Richard Wilcocks writes:
Wes Brown lived in Burley, when he was even younger than he is now (early twenties) and his novel Shark is largely set in the area, which in case you don’t know is right next to Headingley. This evening event took place, appropriately enough, in a large front room in a house in Burley not far from the narrow bridge on St Michael’s Lane. He was interviewed by Mick McCann, author of the encyclopaedic How Leeds Changed the World. They are both in the photo. See Mick's Guardian article on Leeds writers and their rebel-rousing influence here.
Shark, described in its blurb as ‘a story about the dispossessed and how they get by’ has John Usher as its main character. He is an ex-soldier who returns to his boyhood home (in Burley) to find that things have changed drastically. Wes made it clear that he was an admirer of mid-twentieth century writers like Alan Sillitoe and that he hoped Shark would be seen as a genuine working-class novel which came out of real-life experiences, including his own. He talked about his early years, his father’s work as a professional wrestler and bouncer, and how he had spent ages with a guide to pool and snooker, because John Usher spends much of his time in pool halls. “It sounds very authentic to me,” observed Mick McCann, and after we had listened to Wes reading from the opening pages, I think most of those present agreed. Usher’s language is spiced with the right obscenities, and his tough talk could be taken at least partly as a consequence of the time he spent in Iraq.
There were comments from the audience about this and about the flashbacks which deal with Usher’s time in uniform. How can you write about the horror of war if you have never been in one? Well you can, it appears: Stephen Crane’s late nineteenth-century short novel The Red Badge of Courage, which is set in the American Civil War, was greatly admired by citizens who had been soldiers because it sounded credible and authentic. It’s often difficult to interview soldiers, Wes agreed, because traumas and painful memories can be internalised, leading to numbness.
Wes spoke about his interest in the actual shapes of word and sentences, and about how he connects various colours with pieces that he writes, which was picked up by a psychologist in the audience. It’s a benign condition.
There was plenty about influences, the names of Bellow, Updike and De Lillo cropping up frequently. The language has to sound just right, really streetwise. Wes has his own ideas about phonetics , and they work:
“So what abaht that?”
“I’ve got past that. Truss me on’t this, arr know what I yav to do and I’ll do it.”
“Iss too risky for me.”
“Av taken bigger.”
“Who does Fran think abaht all this?”
Wes explained that he is untrammelled by what is sometimes known as ‘political correctness’ and that opinions and statements that issue from the mouths of characters who have been in contact with organisations like the EDL (English Defence League) are just some of those that he has heard in real Burley and in real Leeds. “It’s not my racism. It’s for the readers to judge,” he said. “I didn’t write a manifesto.”
People lingered well past the end of the allotted hour, and a significant number of books were signed and sold by both authors.