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Rebecca Hunt & Mr Chartwell

The first time author talks to Dazed about dogs, Hunter S. Thompson and the role of a young British novelist these days

Rebecca Hunt is an artist turned writer whose debut novel Mr Chartwell marked the arrival of an exciting new voice to the London literary scene. Capturing some of the playfulness of Mikhail Bulgakov’s 'Heart of a Dog', and re-imagining London in the 1960s, Mr Chartwell is a menacing black dog, the walking, talking, anarchic personification of depression who aims to wreak havoc on two characters at the centre-ground of the British political landscape at the time. We caught up with Rebecca to talk about her influences and her debut novel...

Dazed Digital: What is the role of a young British novelist these days? Is it harder for you than it is for the generation now in its 30 and 40s?
Rebecca Hunt: I suspect it’s pretty much the same as it has always been… actually, it’s probably exactly the same. If there is a role for writers, I guess it is to start a conversation about the circumstances and challenges that shape us all. Society, love, politics, relationships, family, ambition, identity and fate are a few of the common topics that continually revolve through novels, and it is because they are universal factors which make up a life and resonate with everybody. Times alter the composition of these subjects, as social freedoms and anxieties develop, dissolve, and are succeeded by the next ones, but their core remains mostly unchanged. And these shared experiences inform us, maybe comfort us, and hopefully engage us, because in books we see another person who in some way we recognise.

DD: Tell us about Black Pat.
Rebecca Hunt: Winston Churchill named his depression the ‘black dog’ and Black Pat is the physical manifestation of this - a monstrous dog who talks, walks and stalks Churchill as he approaches his retirement at the age of eighty-nine years old. Black Pat is also the lodger of Esther Hammerhans, a young widow who wants to rent out her late husband’s study. Black Pat is the duplicitous, dangerously charming companion of these two protagonists as they approach the end of deeply significant relationships, and he has dark and unusual intentions for them both.

DD: What do you like about the era in which the story is set?
Rebecca Hunt: Writing a book set in the 60s wasn’t something I had set out to do, but once the central premise of the idea was there, it became an obvious necessity. And I do like the 60s: it was a decade of massive change with an epic soundtrack. Socially, politically, culturally and scientifically, the 60s leant on taboos, raised its voice in protest, had a Summer of Love, and landed on the moon.

DD: Why do you write? What is it about writing that you love?
Rebecca Hunt: I think writing enables me to enter into discourse with a subject that fascinates me, bringing me closer to understanding it. I can map a route through an idea and find a conclusion which is as close as I can get to the objective I started out with. And having to work to explain something in words gives me a clearer picture of where I stand on an issue – it’s not just a vague hum in the subconscious anymore because you have to carve it into something that makes sense to others too.

DD: What sort of things are you influenced by? Was there ever a book you finished and decided, right, time to write a book?
Rebecca Hunt: Influences for me, as I’m sure they do most people, come from a lot of different places – films, books, television, radio, conversations, places and art. I’ve read a lot of books that have inspired me, but not necessarily to write – more to do things similarly to how it’s done in the book, such as to appreciate my immediate surroundings with deep, detailed intrigue, which is what Nicolson Baker does in The Mezzanine and Room Temperature; or to be more generous and affectionate about my past and the people there, like Dylan Thomas; or to be more ferociously engaged, like Hunter S. Thompson. I don’t always do these things, but I want to. One book that I suppose had a gripping, immediate effect was Hunger by Knut Hamsen, which made me want to write something because of its raw power. It’s a brilliant, brutal, horrifying book that left me wanting to never read it again whilst at the same time wanting to read it all the time.