An interview with Will Dean about :
The last thing to burn
How did you get the idea for THE LAST THING TO BURN ? Why choosing the « noir » genre to tell your stories ?
The idea came to me one night in 2016. Around midnight I saw an image clearly in my mind. A flat landscape, viewed from above, with a small farmhouse at its centre. I saw a figure moving in and out of the farmhouse but she never travelled far from it. I came to understand that she was being held there against her will. By six am that morning I had visualised the entire story.
I didn’t actively choose a genre. I read very widely and try to tell the story in my gut. Oftentimes the details and tone are a surprise to me. I wrote the first draft in three weeks, and that was truly me telling myself the story for the first time. The book is a claustrophobic thriller reminiscent of Misery and Room, but it is also a story of strength, family and hope.
Jane is such a strong woman, capable of facing every situation, even the worst ones… Where does her mental force come from ?
She is most likely the strongest character I will ever write. At first her resilience comes from her relationship with her sister, and her need to keep her safe. And later on much of her strength is about keeping those around her alive. It is not a loud or showy kind of strength; it is quiet and galvanising. Day-by-day. She endures and she never loses sight of who she is despite Lenn’s repeated attempts to deprive her of privacy, identity and agency.
We have the feeling that you decided not to censor yourself, that you wanted to explore every path of this dark road, fully, with delicacy and harshness…
I write in a fugue state. After months of visualising, without notes, I’ll sit down to begin a first draft. That process is intense. I stay in the main character’s head for weeks, writing more with my feelings than my thoughts. So there isn’t much scope to censor at that stage. Then came years of research and work, thinking and re-thinking. My main aim with this book was to do the protagonist justice, and part of that was avoiding gratuitous descriptions. It is a dark and unsettling novel but there are moments of light and beauty.
Using a first-person narrator makes the reader care and feel strongly for the main character. We can visualize her and identify completely, immediately. How did you deal with a first-person narration ? I assume it is not the most easiest way to tell a story… is it ?
Each story must be told in its own way. I try not to impose any rigid ideas when I visualise a story, I try to give myself the freedom to make mistakes and take chances. My protagonist’s voice came clearly and I had to trust it. Writing her from the first person point-of-view was challenging, and I felt a responsibility to conduct extensive research and write with maximum empathy, but, for me, it was the only way to tell this story.
THE LAST THING TO BURN also deals with human trafficking in Southeast Asia. When did you decide to talk about this in a novel ? And why ?
It all came from that image at midnight. In the following six hours I came to understand her background and her fears and her dreams. As I write this I understand it can seem strange, but that’s how my stories begin: a person in a place. When I realised she was Vietnamese, and was being held against her will, I had to ask myself if I even had the right to tell the story at all. This is why even though the first draft took three weeks the book itself took almost five years. I had to ensure I was doing everything to avoid cliché.
The important subjects of our day are sometimes overwhelming to explore and analyse. Non-fiction has an important role to play but I think fictional stories can help in a unique manner. They allow us to empathise, to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, to interrogate our own biases and beliefs. It’s one of the reasons I love to read.
Photo : Sophie Mary
Catégories :Interviews littéraires