Meet the Circle: Kevin Dwyer

Warning: this man is dangerous around bacon

Warning: this man is dangerous around bacon

The members of the Brussels Writers’ Circle are a varied bunch. Prose writers, poets, playwrights, memoirists, screenwriters and bringers of silly bits and pieces, we sweep in from all different occupations and locations twice a week to share our scrawlings with one another.

In ‘Meet the Circle’, we introduce you to some of our members, hopefully providing an insight into who we are, what we do, and what we think about Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.

This week we will hear from Kevin Dwyer who has been living in Belgium since 1988 and has been actively writing fiction since about 1995, initially as a form of procrastination while doing his doctoral research on food and film. He teaches American Studies at the Université d’Artois in northern France. He has also been busy ably chairing the BWC’s Thursday evening meetings since the start of this year.

When did you join the group?

I first inquired and joined the BWC mailing list via this fine blog in the summer of 2013 and attended my first actual Circle meeting at the (now defunct) Falstaff venue the following September.

What were your first impressions of the group?

Coming to join a group of strangers is not an easy thing to do, and even more so in this case as it represented for me a public “coming out” as a writer. Up to that point only a few of my friends and acquaintances knew about my writing activity. I approached the meeting with much trepidation, but soon found a group of generally friendly, and at times quirky, people who were truly interested in the writing process, and who were eager to discuss and offer advice about my writing projects. One thing that never ceases to amaze me, and this remains true for new members who are continually joining, is the high level of almost palpable intelligence and acumen emanating from the group.

I read my first piece to the group a few weeks later, with shaky voice and trembling hand. I sipped my beer with much foreboding, watching my document get thoroughly scribbled over by those around the table, but I was quickly comforted and encouraged by the reactions. Members are for the most part generous and kind with their remarks. Some claim that we are too nice to each other and would prefer more tough love, but I think it is better to err on the side of kindness, and take what you can from the comments.

What are you currently working on?

After a few months of attending meetings and occasionally reading out stories that I had already written, I finally committed to writing a novel based on my interest in food and eating, on which I have already published quite a bit of non-fiction. My story takes place mainly in the present-to-near future and deals with the relationship between a brother and a sister who are evolving in a society where being overweight and eating fat have become taboo. The current working title is “Bodily States” and it amounts to a critique of current attitudes to food, eating and body perception, and includes bodies smeared with Nutella and Lucky Charms, fasting women in hanging cages, and sex with bacon! I do not quite have a complete first draft yet, but I am getting there, thanks in large part to the motivation and encouragement provided by the group.

Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?

I’m afraid to say that my taste in “literature” does not include many of the classics, and I find myself reading a lot of popular fiction, history and biographies, mainly of Hollywood film stars. If I am trying to emulate any writers or style of writing, I would have to mention Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, and Edgar Allen Poe, when I’m feeling pretentious.

Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?

I suppose that the most memorable moments involve unexpected happenings. During one quite ordinary session, the waiters started bringing us surprising quantities of food and drink. While we tried to stammer out that there must be some mistake, they insisted that there was plenty more on the way. Little did we know that one of the people in the group had the idea of turning the writers’ meeting into a birthday party! We all gladly obliged, and managed to carry on proceedings at the same time, although the usual meeting protocol was thrown to the wind. We straggled out at midnight onto the mundane Brussels street, all the happier for the surprising evening of creativity and fun. I have since been to a number of parties thrown by Circle members, and they certainly know how to do it!

What do you get out of the group?

Much more than I ever expected, especially from a social point of view, but it really comes down to the writing, and it is certainly the week-after-week kindness, motivation and encouragement from the group that not only keeps me coming back, but that also keeps me writing.

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BWC Recommends – Julien Oeuillet

When I was fifteen, my uncle gave me a book and said that I should treat it like a fine wine. I should take time to savour it, and be sure not to read too much at once. He was right about its fineness, though sometimes I shirked his advice and ended up drunk.

In this new (and hopefully regular) segment, members of the BWC will talk about their favourite literary meals. Those paragraphs that are so rich they take a while to digest, that packet of word crisps you put in the cupboard but keep going back for until the whole thing is empty, that comforting poetry soup you heat up when you’re not feeling well. What is it about these novels, plays or poems that makes them so delicious?

First up we’re talking with BWC member Julien Oeuillet, a French author, journalist and documentary filmmaker who hopes one day to publish delicious dishes in English language literature.

French author Julien Oeuillet

What are your five favourite books (or poems or plays)?

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight by Vladimir Nabokov might be the only real writing lesson I ever received – eighteen chapters dismantling all the stereotypes and tropes a writer should avoid, and two last chapters to demonstrate what writing really is.

Valis by Philip K. Dick should be read by anyone regardless of its questionable label as a science-fiction novel – at least the first chapter, which might be the most beautiful thing I ever read, and a perfect demonstration of what non-linearity can do for a writer.

Smallcreep’s Day by Peter Currell Brown is the best example of how a writer can convey a wide range of emotions and statements without feeling the need for a proper ending. No writer, outside of the detective genre, should ever listen to people who tell them to write a proper ending.

Titus Groan, the first volume of the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake, teaches you how the scenery – in this case, the building – can actually be the main character of your story. On top of that, it is yet another proof that your imagination should never be restrained by the need to explain everything.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is the best novel that has been written in our times. It shows why it is important to write a book not about one topic, but about several of them – and to make your novel the only possible crosspoint between all these lines. It is an example of construction, style, characterisation, and this is all in the service of pure emotion.

Choosing one book (or poem or play) from the list above, tell us what you found tastiest about it.

In the aforementioned Eugenides novel, the narrator mentions in the very first paragraph having experienced two births. The second birth, which happens roughly two-thirds in the novel, tore me apart in another single paragraph. And yet, these two paragraphs have no value whatsoever if you don’t read everything that lies inbetween. The remaining third is there so you can re-read the first paragraph after you completed the book and have your heart broken again.

Nothing has ever been written with such a perfect sense of structure – bridges were constructed this way, castles were built like this, the freaking Atomium is built like this. But no other book is, and it stands so firm in front of you that you can only cry about it. If I ever write something half as good as Middlesex, I will have exceeded all the expectations I had for myself.

Who is your favourite writer? Why do you like him/her?

Nabokov may be my favourite. The man can be both a monster and a magician, and I like such a complex personality. His writing is always flawless – in my sense, which means he tramples on many rules and he is right to do so every time. Everything he ever wrote touched me and inspired me: he taught me how to embrace absolute freedom in writing. Every writer should be like Nabokov: make their literature their own realm, governed by their own law, and keep their diplomatic skills for the rest of their life routine.

Eddie Murphy once said, “Anything you have to acquire a taste for was not meant to be eaten.” Have you ever forced yourself to read something because you were told it was ‘good for you’? If yes, what did you learn from this experience? If no, tell us about a book that you hated.

I can tell you everything about a book I hated except its title, because I know the author personally and I don’t want to damage the results of a Google search over this name, so I will use a pseudonym and a fake title.

When Eddie Murphy wrote Beverly Hills Cop, it was a ridiculous wish-fulfilment with a self-insertion narrator whose life in Paris is of no interest and whose multiple boyfriends I personally couldn’t care less about. But the worst thing is that she really pretends she is making a point with her story, proving a social fact, representing a contemporary phenomena. Give me a break Eddie, if you want to write about society someday, write a thesis or a documentary, but not a novel.

The funny thing with this description is that there are a hundred French novels that could be hidden behind this mask. And in fact, perhaps I was speaking about all of them.