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Kevin MacNeil

Kevin MacNeil

Kevin MacNeil is an award-winning writer from the Outer Hebrides now living in London. He is a novelist, poet, editor and screenwriter. The Brilliant & Forever is his third novel.

Listen to the Polygon podcast with Kevin MacNeil:

Find out more about Kevin and his work at kevinmacneil.wordpress.com.

Getting to know Kevin MacNeil:

1. Do you have a favourite character in the book? I grew fond of all the main characters, but my favourite has to be Archie. Because he's an alpaca.

2. What was your inspiration to write this story? / Was there a particular moment of inspiration that pushed you to write this? Was there one specific moment? Hmm. I've wanted to write a novel about the X-factorisation of culture and about friendship (and ambition and competitiveness and envy) for some time. I wanted to create a novel that had a wide spectrum of voices so that I could give thought to what writing is and what it's for. But the triggering moment was probably when I met a talking alpaca.

3. What is your favourite scene or moment in the book? I especially like the final chapter – but no spoilers.

4. What inspired you to become a writer? I always thought it was because I wanted to create something that would last longer than I would. But I've increasingly come to realise it is also to honour those who existed before I did.

5. What keeps you motivated as a writer? Reading great books, observing lovely absurd little moments in life, travelling, meeting people, attending book festivals, watching films, being alive in and to the moment.

6. What’s your favourite book, and why? Impossible! Too many to choose from. Way too many. Probably a Buddhist sutra, though  – The Heart Sutra.

7. Do you have a routine when you’re writing (i.e. silence, a particular genre of music, only working in the morning, only working in your underpants?) I usually work best in the quiet of morning. But I can also write in noisy cafes, and I'm glad of that as writers need flexibility, discipline and a deep understanding that things are how they are. Writers who can only work with a diamond-encrusted biro or while wearing a pair of Dan Brown's castoff Y-fronts are heading down the road of OCD.

8. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be a writer? Being a writer is about communicating imaginatively. You communicate every day and you exercise your imagination every night, so inherently you have the potential. The practical skills are learnable. The thing no one can give you is perseverance.

9. How easy was it for you to find a publisher? It was relatively easy since I'd already published with Polygon. My first book was with Canongate – and they had approached me asking for a manuscript. So I'm not a good example! I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

10. What’s the best experience you’ve had while writing a book? Writing The Brilliant & Forever was overall the best experience I've had writing a book. It was actually fun to write. I enjoyed it in a way that felt fresh and new and energising and I think these qualities fed into the book.

11. Who are you generally writing for? I've never really known. Perhaps anyone with a lively mind and a sense of humour.

12. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be? I once worked in a restaurant as a commis chef and indeed was asked to leave university and work as a chef full-time. Maybe I could have done that.

13. What one thing would improve your life? I don't think it's helpful to think about what's missing in life – better by far to be grateful for what we have.

14. Where would you like to be right now, anywhere in the world? Same answer as 13!

15. Are any or your characters based on yourself or people you know? *Consults lawyer* 'No comment.' *consults bank account* 'That's how much advice to "make no comment" costs?'

16. If you could swap lives with one of your characters, who would you choose and why? Hibiki in The Brilliant & Forever. He understands.

17. Have you ever regretted how you ended a story and wish you could change it? Yes. I once gave quite a dark book a depressing conclusion, thinking it was the only possible ending that novel could have. But the film version would have been different, and will be, if it's ever funded.

18. If you weren't a writer, what would your 'dream' occupation be? Professional cyclist.

19. If your book was a film, who would you cast for the lead character? Ryan Gosling? Though he seems to smoke too much in his movies. A young James Stewart, if such a thing were possible? I wonder if I'd play one of the characters myself - I played Sorley Maclean in a drama doc a few years ago.

20. Why are books important in your opinion? Wisdom, empathy, experiences we wouldn't otherwise have, enjoyment, emotional engagement, humour, awe.

21. What are you reading right now? West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan, The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker, Time Present and Time Past by Deirdre Madden, The Travels of Sorrow by Dermot Healy, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys by Michael Collins.

22. Which authors do you particularly admire? Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Anton Chekhov, Anne Michaels, Vasily Grossman, Lydia Davis, George Saunders, Denis Johnson, Dino Buzzati, Carson McCullers, Ron Rash, Mary Robison, Robert Louis Stevenson.

23. If you had a superpower what would it be? I'd like to be SortTheTrainsOutMan – my superpower would be the ability to sort the trains out in this country. Instead of being overcrowded, unreliable and overpriced, they'd be comfortable, affordable and a joy to travel on. I wouldn't have an attention-grabbing costume. I'd be dressed normally and go about my business anonymously. As people relaxed on their train journey, eating pastries while, say, Glenfinnan slid past, I'd feel happy because I'd Sorted The Trains Out. And yet I'd always have a tinge of regret I hadn't gone for Eradicating Poverty and whenever EradicatingPovertyMan went zooming past overhead I'd get a physical sensation of self-reprimand.
 

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