Bookcase Focus: An Interview with Stevie Davies

Bookcase Focus: An Interview with Stevie Davies

Wales Literature Exchange interviewed our Bookcase author Stevie Davies, about her writing and her influences.


1. What first inspired you to be an author and where do your ideas come from?

From the age of 5, I wanted to write. Perhaps the impulse came of a nomadic childhood in an Air Force family, uprooted every couple of years: my home from home was always the public lending library, from Oystermouth Library in Swansea and Elgin Library in Scotland to libraries in Rheindahlen and Hildesheim in Germany. When in later life I came to write novels, I found that these varied landscapes had left me with different settings, enabling me to ponder history in a very personal way. From my early childhood in Egypt came Into Suez; from the homesickness of a lakeside Forces boarding school in Northern Germany emerged The Element of Water, when by chance I discovered that in those same buildings Hitler’s successor had been named in 1945. Such coincidences enable us to focus the great wheel of history from the small arc of an individual’s destiny.

2. How would you describe your writing?

Many of my novels are historical and political: I am thinking of Impassioned Clay (set in the 1650s); The Element of Water (Germany and Wales, 1933, 1945, 1959); Into Suez (Egypt, in the late 1940s); Awakening (1860, the year after Darwin’s The Origin of Species). For the writer, a novel can be like an extra organ of thought, extending sympathetic understanding through imaginative immersion in other lives and times. All my work is feminist in inspiration and focuses on the inconsistencies and contradictions of character under pressure. Humour and wit in the dark areas of human life have fascinated me, from my first comic novel, Four Dreamers and Emily (Brontë-mania) to The Party Wall.


3. Which authors have influenced you the most?

At boarding school in Schleswig-Holstein, I remember being punished for some misdemeanour by being required to stand on a chair and recite a Shakespeare sonnet to the school: with hindsight, I bless my persecutors. A lifetime of learning by heart has left me with a rich gleaning of poetry and prose. Other writers’ words circulate in one’s mind, mingling with and diffusing into one’s private language and self. The greatest influence on my writing and life has certainly been George Eliot’s Middlemarch: she teaches us the power of empathic realism to explore the intricacies and complexities of character, caught in the web of social conditions. Amongst contemporary Welsh authors, I admire Mererid Hopwood, Owen Sheers, Francesca Rhydderch, Jon Gower, Emyr Humphreys, Chris Meredith, Fflur Dafydd and have been added to, I am sure, by each.


4. In your opinion what are the biggest challenges that writers face today – and do you think these challenges have changed since you started writing?

As a teacher of Creative Writing at Swansea University, I’ve seen how authors benefit from belonging to a writerly community where each is encouraged and challenged to develop, with the support of mentors and their fellows. This kind of experience was not available to me when I began to write. However, modern writers are working in a pressured and competitive world. Literary fashions come and go rapidly. Rainer Maria Rilke famously said in his letters to a young poet, ‘Geduld ist alles’, ‘Patience is everything.’ For many contemporary writers, there is little time for the kind of Geduld that allows thought to grow organically like the tree of Rilke’s famous comparison.


5. What are the hardest and easiest parts of being a writer?

The easiest part is the lovely, rhythmic business of creation, sitting down at one’s desk every morning and entering into the flow of the imaginative world, to encounter again the mild rush of a customary pleasure. The hardest aspect for most people is revision - and then the revision of the revision. I redraft my work, rewriting probably 8 or 9 times before a book seems at all complete. I’ve learned along the way to revel in revision - lopping off a pointless chapter here, a superfluous character there, substituting a single word for a verbose paragraph. When revision becomes a pleasure, we fully enter into the joy of authorship.


6. Which writer from Wales would you recommend to readers and why?

Menna Elfyn, poet, dramatist, biographer, librettist, journalist, teacher, essayist, all-round Renaissance woman and prodigious traveller for Wales, is a beacon to us all. Her poetry has a tremendous hwyl, virtuosity, brio, whilst engaging with the most profound and intractable problems of our (or any) age. Her work has been translated into English by Elin ap Hywel, Tony Conran, Nigel Jenkins, Gillian Clarke, Robert Minhinnick, R.S. Thomas, a network of poetic interpreters running from end to end of Wales. An internationalist, Menna has seen her work translated into twenty languages. She speaks for peace, civil rights, women’s rights, the global environment, diversity of languages: ‘let each of the world’s peoples learn/ the excommunicated language of its neighbour’.


The Party Wall was selected to the Wales Literature Exchange 2020 Bookcase, our annual selection of recent Welsh literary works which we recommend for translation.

Watch Stevie discuss the inspiration for The Party Wall and hear her read an excerpt from it here.

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