Going the Extra Mile
How does the south-west of England compare with the other creative hotspots you’ve lived in, Cy?
I need a number of crucial ingredients to set off a chain reaction, to propagate ideas and cultivate a childlike curiosity, and the south-west is unparalleled for inspiration. I live here because it allows me to recreate the combination of work and play I’d experienced in previous challenging places: the Highlands of Scotland and close to the Pennines in the north of England, places that seem to generate creative battery acid. In the south-west, I have to go that extra mile and I love the creativity inspired here.
Can you give a specific example of how your lifestyle feeds into your work, Cy?
I’d discovered Tyneham, a ghost village evacuated in World War II. It felt rad just to be there and it set me wondering what it must have felt like when the army arrived and occupied a village all those years ago. You’re facing an enemy a few miles across the English Channel and you’re ordered from your home by your own side. I realised I could do more creatively than just imagine what it felt like. I was familiar with Imber, a similar ghost village close to where I live, and the creative blue touch paper for The Punished was lit.
How did you go about imagining?
I looked for books about the place and found that none existed. There was a gap in the market for this sort of history. Conveying what it felt like to be one of those characters in such extreme circumstances inspired all sorts of possibilities. The forced evacuation of a village is pretty extreme and it didn’t happen in black and white, it happened in colour, in real time, to real people who didn’t know the outcome. A seed of an idea grew and became The Punished.
Why not just make up an imaginary place?
I did. It’s pure creative imagination. Tyneham village no longer exists. It’s less than a shell now and what’s known about it is very sketchy. Alan Bennett once said, “History is a playground. The facts are Lego. Make of them what you will.” So I used the facts I had: an out-of-print local history book and wartime photos. To stand in Worbarrow Bay amongst the dragon’s teeth anti-tank defences and imagine what it felt like to be eighteen years old seventy years ago requires a lot of creative battery acid. It’s been a long slog but it’s been all about the meaning of the journey and with good reviews coming in, I feel it’s been worth it.
Why did you choose Crooked Cat?
It’s a dream come true to work with a team who match my creative outlook on the work and play lifestyle, and I’m very lucky. I like that they want to hook up with works overlooked by the mainstream and I knew The Punished would be an important counterpart to their list. They’ve helped me with my new direction and reaching a higher level.
Who’s the most influential writer you’ve ever met?
Booker prize winner James Kelman (How Late It Was, How Late, and Dirt Road). I’d signed up for a one year MA at Goldsmith’s, University of London and on the MA, James Kelman inspired me with his ideas about what it really means to immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of the great outdoors. He showed how it’s possible to work by interpreting everything around you. All you have to do is learn to listen to understand the meaning of the path you’ve taken.
Do you mean there’s always a sense something’s about to happen?
It’s important to get out there and tune-in to the heart rate triggers. Understanding suspense and how it plays on the mind and body has fed into my creative lifestyle on work and play. The two are inseparable.
Cy Forrest’s dark novel is going to be one you’ll be gripped to. The Punished (Crooked Cat Books). Out now.
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