We talk to Jack Brodie (whose work appeared in issue #35) about student living, ghosts, and a certain famous theme park.
I was impressed by how well your story captured the feel of a shared student house. Were any of the details taken from your own experience at university?
Oh yeah. I lived in a shared house during my first year, and much of that experience found its way into the story. The ambulances, for one: they used to drive past in the early hours and invade the house with spinning colours. It was at once pretty and panic-inducing. Of student houses in general, I wanted to convey that sense where each room is like a different house, with its own little crises and ways of life. What else? Having to pretend that you enjoyed a night-out. Drunk friends sentimentalising about your friendship. The sound of sex coming through the walls. The characters themselves aren’t people I knew at university. But naturally, I’ve known people who resembled them.
I enjoyed also the presence of so many ghostly elements in the story: the absent girl whose room the narrator occupies, the unseen ambulances, the noises that come through the wall. I felt that it tied in well with the theme of memory and nostalgia that emerged at the end. What themes or ideas were foremost in your mind when writing? Where did this story come from?
I think I saw it – on whatever level you see these things – as a story about a friendship under threat: the threat being the process of becoming an adult, which we meet Dylan and White towards the end of. Adolescence has treated them differently. It has made, as I hope their dialogue implies, their friendship less equal. It’s the “baddie”, really, and fittingly, I seem to have realised it as a kind of hell where it’s always dark and you’re tormented by “ghosts”, etc. The ending – when Dylan remembers how they used to play on the rope swing as boys – is meant to confirm that it wasn’t always like this, and therefore to show adolescence as just another phase in a sequence of phases before death. And by doing this, to lead the reader to the melancholy reflection that these characters are still near the beginning: that they’re doomed, like everyone, to go through their lives constantly changing without meaning to. That the friendship – and the past, since the friendship somehow represents it – is increasingly endangered by the fact of growing older.
I think that’s what I was thinking, anyway. I wrote the piece over a year ago, just after graduation. It no doubt suggests a very typical post-university trepidation at having to join the world of adults.
You say in your bio that you began writing in 2011 after reading The Rain Horse by Ted Hughes. Can you tell us a bit more about that book? What was it about it that made you want to write?
Well, firstly, it’s a short story, best found in The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories (ed. Malcolm Bradbury). Its 4000 words are easy to synopsise: a young man on a nostalgic walk in the countryside is caught out by a torrential rainstorm, during which he is bombarded by a horse, from which he finally escapes before hiding in a barn. The young man, we are told, is back where he grew up, visiting after twelve years working in the city. Hughes leaves the rest to the reader. Is the horse deranged, possessed? It’s memorably described as “running on its toes like a cat, like a dog up to no good”, and as showing against the sky “like a nightmarish leopard.” Or is the man imagining it all? Is he deranged? He “twists around wildly”; he lets out “a tearing roar”; he runs “like a madman” before he sees that he is running alone. It quite floored me the first time I read it. The way Hughes wrung from such a mundane premise this mythical, elemental story to do with time and landscape. How alive he made it. I was on a bus at the time, and I may even have stood up, or smiled, or cleared my throat. But I didn’t overdo it. I was on a bus.
That was the first epiphany, but others have followed. For about eighteen months now, I’ve been an ecstatic devotee of the early stories of Updike. Not to mention Capote, or Richard Yates, or Kevin Barry. Or others.
What have you written so far? And what do you plan to write in the future? Do you plan to publish more stories?
I’ve written short stories so far. This one, as I say, was written just over a year ago, in the summer of 2012. I plan to publish many more, and, in time, to write my first novel.
You mention in your bio that you live near a certain famous theme park. I used to work there, and the uniqueness of it as a place shaped my writing greatly. Has it inspired you at all?
I don’t know. It is a unique place. To live in Alton pretty much guarantees that wherever you go in the UK, someone will have passed through your village – which is weird. I’ve often thought it would make an excellent setting for a short story. I’ve never worked there, though. And I’ve got it into my head that I won’t be able to write about it until I’ve properly moved away.
Jack Brodie is twenty-two, and started writing in 2011 after he read The Rain Horse by Ted Hughes. He lives in Alton, Staffordshire, amid the screams of the famous theme park. During his degree he took a Creative Writing module under the novelist Joe Stretch. This is his first publication.