XL: Xavier Leret
E: Welcome to Bookish Xavier! Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
XL: I was brought up in Bristol. My father is an Orthodox priest and my mother is a teacher. I have no idea how I made it through school with any qualifications but some how I did and managed to get a place at Reading Uni to study Film and Drama – this was back in 1987. After my degree I trained to be theatre director and then became the founder and Artistic Director of KAOS Theatre. It was important for me to have my own company because it was the only way I was ever going to get the plays that I was writing performed. I was lucky and KAOS took off, we travelled the world and won awards. And then it stopped. I had fallen out of love with theatre. Anyway, at the tail end of KAOS I made my first feature film which was selected as a “Breakthrough Movie' for LUFF 2007 and then my second film was released on DVD in 2009. And last year I did an MA in Creative Writing. I wanted to make the jump from script writing into writing prose. They are different crafts. I also felt that I had lost touch with why I was writing. Every time I directed something I was moving further and further away from what I wanted creatively and how I imagined the piece when I was writing. Or worse than that I would be lazy in my writing and think, 'don't worry about it now because you can work it out in rehearsals'. But there is also a much more profound reason why I walked away theatre and film and it is this. Nothing moves or engages me quite like a novel. You are inside the story with the characters and I love that. With film (and I do love movies) you are always on the outside observing, but with a book you are right there in the moment hearing the thoughts of the character or author. That's just brilliant. And nothing can tear me apart like a novel.
E: Who or what inspired you to write Heaven Sent?
XL: One evening I wrote 2000 words about a boy called Carlo, from an extremely religious background. Somewhere in the middle of it he met this girl called Daisy who's step-dad had sold her to sailors from out of the back of his van when she was just three years old. When I had finished that evenings work I knew immediately that I had started something. I hadn't set out to start anything, I was probably supposed to be writing something else and got sidetrack on this other thing because the mood took me. For me that's how stories start on an impulse.
E: Do you mind telling us how long did it take for you to write it?
XL: All in all it's taken the best part of six years to write, though in that time I wrote and directed two films, a couple of stage adaptations, two plays and laid the foundations for two other novels. Just over a year ago I decided to give all my time to the book and then threw out the work of the previous five years. When I sat down I said to myself you have three months to finish this. I set myself a 1200 word a day target. I kept to my target. I didn't account for the sheer amount of cutting and shaping that I would need to do to create a finely tuned story that both delivered on the 'can't put it down' stakes and its existential ambitions.
E: Are any of your characters or scenes based on people/events in your own life?
XL: I had a similar upbringing to Carlo. My parents are very religious and I always battled against it. I don't have the religion gene. But Carlo has got more guts than me. I don't think I could do for Daizee what he does. Mind you I did let Daisy into my head for six years. She was the one that drove me to write. When I wanted to give up it was Daizee that shouted at me to get up. When I was working on other things it was Daizee who would be there in the back of my mind niggling me to get back to the novel. When I didn't touch it for three years she cursed me everyday. She wanted the story told.
There are other bits that are based on things that happened to me. Little moments, for example, I used to hitchhike when I was younger and got picked up by an old man like the fella that Daizee strangles. And I too once spent a whole day trying to hitch a ride from Junction 14 on the M4, though I was on the way back from a gig in London and not on the run for murder.
E: If your book was made into a movie who would you cast for the roles of Carlo and Daizee?
XL: You know, I'm not so eager to see the book made into a movie. Books are often ruined by the films that are made of them. If it were to happen then I would hope it is is once the novel has cemented its own identity in the public mind. As for actors it would have to be a couple of unknowns, personas without baggage.
E: What’s next in line for you, are you working on a new book now?
XL: I am working on another novel and a book for my children, though since the launch of Heaven Sent I haven't been able to write. I'm a bit shell shocked that I finally finished it and my time at the moment seems to be spent trying to sell the novel.
E: What genres do you like to read in your free time?
XL: Although I will read anything and everything I gravitate towards literary fiction.
E: Which of your favorite books would you recommend everybody to read?
XL: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, an amazing story of the day the devil arrives in Communist Moscow its just a wonderful.
Mendelssohn Is On the Roof by Jiri Weill, an incredible novelised account of the holocaust which is one of the finest books I have read.
There are so many more, I love the work of Cormac McCarthy especially The Road and Blood Meridian, Marquez's One Hundred Years Of Solitude and also Love In The Time Of Cholera, Atomised by Michel Houllebecq, Disgrace by JM Coetzee, Cancer Ward by Solzhenitsyn, The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Cry The Beloved Country by Alan Paton, Anything by Kurt Vonnegut most notably SlaughterHouse 5, Cats Cradle and The Sirens Of Titan and the work of Albert Camus is pure genius.
E: Do you have any role models?
XL: My seven year old son really impressed me the other day when I took him off road cycling and he had a couple of nasty crashes, but he got back on his bike.
When I was a teenager the playwright and visionary director Bertolt Brecht changed my way of seeing how art should be. Up until that point theatre had been this thing that I enjoyed doing and all I wanted to be was a star. Brecht showed me that art must strive for more. After Brecht my understanding of creativity was further broadened by writers such as Camus, Alan Paton, Jiri Weill – writers writing with an agenda that is more than just entertaining – it was about examining life through art. Brecht's work still haunts me now, even though I don't like theatre anymore. I still read his work and poems. Brecht also said if nothing else theatre must entertain. So although I have striven to learn through my writing and broaden my understanding of life I still consider myself an entertainer at heart. Ideas are best absorbed if you enjoy the process of hearing them.
E: If you could have a dinner with three people/characters (real, imaginary, famous or not, even dead!) who would you choose?
XL: Leonardo Da Vinci, Bertolt Brecht, Mikhail Bulgakov, Albert Camus, Darwin – thats more than three. I can't choose.
E: What are your biggest pet peeves?
XL: Conservatives, conservatives and conservatives.
E: Tell us five random facts about yourself.
XL: - I am married
- I have three children.
- I enjoy riding my bicycle.
- I grow vegetables.
- I have never been able to touch my toes.
- white or dark chocolate? dark
- coffee or tea? coffee
- favorite fictional character? Behemoth, the Devil's cat in The Master And Margarita.
- favorite movie? The Seventh Seal directed by Ingmar Bergman
- favorite song? I have too many.
- favorite TV show? Breaking Bad
- Spring or Autumn? Spring
- printed copy or eBook? I want an ipad!
Xavier, thank you so much for joining us today!
I'm looking forward to reading and reviewing your next book!
I hope you guys enjoyed the interview, for more information about Xavier and his book, please visit his website: Xavier Leret or/and read my review of Heaven Sent.
If you're wondering where to get Heaven Sent, here are the links:
And now, for the GIVEAWAY!!!
Xavier generously provided us with two e-book copies of his wonderful book, Heaven Sent! It's a MUST READ!!!
Giveaway ends on Wednesday, April 27th and it's open Internationally!
All you have to do to Enter is be a GFC follower of my blog and fill out the form below.
SIMPLE AS THAT!!!
The winner will be picked with Random.org and emailed by Xavier.
Thanks Xavier! And good luck everyone :)