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The Good Book Appreciation Society

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Kate Sidley interviews James Whyle

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A very warm welcome to another Sunday Morning Pajama Flash Festival. This morning author and journalist, Kate Sidley, will be interviewing bestselling author James Whyle right here in this post, in pajamas over a cup of coffee. Over to you Kate…

‪Kate Sidley Testing, testing… you there James Whylie? Got your PJs, your coffee, etc?

‪James Whyle Coffee, I have. Never been a fan of the jama.
 More politely. Morning Kate.

‪Kate Sidley Well, presuming you are appropriately attired… Let’s start with your latest book, Walk, Which I love by the way. For people who haven’t yet read it, perhaps we should briefly set the scene. Walk tells the story of the survivors of the Grosvenor, which was wrecked on the SA coast in 1782.

The castaways are washed up in the Transkei and an ever-dwindling group makes its way through the massive dune fields near PE. Is that an OK description to start with?

‪James Whyle Um, yes. The sailed into Africa. Decided to walk to the 1st Dutch settlements. 150 started out. Around ten made it, I think.

‪Kate Sidley So, your book is the story of this harrowing journey. It is a novel, but it stays very close to the historical truth, in so far as there is such a thing. What is the relationship between fact and fiction in this book?

‪James Whyle Well, yes. The novel thing is interesting. Novels are meant to have a plot. Walk doesn’t really. And the nonfiction books about the Grosvenor survivors are full of wild surmise. (“Perhaps they… they probably… etc”) Walk is really a version of Willam Hubberly’s diary. I think it might be creative nonfiction…

‪Steven Sidley The magic of the book is that there is no plot. There is an end, but not a plot – that is what made it for me

‪Kate Sidley Talk a bit about William Hubberly’s journal and A Source Book on the Wreck of the Grosvenor East Indiaman. What was Hubberly’s writing style? How did it influence your own prose?

‪Eusebius Mckaiser (‪Steven Sidley, it’s not our turn yet! *hides*)

‪James Whyle Look, Hubberly is not going as a prose stylist. He just tells the story as he remembered it. Probably aided by the Dalrymple commission report which was the East India Co’s legal inquiry into the disaster. I just tried to make it work for a modern reader. And sometimes when he writes stuff like: “Last night, X, a seaman, died of a great weariness,” I just left if alone on the grounds that it couldn’t be improved on. But sometimes, when he’s alone and his last companion has died and he says something like “I finally gave way to grief”, I might get a page out of a boy and a dead man on a Transkei beach. Facebook wants me to say transient beach. Which is also … interesting.

‪Kate Sidley Yes. I remember in one interview you saying that Hubberly rarely used names, unless the person died. Your protagonist is referred to as “the boy” throughout. One of the things that made the book so affecting was your distance. You scrupulously avoid sentimentality and emotional description, but when those fire brands went out again and they had to go back and try and find an ember, I felt utter despair!

To read the rest of this interview join The Good Book Appreciation Society on Facebook, by friending ‘Bea Reader’on Facebook.

And join us next Sunday at 9am on The Good Book Appreciation Facebook Page for another Sunday Morning Pajama Flash Festival, when Kelly Ansara will be interviewing prolific crime author, Amanda Coetzee.


Have a great bookie week.


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