Kevin Hardcastle discusses subverting the idea of poor communities in his work and what (and who) influences him in our Five Questions series. Hardcastle will be interviewed by award-winning author John Irving at our next IFOA Weekly event on Wednesday, November 29, 7:30 pm about his debut novel, In The Cage.
IFOA: You’ve written short stories in the past. What was it like completing your first novel and then having that published?
Kevin Hardcastle: It happened kind of backwards, because I’d actually written the novel before most of the stories that I published, those that ended up in my collection, Debris. I kept rewriting and working on the novel while I was improving my skills with my short story work, and eventually got it to where it is now. In those rewrites, I tried to use all of the tools I’d sharpened while writing short fiction, and bring them to bear on the novel.
There is a difference in the way that novels are received though, and the attention they’re likely to get, and I’ve noticed that as I’ve gone through the process. It’s not on the NYT bestseller list, by any means, but the reach of a novel is plainly longer, for the most part. And, as a result, the work you have to do to support the book is much more involved.
IFOA: If readers were to leave with one thing from In the Cage, what would it be?
Hardcastle: I’d like them to be surprised that the novel, and the characters within, do not follow the standard CanLit tropes for poor people, rural people, and others who live at the margins. As with some other excellent books this year, such as Brother by David Chariandy, I’m fine with subverting the idea that poor people have to behave a certain way, or be as neatly packaged as they often are for writers and readers who don’t have firsthand experience with that world.
I’m also hoping that people don’t just think of it as a book about fighting or fighters. It’s about someone trying to make a living with the limited resources they have, and struggling to get by while their environment tries to keep them low. It’s a story that many people live. It just so happens that the protagonist in the novel literally fights to put food on the table at times.
IFOA: What has influenced your writing, whether it’s your style or the themes you explore?
Hardcastle: I’m influenced by a number of writers, mostly American authors who write about the rural poor, and life or death stakes, like Cormac McCarthy, Daniel Woodrell, Donald Ray Pollock, and Willa Cather. I don’t like to dwell on characters’ psychologies and descriptions of emotion, but instead let it show through the characters’ actions and experiences. I’m also fascinated by atmosphere and tone, and letting the natural world play a significant role in the narrative. This is something all of those writers do very well.
Otherwise, I do find my writing is seriously influenced by film, and think that I develop and present stories very visually as a result. It fits with the stylistic approach quite well. Finally, I was influenced here by my actual training in Muay Thai, and seeing how much the nakedness and honesty of that hard training coincides with the real work of writing.
IFOA: What are you currently reading?
Hardcastle: I’ve got a few things on the go. I’m reading a literary crime novel called To Funk and Die in LA, by Brooklyn author Nelson George. And we did an event together last week in New York. I’m also reading Legacy, a novel by Waubgeshig Rice, and the Writers’ Trust Award shortlisted Bad Endings, a book of short fiction by Carleigh Baker.
IFOA: What are you working on next?
Hardcastle: Another novel, just under a working title at the moment. I have a first few chapters down, and will be stepping it up a notch now that most of the events and readings for In the Cage are taken care of for the time being. It is a very different novel, but don’t fret. There will still be rural violence, crime, blood-feuds, and some subterranean feelings in there, to make it all stick together.
I’m going to write some new short fiction as well, as I’ve been so occupied with work on the latest novel that I’ve not had any new stories out there for awhile. I’ll always write short fiction alongside novel-length work, and think it will always pay dividends as far as honing craft.
Kevin Hardcastle is a fiction writer from Simcoe County, Ontario. He studied writing at the University of Toronto and Cardiff University. He was a finalist for the 2012 Journey Prize, and his stories have been published widely in Canada and anthologized internationally. Hardcastle’s debut short story collection, Debris, won the Trillium Book Award and the ReLit Award for Short Fiction.