers' groups can be proud of. Now he's launching his own. Jane Verity met him.

Wes Brown's first novel, Shark, is a story about the dispossessed. Following the life of an ex-soldier who returns to Leeds to find his community has been unravelled, it's the story of a young man's struggle to fit in.

It's something Wes Brown knows a lot about. Growing up in a council house in Burley, his father a professional wrestler and bouncer, his mother working in retail, writing was not a viable career option. It wasn't until he applied to the Sheffield-based group, The Writers' Squad, at 17 that he found something he knew he could do.

"I was terrible at school. It just never interested me. But working with Steve Dearden and Danny Broderick at The Writers' Squad, I was encouraged to do work placements at Penguin Books and Route Publishing. From there I went on to set up The Cadaverine, a website and anthology publishing work from writers under 25 in the region."

He then spent, "a few years in the wilderness," writing Shark in the early hours of the morning, holding down a variety of day jobs, from selling ice-cream at a cinema to working at a brewery.

"It was a tough time. It's like you're stuck in a room for two years talking to someone, and by the end you're not sure if that person is still listening.

"The image I would use is flying through a cloud in the dark. You've got your compass, but you can't see where you're going."

He describes the first draft as, "the worst novel ever written." And the second draft? "The best."

Brown smiles. He may be joking, but Shark has received wide acclaim. Ian McMillan has described the book as "making the North a marvellous place, a place where art can happen, where epic can feel comfortable." Praise indeed. What are his ambitions? "The Man Booker Prize. No, not really. I'm just going to see how far I can take it. Don DeLillo describes writing as, 'a concentrated form of thought,' and that really rings true for me. I want to write something that really means something. That's the big aim."

Brown cites his influences as Don DeLillo, John Updike, Saul Bellow, Martin Amis and David Peace. He is particularly interested in "fiction based on fact," and he's now working on a second novel, When Lights are Bright, which will be based on the Shannon Matthews case, told from the point of view of a journalist covering the story.

"It's primarily a story about identity, about the working/ middle class divide which exists in this city, and finding out where you fit into that."

The idea for the novel was created when Brown got caught up in an English Defence League rally last year."It was quite a destabilising experience, and it gave me an image of Leeds which has stayed with me. The steel grey clouds. The chanting voices. All of that compared to the arts world I was becoming involved in as a writer. I felt like those images were somehow connected."

So why the Shannon Matthews case in particular? "I think that was a case which provoked interest and a response from all corners of society. This sweet little girl caught up amid this whirlwind. I think that's something that everybody can relate to. I suppose it's a protective instinct really. I wanted to look after her."

Alongside the new novel, Brown has taken up post as Young Writers Co-ordinator for a new initiative, The Young Writers' Hub, which he will run in association with Arts Council England and the National Association of Writers in Education.

The Hub is an online, news-driven resource and information directory, providing opportunities for writers aged between

16 and 25.

Publisher in talent search

The search is on for Yorkshire's next great literary talent. Supported by Arts Council England, Route Publishing is looking to find the next successor to a long distinguished list of Yorkshire novelists, and will be offering a book deal to an aspiring author aged 18-30.

Route is looking for a novel or novella of between 30,000-80,000 words. Authors aged 18-30 who are living in Yorkshire should submit a synopsis, a sample text of up to 10,000 words plus a brief biography and covering letter.

The winning entry will be offered a publishing deal and will be supported editorially to turn their manuscript into a

published book.

The deadline for submissions is May 31, 2011. For more details visit www.route-online.com.