Matt Wilven on His Debut Novel

Matt Wilven is the author of debut novel, The Blackbird Singularity.

Matt Wilven was born in Blackpool in 1982. After receiving an MA with Distinction in Creative Writing, he spent the next ten years honing his craft. His part-time jobs in this time included: bingo caller, ice-cream man, fishmonger and paintball operative amongst other weird and wonderful jobs. Fresh from burying a library of juvenilia beneath his ex-landlord’s patio, he has emerged as a debut novelist with a distinct, accessible voice and an eye as keen for reality as it is the surreal. He lives and writes in London.

Can you give a brief synopsis of The Blackbird Singularity and how it came about?

The Blackbird Singularity is a story about the pain of grief and the journey to recovery, about how we sometimes have to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves, and how that process can sometimes feel a little bit magical. It follows Vince, in first-person, on his nine month road back to self after the death of his son and the news of his partner’s pregnancy.

In the first instance, I actually sat down to write a short story but what I wrote only turned out to be a very rough draft of the first chapter. I had the penultimate chapter of the novel in my head as an end-point but I soon realised that I wasn’t approaching my ending very quickly. There was an emotional intensity to Vince and Lyd’s relationship that I somehow knew I had to explore further. The ideas that I wanted to represent were complicated and needed space to develop and gestate for the ending’s meaning effect to become powerful enough. When I sat down for my second session, I realised I was writing a novel.

How much of your own personal experiences went into The Blackbird Singularity?

Thankfully, I have never known the trauma or grief of losing a child, nor have I ever been labelled mentally ill or been prescribed drugs. A lot of my knowledge comes from research, extrapolating on simple proxies (such as seeing how completely my friends and family love their young children) and attempting to empathise and imagine my characters in their given situations.

Was writing the book a form of catharsis?

Not as such. Or, not in the way I imagine the question is framed here. Maybe your question relates to the subtle but undeniable frenzy that is present in the book – which may make it seem like it rushed out of my pen like a hound from hell. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. I am obsessive about craft and I painstakingly etched the rhythm and tempo into the work with revision after revision after revision.

The dull truth is that writing for me is a long drawn-out editorial procedure. There are moments of catharsis, just through the general achievements involved in taking on a big project and bringing it to completion, but I wasn’t healing myself in any particular way by doing it. I was just exploring some of the ideas that interest me most and trying to make them interesting for other people.

What is your opinion on the link between various mental states (what the medical establishment refer to as bi-polar or schizophrenia) and creativity?

I don’t feel qualified to give a comprehensive answer here (despite this being one of the subjects I have read most about in recent years) because there is so much variation on a case by case basis, and talking in groupings is often dangerous and unhelpful when it comes to mental illness. I will say that I have known a number of people who have been labelled bi-polar or schizophrenic and they have tended to be creative (and intelligent) people, but not always. I think there is often a link between trauma and creativity, and also trauma and what we call mental illness, and so the two often marry up, but I also think it is entirely possible for somebody to be labelled schizophrenic or bi-polar and lack creativity, and even trauma, to just be a person suffering.

I loved the way you integrated ground-breaking physics into your novel. Can you discuss quantum physics and how it redefines what we think of as being reality?

Physics seems to have replaced a lot of the roles that, historically, philosophy and religion used to play. As a subject, it is now telling us what is true on a universal scale and also beginning to reveal our origin story. It is certainly one of the most interesting areas of thought and research, and at a crucial point in its history. And yet, it seems constantly blind-sided by pesky reality – proven theories can’t become true if other proven theories are to remain true, things don’t behave the same way when you look at them as when you turn away – for a writer, this is wonderful news. Because reality is tricky, and funny, and it never behaves the way you think it should.

The Blackbird Singularity really got me thinking about some of the perennial questions about life and death. What are your thoughts about the afterlife, fate, synchronicity and so on?

The older you get, the more people get bored and roll their eyes when you bring up unanswerable questions. They’ve made their decisions and they don’t want to think about those things anymore. My trouble is, I was never quite sure what I thought about any of these things and I’m the kind of person who can never quite shake them off. That’s why I like to explore them in my fiction. I often find out something new by writing about it, and coming to terms with the boundaries of my own knowledge is an important part of my process.

In terms of what I believe, all I can say is that I try not to close the door on possibilities. I suppose most days I’m more on Jung’s side of the fence than Freud’s, but not always. I certainly don’t identify as an atheist. As far as I’m concerned, atheism takes a leap of faith that I don’t have in me.

What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

I love neat, concise prose but if you fail in this style, and don’t plant enough ideas behind the words, it can come off as though an eight year old has written it. For readers who don’t enjoy prose as art, readers who want all the craft forced into the plot and aren’t particularly receptive to ideas, my work could come off as a little bit lacking in narrative complexity, and yet be overly complicated when communicating certain thematic aspects or trying to generate accumulative meaning effects. Essentially, they might find the work a little bit ‘strange’.

As is often the way, if you’re the kind of person who likes what I do, these weaknesses are also my strengths. My work is easy to read, full of acute observations, and it has broad emotional, perceptual and intellectual fields of enquiry. I like the idea of readers having to use their imagination and reflective faculties to get the most out of a book, and I think the kind of readers I’m writing for like this too.

Tell me more about the writing workshop you run?

I started doing the writing workshop in a blind panic about my future, hoping to build it up over time so that I could get a more interesting day job. The process of mapping out what I think fiction is and how I think it works was actually really helpful and I started writing with a lot more clarity whenever I was in proximity to presenting a workshop. At the moment I’m in limbo with it. Working 9-5 in an office and trying to write a second novel whilst maintaining a relationship and numerous friendships isn’t really conducive to building and maintaining a writing community off my own back, especially since I was only just breaking even on the course fees.

I do like being in the group and working with people in that way but at the moment I feel like somebody would just have to drop all the content, materials, venue and marketing etc in my lap for it to happen. I will go back to it at some point because I think it’s valuable and people seem to get a lot from it. Hopefully, if my novel does OK the writing workshop will start getting a few queries just from being visible on my website. If I can skip the whole marketing bit this time round I’ll pick it up again, maybe get it put on at a night school.

Are you currently working on any writing projects at the moment?

I’m working on my second novel, Farzaneh and the Moon, and I’m pretty excited about it. The two main characters are younger than in my first novel, and more dispossessed and isolated from society. It’s thematically interested in anything ‘underground’ so there’s more sex, drugs and rock n roll. My outsider lovers are obsessed with subcultures but, as I’m sure you can imagine from reading The Blackbird Singularity, this begins to grow into a fundamental question about identity and the unconscious mind and how we can get beyond ourselves, into a deeper, darker kind of reality.

Any parting thoughts or writerly words of wisdom?

Be nice. Think twice.

Read a free sample of The Blackbird Singularity below..

Read a review of The Blackbird Singularity here

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