IndieView with J.D. Dixon, author of The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J. Gyle

My idea was that to be made homeless is to belong to a class in society derided by most- those who view homeless people as an underclass willingly separate them from any rights under the social contract, thus breaking it.

J.D. Dixon – 8 November 2017

The Back Flap

In a Scotland beset with depression, Willem is one victim among many. He loses his job, his mother dies and he is forced out of the flat they shared. Seeing no other option, he takes to the streets of Edinburgh, where he soon learns the cruelty felt outside the confines of his comfortable life. Stories from his past are interwoven with his current strife as he tries to figure out the nature of this new world and the indignities it brings. Determined to live freely, he leaves Edinburgh, hiking into the Scottish Highlands to seek solitude, peace and an unhampered, pure vision of life at nature’s breast.

The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J. Gyle is at once a lyrical, haunting novel and a set piece in the rage of an oppressed, forgotten community. J. D. Dixon’s sparse, brutal language captures the energy and isolation of desperation, uniting despondency and untrammelled anger in the person of his protagonist.

About the book

What is the book about?

Willem is a laborer in Edinburgh. Oxygen deprivation as part of a complicated birth has left him with thought processes that are slower than others’. He is laid off a few days before suffering a bereavement and then forcibly evicted from his flat, after which he takes to the streets.

Ultimately, he grows disgusted with humanity and turns his back on civilisation and hikes into the Scottish Highlands. He doesn’t so much seek out nature, rather seeking solitude, peace and perspective amongst Scotland’s vast mountain ranges.

When did you start writing the book?

August 2015

How long did it take you to write it?

A little less than a (quite sleepless) week for the first draft, and then a few months working with my agent to get it fit for publication.

Where did you get the idea from?

A few places, naturally. However, the two main strands came together through my experience of moving from London to Edinburgh. Edinburgh has a really big homeless problem- in a really quite wealthy city, homelessness is incredibly visible and entirely ubiquitous. I spent nearly three years living here before I began this novel, much of which growing increasingly frustrated at the Scottish Government’s lack of solution or attention to the issue. This leads to the second strand, which was a close reading of Rousseau’s The social contract. My idea was that to be made homeless is to belong to a class in society derided by most- those who view homeless people as an underclass willingly separate them from any rights under the social contract, thus breaking it. They are in effect freed from its restraints, which was an idea I wanted to play with. Throughout the novel Willem gradually comes to this understanding, and begins to act accordingly. His release from the social contract, in this sense, is his transcendence.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

This was the first manuscript I have ever worked on that has both flowed entirely naturally and garnered any attention from the literary world. I seemed to have been lucky with it: I managed to start with a clear vision of how I wanted the final piece to work, and it has paid off.

What came easily?

As above, the whole novel came quite naturally. I remember reading Herta Muller’s The Passport and a couple of J.M. Coetzee novels in quick succession and thinking that this was how I wanted my narrative voice to shape up. From there I developed my voice as it currently stands, which has been one factor in making the entire process a lot easier.

Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?

They are entirely fictitious, but take elements from many other fictional characters. For example, the character of Willem borrows heavily from Martin Amis’ titular character from Bujak and the Strong Force, from J.M. Coetzee’s titular character in The life and times of Michael K. and the actor Tom Hardy’s role in Peaky Blinders.

We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?

There absolutely have been. As I’ve mentioned above, Herta Muller and J.M. Coetzee are of particular influence. I read a lot of Salman Rushdie, Angela Carter and Gabriel Garcia Marquez growing up, and enjoyed their ability to maintain an often quite cheeky relationship with reality whilst dealing with incredibly dark subject matter.

Do you have a target reader?

The hope is that that anybody who reads the same authors as me would enjoy my work, as would anybody who is politically or philosophically engaged with the world around them. Aside from this, I think that anybody who enjoys a psychological thriller would get a lot from the narrative.

About Writing

Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?

Before I even begin the first sentence draft the entire narrative in detail. Of course it changes as I write, but the bones of it are all there. This way I don’t have to worry about the journey, about continuity or holding suspense- I have already done this, and so can get on with enjoying crafting the language, and with the job of putting the story down.

After this, I try not to be too precious about writing as an art form. It is graft, it is a hard slog at times, and needs to be approached as such. I put aside a few hours every day, five or six days a week, and write between one to two thousand words a day.

Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?

At the end. Get the whole thing down first, then go back. I usually do a couple of edits, proof read, and then send it to my agent. He gives me his own feedback and I work with this. And we spend a few months sending it back and forth until it’s done.

Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?

Yes, an absolute must. Usually punk, classic rock or indie for writing, but my collection is eclectic. I remember hitting a bit of a wall whilst editing one of the latter drafts, and Scroobius Pip’s Distraction Pieces got me over it. And if I ever need to trouble shoot on phrasing issues Fever Ray really helps.

About Publishing

Did you submit your work to Agents?

I always have, to greater or lesser success. It was this piece that got my agent’s attention, however. I submitted it to David Haviland at the Andrew Lownie Agency and we’ve been working together quite closely ever since. He’s currently on hand helping me to beat my latest manuscript into shape.

What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher?

The freedom to tell the story you want to tell. I had feedback from some mainstream, big name publishers who said the story was too bleak, that they wanted a happy ending. But how do you write about homelessness without being bleak? They wanted Hollywood, whereas Thistle Publishing wanted the novel exactly as I saw it.

Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?

The publisher commissioned a designer to put it together. I had minimal input- my eye for design is not great.

Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?

I have various interviews and reviews coming out around the date of publication, and will continue to use social media. I think the trick with social media isn’t to promote but rather to engage. The publishing landscape has changed so rapidly over the past few years, and continues to do so, that it needs to become more of a dialogue between writers, publishers and, most importantly, readers.

Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?

As obvious as it sounds, stop thinking about it as a distant goal. I’ve met so many writers who spend more time thinking about being a writer than actually putting pen to paper. If you have an idea for a piece of prose, write it down. Then edit, reread, edit, repeat. And when you think it’s close to being ready, start to engage with the literary world.

About You

Where did you grow up?

South London, near Crystal Palace.

Where do you live now?

Edinburgh.

What would you like readers to know about you?

Nothing too much. Just read my work- it’s all in there.

What are you working on now?

A novel set in a non-specific country in the initial stages of a civil war. It charts the protagonist over a year as he tries to flee with his family.

End of Interview:

For more from J.D., follow him on Twitter.

Get your copy of The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J. Gyle from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

One response to “IndieView with J.D. Dixon, author of The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J. Gyle

  1. How interesting. Your process is so like mine. I, too, draft the whole thing in note form first, so that I don’t have to think about what’s next when I begin writing ~ it’s all there, in front of me, and I write on the same document as the plan. I started doing this a few novels ago, after I got into the habit of writing notes for the next day’s work, before I logged off. I agree re the hard graft, too. 5 or 6 days a week, and 2K words each session unless there’s a damn good reason why not. This is partly because I just want to get the first draft DONE, so I have something to work with.

    I so agree about the ‘being a writer’ thing. I often advise new writers to decide if they want to ‘write’ or ‘be a writer’. Smiley face with wink.

    Unlike you, I got so fed up with agents telling me that the writing itself was great but I would have to change the plot to fit in with what publishers want, that I stopped submitting some years ago. It’s an individual thing; self-pub works for me, but I know it doesn’t for everyone. I look forward to your next book, very much.

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