In conversation with ... author Matson Taylor who talks about writing and his debut novel The Miseducation of Evie Epworth
The Yorkshire Wolds is the setting for Matson Taylor’s first book The Miseducation of Evie Epworth.
The tender and funny coming of age story is set in there 1960s.
Q What’s your name and where do you come from?Matson Taylor, born and raised in Yorkshire Wolds and now living in London, via Rome, Barcelona, Nottingham, and Norwich.
Q Do you write fact or fiction and in what genre?I write fiction. The book The Miseducation of Evie Epworth has been described as a bittersweet comedy with a heart. Booksellers have said it’s like Nina Stibbe or Kate Atkinson’s early books, which is a huge compliment.
Q Are you traditionally or self-published and which route do you consider to be the best?I’ve done it the traditional way. I sent my book out to five agents and, amazingly, they all got back to me within 24 hours wanting the full manuscript. I was wooed by all five - the only time in my life I’ve ever been so popular! - and then chose one.My agent then sent the book out to publishers and, again after a bit of a bun fight, we went with Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.It’s difficult for me to say which route is best as I’ve only experienced one of them but I will say the team at Simon & Schuster has been absolutely brilliant all the way through and it’s been a real pleasure working with them, especially Chris, my editor.
Q What’s your work schedule like when you are writing?It’s basically wake up at 6am ... write ... eat ... write ... stare at the wall ... eat ... write ... waste time on the Internet ... eat ... write ... decide the oven needs cleaning ... eat ... write ... faff ... write ... eat ... write ... sleep.
Q What advice would you give to budding writers?Don’t be scared of chopping. I think good writing is in the editing.The first draft of a novel is you telling yourself the story. It becomes a novel in the subsequent drafts.If your sentences don’t sing, they probably shouldn’t be in your book.
Q Please tell about The Miseducation of Evie Epworth. What was its inspiration?Lots of the books I love are funny but at the same time have something sad and poignant running through them.I wanted to try and write a book like that. Two other things inspired the book. I have a very strong memory of being 16 and feeling the rest of my life stretch out in front of me like an infinite universe of choices.There’s a real energy to being 16. You feel you can do almost anything. Unstoppable. Invincible. It’s also a funny age (in both senses of the word). You’re in that hinterland between being a child and being an adult and that’s something I wanted to play around with. The other inspiration was a different kind of ‘coming of age’. I’m a historian in my day job and talk a lot about the 1960s and the ’80s etc. I wanted the book to capture the moment when the ’60s started, the cultural phenomenon of the ’60s, I mean, not January 1 1960! I wanted to explore when the music, the fashion, the attitude of what we now recognise as the ’60s actually arrived in people’s lives.
Q Is Evie based on anyone you know?Right at the very beginning she started off as a mixture of my mum and me but she very quickly took on a life of her own! By the end of the first day of writing she was there, fully-formed, in all her naive, clever, cheeky, funny glory.
Q The female characters are particularly strong. Were you surrounded by such formidable females in your life?Absolutely! It’s a real stereotype of northern life, I know, but we do have a lot of formidable women up here. Growing up, I was surrounded by them and it still feels far more natural being told what to do by a woman than a man.
Q Where in the Wolds did you actually live and how important was the setting for you?I grew up in a small-ish village in the countryside right on the border of the East Ridings, North Lincolnshire, and South Yorkshire.I know Doncaster well and can remember going to the races there when I was young.We also spent a lot of time in York - almost every weekend it seemed - and had lots of family days out at the coast and the Moors.I really wanted to capture the feel of Yorkshire in the book; I wanted the Yorkshire setting to be like another character – alive and vibrant.
Q What are your favourite places in the Wolds?Probably Beverley. I have some wonderful memories of going there with my parents. It’s a lovely little town with great tea rooms! Not to mention a rather nice minster...
Q Who/what are your favourite authors/books?I’ve got an eclectic set of favourites! Katherine Mansfield’s short stories are wonderful - sharp, lyrical, and clever. I love all the Adrian Mole books too – a very nice Waterstones bookseller said that Evie was like the love child of Alan Bennett and Sue Townsend.I often re-read E M Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady - it’s hilarious and should be lauded as a comedy classic.
Q Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you plan out your work or fly by the seat of your pants?A bit of both. I always have a rough idea of where I’m going but don’t plot too far ahead as ideas often pop up as I’m writing. Having said that, I do plan each chapter quite well before writing it with lots of notes, dialogue, jokes, TV shows and household products. I use these chapter plans as security blankets because I’m so scared of a blank page.
Q What helps you focus?Deadlines. And rain!
Q Where can we find your books?Lots of independent bookshops have really got behind Evie. They’ve had the most incredible window displays – milk bottles, hay bales, plastic cows, deckchairs. Waterstones has been amazing too.
The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor is out now in hardback, ebook and audio.