Monday 17 August 2015

Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt and Author Q&A

Spring, 1945: A man wakes in a field in a country he does not know. 
Injured and confused, he pulls himself to his feet and starts to walk, and so sets out on an extraordinary journey in search of his home, his past and himself.  

His name is Owen. A war he has only a vague memory of joining is in its dying days, and as he tries to get back to England he becomes caught up in the flood of refugees pouring through Europe.
Among them is a teenage boy, Janek, and together they form an unlikely alliance as they cross battle-worn Germany. 
When they meet a troubled young woman, tempers flare and scars are revealed as Owen gathers up the shattered pieces of his life. 
No one is as he remembers, not even himself - how can he truly return home when he hardly recalls what home is?

Devastation Road was published in hardback by Scribner (Simon & Schuster) on 30 July 2015, and is Jason Hewitt's second novel. His first; The Dynamite Room was published in March 2014.

I haven't read The Dynamite Room, in fact I'll be honest and admit that I'd not heard of Jason Hewitt before he joined #BookConnectors - a Facebook group for bloggers and authors that I admin. When I read the blurb and saw the 'Superb' comment on the front cover from Nathan Filer (who wrote one of my all time favourite books; The Shock of the Fall), I suspected that Devastation Road was a book that I was going to enjoy. I was not wrong.

I say 'enjoy', and whilst the writing is beautiful and the sense of place and time exquisite, the word 'enjoy' does not really feel appropriate. How can one enjoy a story that is filled with horror and pain, that fills the brain with images that are difficult to erase, and leaves a scar on the heart as the brutal reality of the effects of war is driven home so very well? I'm not sure what other word to use, reading Devastation Road is an experience, an eye-opening experience that is made so much better by the author's use of language and prose.

War-time fiction that concentrates on the dying days of the conflict often features the jubilation and sense of pride felt by our soldiers and our country. It is rare that we are party to the horrors that remained on the continent during the last few months of war in 1945, but in Devastation Road, Jason Hewitt hides nothing, the reader is not spared at all. We accompany the lead character Owen and his companions Janek and Irena as they make their way through the ravaged villages and towns, trying to find their way home.

Owen and Janek are characters that appear to have nothing in common, they cannot even communicate in the same language. Their shared experiences bring them together, and whilst they are both looking for their brothers, their own relationship becomes as strong as blood-brothers, there is an understanding between them that is almost palpable. Despite their frustrations, they stick together throughout a journey that is often treacherous and always incredibly dangerous as they dodge the German and Russian soldiers who appear desperate and unforgiving.

Devastation Road is a multi-layered story that will haunt the reader. The words are almost poetic at times, and the author's compassion shines through in his prose. These characters are not just scarred by the events that they see throughout their journey, there are questions to be asked about all three of them.

Jason Hewitt has created a story that encapsulates the end of a war that ravaged not only the landscape, but the people too. He does not make it easy for the reader, as things slowly fall into place along the way, but he does make this a brilliant reading journey, and one that will stay with me for a long time.

Huge thanks to Jason Hewitt who sent my copy for review. I am delighted to welcome Jason here to Random Things today. Jason has agreed to answer a few questions for me:

Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?  
I read press reviews and bloggers’ reviews if they are sent to me – I think it’s only polite. That said I avoid Amazon and Goodreads as much as humanly possible. When my debut, The Dynamite Room, first published I found myself becoming unhealthily addicted to them and studying the reviews and star ratings. I’ve since learnt that this is bad for my mental stability, so it’s best to steer clear. There’s a common understanding amongst authors that review sites aren’t for authors anyway; they’re for readers. For an author, visiting Goodreads to look at your reviews is the equivalent of walking into a room of strangers with a baseball bat, asking if anyone one wants to hit you over the head with it, and then being surprised (and rather upset) when someone actually does.
How long does it take to write a novel?    
My debut, The Dynamite Room, took me four years to write, although I was working and acting during that time as well. My second novel, Devastation Road, took six months to research, followed by a year to write a draft that was good enough to send to my publisher and then another year of editing after that. I’ve just started a new novel that I hope to finish the bulk of the research for by the end of this year but, at the moment, I have no idea how long the writing of it will take.
Do you have any writing rituals?
No. I’m a big fan of spreadsheets and to-do lists and yet, despite that, I’m pretty chaotic a lot of the time. I don’t have much self-discipline unless I’ve got an approaching deadline, which invariably leads to a last-minute panic and an awful lot of stress. With the new novel I’m about to start I want to try to work office hours – and I mean work, not spending hours on social media.  If you see me on Twitter at 11am on a Tuesday morning please throw something hard at me!
What was your favourite childhood book? 
Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story. It’s more accessible than The Lord of The Rings but still had the sense of a quest as well as a clever Russian doll structure, with you ultimately reading a book about a boy reading a book, who starts to care for its characters just as you do, and then ultimately has to save them. It’s very postmodern although, aged 11, I probably didn’t consider that. I also loved The Wonder Dog: The Collected Stories of Richard Hughes, which is filled with characters that live in snow domes, and spider palaces in the sky, or get sucked down the wires of a telephone. It’s rather old-fashioned now but utterly enchanting. 
Name one book that made you laugh? Name one book that made you cry?George Saunders’ short story collection, The Tenth of December. Every story is that wonderful combination of being bizarre, hilarious and also incredibly poignant. The story ‘Puppy’ will have you in stitches and then break your heart. That said there is only one book I’ve read that’s turned on the full water works and that is William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault. He is a master of characterization and the end is so beautifully understated that it reduced me to tears
Which fictional character would you like to meet?
Either Tintin because as a boy I used to look a bit like him so automatically assumed that we would get on (this was how my ten year old logic worked). Or Pip in Great Expectations. I played him once in a theatre production and I’d love to meet him to see if he’s anything at all like I portrayed him.
Which book would you give to your best friend as a present? 
Mountains of the Moon by I J Kay (for the originality of its voice and characterization) or Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey (for the beauty and playfulness of its language). Failing that, The Rules of Perspective by Adam Thorpe. 
Are you inspired by any particular author or book? 
At the moment I’m completely in awe of Sarah Waters. She’s critically acclaimed, always on the prize lists and yet sells by the bucket-load and is a real crowd-pleaser. On top of all that, she’s absolutely lovely.  
What is your guilty pleasure read?    Winnie the Pooh. He’s the fictional equivalent of a therapist as far as I’m concerned 
Who are your favourite authors? 
At the moment I’m revisiting a lot of Susan Hill and loving it. I was also influenced a lot by Lesley Glaister when I was just starting to write. I love Anthony Doerr, Iris Murdoch, Cormac McCarthy, Michael Ondaatje, the list goes on and on. In terms of the classics I have a love of gothic fiction so I’d have to include the Brontë’s, Shelley, Dickens, du Maurier, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Angela Carter. My favourite book over the last year has probably been Ben Ferguson’s The Spring of Kasper Meier.
What book have you re-read? 
As a child the book I read the most was probably The Hobbit. As an adult though there have been many that I’ve returned to. I mentioned Susan Hill earlier but I’m also about to embark on Wuthering Heights for, what I think, will be the fourth time. It’s such a savage, brutal and yet beautiful book, with pages so drenched with atmosphere that it’s a wonder they don’t stick together.
What book have you given up on?
The combination of constantly having a huge to-be-read pile and also being a very slow reader means that if a book doesn’t grab me in the first 50 pages I’ll put it down and more than likely not pick it up again. I can’t tell you the recent novels that I’ve put aside but there are some classics that shamefully I’ve not reached the end of: Bleak House and Vanity Fair being two that instantly spring to mind. They are just too damn long.

Jason Hewitt is an author, playwright and actor. 

His debut novel, The Dynamite Room, was long-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award. 

Devastation Road, his second novel, was published in July 2015. 

After a successful run at Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year, his play, Claustrophobia, will be performed at The Hope Theatre, London (17 November – 5 December).

Find out more at his website
Find him on Facebook
Follow him on Twitter @JasonHewitt123


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