Both Kevin and Matt are newly recognised authors at this year’s festival – Kevin, breaking ground with his debut novel The Fields and Matt finally finding the acceptance his work deserves with The Humans (and we all know I loved The Humans!). Both men are personable and self-deprecating in equal measure, with the dark humour flying between them throughout the event making the audience feel more like theywere sat in the pub with friends than at a literary festival.
However, the motivations behind each of their works are wildly different. Kevin Maher started his professional life as a film critic and, thousands of movies later, decided to move his family to a remote Scottish fishing village in order to focus on becoming a writer. Matt, in terms of The Humans, began reworking an idea that he had abandoned years previously on the back of the relative success of his suburban vampire novel, The Radleys.
So what elements went in to making The Fields and The Humans the fantastic examples of fiction that they are? Real life, it would seem. Kevin spoke openly about the semi-autobiographical nature of some of the more harrowing aspects of The Fields whilst admitting that his choice of a 14 year old boy as narrator was fueled by the innocence of children. "A child’s eyes can point out the absurdity of life," said Maher, they can enhance the "once upon a time-ness" that an adult voice simply can’t. Unsurprisingly, Matt Haig’s past struggle with depression and anxiety helped to shape the final version of The Humans. "I remember not feeling like I knew who I was, not knowing myself… That’s difficult to deal with in your twenties when you should be finding out who you really are". Neither author, however, felt that fatherhood had influenced their work – Matt Haig was writing fiction around families and relationships long before he was a father himself and Kevin Maher feels that "an exploration of fatherhood" is a literary red-flag that he would rather avoid.
The Fields and The Humans are unusual in their approach to relationships and emotions in that they tell the truth. Both of their authors are brave enough to write life exactly as they see it and, thankfully, Haig and Maher seem to see life as a black comedy. Horror and grief peppered with humour make for two extremely enjoyable reads that do not shy away from the topics they claim to address. Both will make you laugh, cry and think in equal measure and, if you are lucky enough to meet either of the authors, the realisation of their fantastic ordinariness will certainly make you appreciate their work new levels.
PolkaDot Steph is our woman on the ground for Edinburgh Book Fest 2013 and will be back soon with her thoughts on the Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale and a chat with the author herself