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My First Time...with Tyler Wetherall

Tyler Wetherall, The Riff Raff

Photo: Sammy Deigh

Tyler Wetherall is a journalist and author living in Brooklyn. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, Vice, The Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Narratively, The Gettysburg Review, and Brooklyn Vol. 1, amongst others. She is the recipient of an MA from Goldsmiths College, London, and an Arts Council Award for literature.

She now teaches creative writing and journalism at Manhattanville College. She is also Deputy Editor for literary journal The Wrong Quarterly. Her debut book, No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run, is out now from St. Martin's Press.

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

My father had recently been released from prison when he started looking for a ghostwriter to work on his autobiography. I felt very strongly I didn’t want anyone else to tell our story. Even when he was inside and I was still a teenager, he would send me chapters of his own memoirs – painstakingly written on the prison typewriter – as a way to explain his choices, and we’d speak about one day turning the story into a book or film.

At the time, I was 24 and working on women’s magazines in London. I remember reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and this idea of letting go of the weight that holds us down had a big impact on me. In one week, I quit my job, dumped my boyfriend and gave notice on my apartment. I booked flights to Los Angeles to spend a month interviewing my dad every day. That was the start of the book.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write it?

Just one? So many things! I wish I’d known to seek out mentorship from more established writers to better educate myself on the process. For the first four years I wrote the book in isolation from any writing community. I didn’t know other authors in London and hadn’t studied creative writing.

Once I found other writers – when I moved to New York and discovered the magical writer’s space The Oracle Club – it became easier. We stood around the bar, drinking and sharing our thoughts on the often maddening undertaking that is writing.

What did you enjoy most about writing it?

The enduring surprise of writing an impeccable sentence. And the worst part?

How hard it is to get that sentence on the page.

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

I organise the cupboards. Any cupboards. Anyone’s cupboards. I am not a hugely disciplined writer, and whenever I read about other writer’s prolific habits I’m astonished, chastise myself, and devise a strict new regimen, which inevitably fails after two days.

I only admit this in the hope it makes other similarly afflicted writers feel better. What’s most astonishing is that somehow the work still gets done. I never remember the writing.

Go-to writing snacks?

I’m not a writing snacker, but I drink inordinate amounts of tea.

The book that changed you?

Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things had an enormous impact on me. The world she creates on the page quivers with life and magic, reflecting the inner world of her characters in a way that just made sense to me.

It is also a structural feat, a story folded in on itself to replicate the simultaneity of memory and the interconnectedness of all things. I occasionally open it to read a page just to remind me why I write.

No Way Home, The Riff Raff

Your pump up song?

While I was writing I made a playlist of the songs we had on a car tape when we were kids – 4 Non Blondes, Counting Crows, Pink Floyd etc. When I was struggling to get my mind back into the past, I would play it and hope it carried me there.

If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer, who would it be?

Anaîs Nin. Flamboyant, convention defying, brilliant.

One piece of advice you’d give first time writers hoping to get published?

First find pleasure in the process. Recognition is incredibly motivating but it can also be a false friend, because we get hooked on these publicly validating achievements, and without them we feel we’re failing. We want publishing credits, we want prestigious residencies, we want followers and film rights and six-figure deals, and all those things are awesome. But they are not guaranteed even if you’re a great writer.

Define your own personal measure of success and for most of us it comes down to what we put on the page. The only reason to write is when you’re deep in it, when you’re lost in the world of your own creation, the pleasure is too sweet to consider quitting.

Why do you write?

I remember reading a Maggie O’Farrell book when I was in Paris with my mum. After You’d Gone, about a woman coming to terms with the sudden death of her lover. I was 16 and I’d just broken up with my boyfriend, but I remember walking around Paris weeping, not for my broken heart, but for the protagonist in the novel, and I thought to myself I want to do this. I want to move people by a pain that is not their own.

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