Tyler Keevil is an award-winning author from Vancouver, Canada who now resides in Wales. He writes novels, short stories, creative non-fiction, and screenplays and his most-recent book, No Good Brother, is shortlisted for 2018 Best Published Novel. Here, Tyler discusses the draw of adventure, sibling rivalry and his journey to becoming an author:
WNSF: What does adventure writing mean to you? Would you have considered yourself an adventure writer before being shortlisted for the Prize?
Tyler: For me adventure writing harkens back to our earliest stories, from The Odyssey to The Epic of Gilgamesh, from First Nations legends such as The Sun Tests his Son-in-Law to Buddhist myths like Prince Five-Weapons and Sticky Hair. We’ve always been drawn to stories about unknown lands, perilous journeys, and dangerous foes. These days the adventure genre often seems to get paired with various other genres: we are accustomed to action-adventure films and historical-adventure novels, and tropes of the adventure genre also appear in westerns and war stories, among others. Often the adventure involves a strong plot, clear goals, and plenty of danger – though none of that matters unless we care about the characters. I wouldn’t have categorized myself as a ‘pure’ adventure writer, but aspects of the genre play a big part in my road novel, The Drive, and of course No Good Brother.
WNSF: No Good Brother is as much about Tim and Jake’s relationship as it is about their journey. Where did these characters come from and how did you go about making their relationship feel so real?
Tyler: It’s wonderful to hear that the characters’ relationship felt real to you. I have siblings of my own – a younger brother and an older sister – and though the story is entirely fictional (we’ve never stolen a horse, fortunately) my experiences of brotherly love and rivalry helped charge the narrative, and infuse it with emotional authenticity. My brother Jon is a musician, like the character of Jake, and during the writing process I listened to Jon’s music continuously; the tone and atmosphere of his work infiltrated the text. To celebrate the launch, Jon and I collaborated to create a literary roadshow that blended his music with dramatized readings from the book, and together took it on a modest tour around Wales and the Southwest of England. We had an absolute blast and the tour became a sibling adventure in its own right.
WNSF: Now a lecturer in English and Creative Writing at Cardiff University, your CV is a colourful read and includes time spent working on an ice barge, in bakeries, in a video store and as a tree planter. Have these experiences influenced your writing?
Tyler: Those experiences have definitely influenced my writing, most overtly in my short story collection, Burrard Inlet, which focuses on stories of work and labour based on various jobs I did as a young man. The influence is also evident in No Good Brother, since I worked at a boatyard and cannery very similar to the one that serves as the setting to the start of the novel. In writing, I tend to draw on what I know to evoke a credible and realistic backdrop, against which more fictional imaginings can play out.
WNSF: How did you go from there to become a writer and lecturer?
Tyler: That was an adventure in itself. I began writing seriously when I moved to Wales in my mid-twenties. As ever with writing it took many rejections before I began to place a few shorts stories, and from there sold my first novel, Fireball, to Parthian Books. I was still doing various odd jobs – in a bistro, at factories, anything I could get – and decided to return to study for my MA at Aberystwyth University. A job came up at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham, and I applied for it. Miraculously, I got it – mostly I think because I was friendly, keen, and ready to work. It took a long time to develop the skills to teach: I cringe when I look back on my early lectures and workshops. I didn’t have the natural eloquence or intellectual confidence that I saw in some of my colleagues, and felt a little out of my depth. But as with writing I stuck to it, and learned, and improved. It’s less physically draining than those manual labour jobs I used to do, but much more challenging in other ways.
WNSF: Are there any particular books or authors which have made a lasting impact on you?
Tyler: So many. I recently did an interview for The Reading Lists that explores many of the books and authors that have influenced me. To pare that down, and focus on a few related to No Good Brother, I would say that John Steinbeck was massive for me – particularly Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday, and Tortilla Flats. I love his inherent humanism, and the clear empathy he has for all his characters, who might have their flaws but are also good and decent and struggling to get by. I think the same can be said of Jake and Tim in No Good Brother. Jake in particular makes questionable decisions and can behave very outrageously, but I hope readers still feel for him, and root for him. In part he is redeemed by his love for his siblings, and family.
Another influence, related to that, was George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, which had a tremendous affect on me: Tom and Maggie and their tempestuous sibling relationship, culminating in the heartbreaking finale, and that image of them clinging to each other, which haunts me still. Lastly, I ought to mention Zane Grey and Louis L’amour. I used to read their western novels as a kid and No Good Brother definitely has a retro-western aspect to it, both paying homage to and subverting the traditions of the genre.
WNSF: What would you consider the upsides, and the downsides, are of being an author?
Tyler: There are a lot of upsides. I love story in all its forms and I feel incredibly grateful to be able to share the stories I’ve created with readers. I enjoy doing author events and readings and have had some brilliant experiences visiting schools to discuss writing with young people. In terms of downsides, I can’t think of many. Like quite a few authors I know, I dread promoting myself and though I’m now on Twitter I’m not all that adept at it, or comfortable using social media. I’m still fairly young for an author but I feel ancient in that regard. But I’ve come to accept it, and figure I’ll just keep a low-profile and leave that side of being an author to the experts!
The winner of this year's Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize will be revealed at a special ceremony in London on 20th September 2018. You can follow Tyler on twitter @TylerKeevil.