I was lucky enough to get to see a great event at the Edinburgh Book Festival last night.
Willy Vlautin has become a massive favourite of mine of late and as soon as I saw him in the programme, I booked my ticket. He was appearing with Michael Pitre, someone I’d no idea about. The event was entitled Voices Of Battle-Scarred America and that just added to the expectation. The host was to be another new name for me, musician James Yorkston.
The organisers deserve some credit for their combining of these two authors. Vlautin and Pitre share much in common, not least in the themes of their novels which seem to overlap while covering different ranges of territory. They’re both highly engaging, extremely likable and clearly have a talent for telling stories. I think it’s also likely that they’re both measured in their use violence in their work – it’s there and it’s brutal, but because it’s only occasional it has extra power and emotion to it. I say ‘also likely’ because I’ve not read either of the main books being discussed.
Fives And Twenty-Fives is only just out and I’ll definitely be buying a copy. The Free, Vlautin’s latest, I’m saving because I want his voice around when I start writing my next novel; for some reason his work makes me want to be tell stories more than any other I’ve come across and he also has such an easy way with words that he somehow lubricates my thinking and my typing fingers.
Pitre was a marine who served in Iraq. He spoke with sincerity and passion about his experiences in the war and since then as a writer. The guy has a superb tone and depth and he had me riveted to his words. The passage he read out focused on ex-servicemen struggling with life in an ordinary bar. It was visceral while being full of a subtlety which allowed a small incident to tell a huge story.
Vlautin was completely brilliant. He has stories coming out of his ears. The Oregon lilt to his voice is utterly charming and his piecing together of tales to form a larger, wonderful tapestry is quite something to behold. The section he read was about a man on the rocks buying doughnuts and it spoke volumes about life. Vlautin described the snippet as ‘a day in the life of a life on the brink’. Perfect. I also loved his philosophy regarding people. That we shouldn’t be so judgemental about folk because we have no idea about the amount of weight they’re carrying around on their backs and in their hearts. I hope a little of that rubs off on me.
The pair complimented each other extremely well. They had enough respect for and knowledge about each-other’s writing that they were able to ask excellent questions that offered revealing answers. They're prepared to talk about an all-too-often neglected subject in regard to war vets and I hope their work opens up some interesting conversations about it.
A little nod to Mr Yorkston, too. It took a while for him to settle and he maybe spoke a little too much at the off, but he soon found the right balance. He’d clearly read the books and had understood them well. By the end he was handling things like an old pro – maybe better than an old pro – and his own gentle humour was a real bonus and helped get the best out of the writers I’m pretty sure.
I don’t get to author events as much as I used to, but this was a reminder of why I should get myself back into gear and check out more. There’s nothing quite like it.