Tyler Keevil completed a residency at Maelor in early 2016. In 2017, Tyler is judging Maelor’s annual competition. This competition will close 15 July.
Tyler Keevil is an established prose writer who works in a variety of genres and modes. He has published numerous short stories and three award-winning books: Fireball, The Drive, and Burrard Inlet. The central themes of his two novels are connected to the Bildungsroman tradition and journey narratives. Fireball is a coming-of-age story set on the West Coast of Canada, and explores the unfair depiction of young people by the media in a contemporary context, as well as ideas of existentialism and anti-establishment rebellion. The Drive is a road novel that pays homage to Kerouac, while also questioning the masculine ‘codes of the road’ and exploring gender roles, social identity, and what Carl Jung called ‘individuation’. His most recent book, Burrard Inlet, marked a transition for him as an artist. It is a collection of short stories based among the Vancouver fishing industries, and focuses on themes of work, manual labour and humanity’s interaction with nature. Stories in the collection have won numerous awards (including the prestigious Writers’ Trust of Canada Journey Prize) and the book as a whole has been nominated for the Wales Book of the Year, the Edgehill Prize, the Frank O’Connor Award, and the Rubery Book Award. It has also won an IPPY (Independent Publishers Book Award) in America.
An important aspect of Keevil’s work to date is landscape and geography. Up until now, his focus has been almost entirely the geography of Vancouver and the West Coast of North America, where he grew up. The books are all ‘geo-accurate’ in that they depict real places, often down to the most minute detail, upon which are ‘mapped’ fictional persons and narratives. His artistic focus on that specific area is, he believes, connected to the Welsh notion of Hiraeth – a longing or yearning for home. He has left that home behind, and so seeks to reconstruct it as an imaginative space in his writing. However, he has now lived in Wales for a decade, and increasingly he finds that his work is engaging with and reflecting Welsh culture, landscapes, and geography. This connects to the project he is currently working on with the support of a Literature Wales bursary, and which he intends to develop during his residency at Stiwdio Maelor. The project is entitled ‘Incomers’ – a word that has charged connotations in the current political climate. The collection will examine themes of pilgrimage, migration, and displacement, both within Wales and beyond. When complete, the book will act as a prose mosaic in which each piece connects with the others in regard to setting, character, and theme. The overall impression that emerges will offer a unique and distinct view not just of the immigrant experience, but the human experience, and reflect on the underlying yoke which unifies us, regardless of race, background, or nationality.
The notion of ‘place’ – with its myriad of meanings – will feature strongly throughout the collection. On a purely literal level, the place where the collection will be set is Mid Wales, though stories will also take place in Canada, Europe, and beyond. But the term ‘place’ does not only signify a geographical location. It can be a physical position, a home or dwelling, and a psychological state, among other things. We talk of putting something ‘in its place’ to mean arranging it in its proper position; similarly, we say a person was ‘put in place,’ to imply he or she had been humbled or corrected when acting out of turn. We speak of things being ‘out of place’ and plans that are ‘in place’ and a person who is ‘in a good place.’ The ambiguity of the term, and these various, sometimes contradictory connotations, will be explored in the collection through drama, conflict, and narrative.
It was late June, and hot, and I was having a hell of a time falling asleep. That was nothing new. That’s always the case, with me. Partly I’d been thinking about the sproglet Lowri had in her belly, and all the change that was coming at us. But mostly I’d been watching the digits on our clock creeping up, one at a time, and then cycling back to double-zero when the hour passed. Midnight came and went, then one o’clock, then two. Close to three a breeze started blowing pretty hard, causing the curtain to twist and curl, real elegantly. Like a ballroom gown, maybe. Watching the movement helped some. So did the rustling sound of the beech trees outside. I started dozing off, and then twitched awake – one of those twitches that feels like a shock, like a silent alarm clock going off inside you. They’ve got a name for this: a night start. They’ve got a name for everything, these days. It happens to me a lot, but this time felt different. I thought maybe I’d heard something, out in the backyard. I had the impression of clapping. I’d dreamed of clapping, and applause. A big occasion of some sort.
‘Did you hear that?’ I asked Lowri.
But she was out. She’s like that, Lowri. She could sleep through a stampede, or a tornado. The whole house could be torn apart, and carried off, and she’d still be lying there in bed among the wreckage, practically comatose, like Sleeping Beauty. The only thing that ever wakes her, sometimes, is her dreams. But a hot spring night, or a strange noise? That’s nothing to Lowri. It’s a real gift of hers.
I got on up and went to our window and pulled back the curtains. It overlooks our backyard – a narrow strip of garden, stretching away from the terrace – and has views of the hills around town. The hills were dark, rounded shapes, like the backs of whales. The sky was all cloudy and heavy, weighed down with moisture, holding in the spring heat. It felt almost tropical, as if a thunderstorm was about to start. The clouds had blotted out the moon, which made it hard to see anything. But I heard, all right. I heard what had woken me up. It wasn’t clapping, but a kind of clack-clack-clack sound. Like a loose shutter banging in the breeze.
‘There it is,’ I said, looking back. ‘What the heck is that?’
But Lowri just murmured at me, and rolled over. Light from the nearby streetlamp laid out a yellow rectangle on the bed, and she was in the middle of the rectangle. She was sleeping atop the covers, on account of it being so hot. Her vest had ridden up, exposing her belly, which was as round and fulsome as the hills outside. At the top was the little nub of her belly button, jutting up. That had been strange for me, when it happened. Nobody told me that belly buttons do that, when a woman gets pregnant and starts to swell. Hers had just popped out from the pressure like a valve. It still looked kind of odd to me. It didn’t look bad, but it didn’t look the way it used to.
I told her I was heading downstairs. I told her again that I’d heard something, and was going to check it out. It seemed important I explain all that, even if she couldn’t hear me. I figured it had to register, on some level.
In the kitchen I pulled on some jeans that were draped across the drying rack, a T-shirt, and my Converse. There were four Coors, in a plastic yoke, on top of our fridge. I tugged a can out, then put it down, then picked it up again. I’d been trying to quit. Or cut back, at least. On account of the baby. It’s not as if I drink all that much. Not as much as some people, anyway. Still, fatherhood was on my mind, and responsibilities, and all of that. But I figured what the hell. The baby hadn’t arrived yet, and a beer might help me sleep.
I cracked the tab open slowly, letting it foam and splutter. I didn’t drink any at first. I stood and held the can in my fist and listened. It seemed real quiet. I was used to the sounds of Gwilym, our neighbour on the right, puttering around, all through the night. I’d get up at some crazy hour – I’m pretty much an insomniac – and the first thing I’d do was listen out to see if he was up, too. The dark of rural Wales, the quiet lonesomeness of these small towns, can get to you. Past midnight, there’s nothing happening, and nowhere to go. No all-night diner. No café. No Macs or 7-11. No bars that stay open, and no gas stations, either. No people or light or signs of life. And so at night, when I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t have much. But I had Gwilym, and the sounds he made. The walls between these old terraces, they’re real thin. I would hear his radio, or his footsteps on the stairs, or his voice as he talked on the phone. He had a sister who lived in Alberta, where my family comes from. He could call her up late, because of the time difference. He must also have had a sliding closet door. I never saw it, but I heard it. I heard it rolling back and forth, opening and closing, as he fetched things.
I’d always been able to detect those sounds, ever since we’d moved in. Now, nothing. I took a sip of beer, warm and metallic, and listened to that nothingness, straining against it. I kept hoping to hear something – anything – which of course made no damn sense. But then I did. I did hear something. I heard that same clack-clack-clack, coming from the backyard. I’d almost forgotten what I’d come down to do. I went out there with my beer. The breeze was still blowing – hot and blustery and sort of tempestuous. It wasn’t normal, that kind of weather. Not for Wales. Then there was that clacking. It was coming from Gwilym’s yard.
I went around the fence, over to his side, ready to find whatever I was going to find.
This is an extract from New Welsh Stories an anthology published by Seren Books