Bridge over the Neretva, a brilliant novel by Django Wylie, won the Grand Prize of Eyelands Book Aards for 2021. As it goes for four years now, every new year comes with the interview of the grand prize winner. Note that the category is Unpublished books and that means it wont stay unpublished for long. It will be published from Strange Days Books later this year. Here is a short biographical note by his own words:
I’m an English and Drama teacher, based in Switzerland. I hold an MA in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths and studied poetry at UC Berkeley. In 2017, I was the recipient of the Yeovil Literary Prize, and in 2019 I won the Indigo Dreams Firsts Competition. I had a prose manuscript shortlisted for the London Magazine First Novel Award and the Blue Pencil Agency Novel Award. My first collection of poetry, New and Selected Heartbreaks, was published in May of 2019.
How does it feel to be the grand prize winner of an international books contest?
It is a great feeling to win the Grand Prize in the Eyelands Book Awards. The idea that my words will now be read by others, and my book will find its way into print, is one that fills me with an enormous sense of gratitude not only for those involved in the reading and judging process, but also for everyone in the world of literature.
How did you hear about the contest?
I can’t recall exactly, but it was probably through the National Association of Writers in Education website.
How do you feel with the idea you will be the judge for the books of your category on Eyelands Books Awards 2022?
It’ll be an honour to judge the books in my category this year. I’m sure it’ll be immensely tricky to choose a winner, but doubtless it’ll be supremely rewarding, too.
When did you start writing?
In a way that is almost too embarrassingly cliché, I started writing poems when I was a teenager… in my diary. I suppose it was a way for me to try and make sense of the things that were happening around me, and the unpredictable ways I would find myself reacting to them, by isolating them and crystallising them in my own words. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties, finishing my degree and thinking about beginning my MA in Creative Writing, that I started to become more serious about writing and more conscious of its (lack of) quality. Since then I’ve published a short book of poetry and written many abortive manuscripts… I usually write in tiny fragments, on the Notes app on my phone, that I then try to weave together or build into something larger.
You wrote a brilliant book. What was the inspiration?
The inspiration for Bridge over the Neretva was a trip I took around the Balkans in 2018 with my friends. We went to many wonderful and uniquely memorable places, but the one that left the most indelible impression was Mostar, in Bosnia. Set there, the book is about two adoptive brothers from different ethnic backgrounds, one of whom makes a living diving off the city’s Old Bridge for tourists. Well, this is something we watched on our first evening in Mostar. Though thronging with life, rich in culture, and inscrutably beautiful, the whole place is suffused with a real, palpable sense of its recent violent history – many of the buildings are still pock-marked with bullet holes, and the bridge itself is largely a replica of the one that had stood there from the sixteenth century, until it was blown up in the war in 1993. The place is a sort of poem – its beauty and its tragedy can be read between the lines. Bridge over the Neretva is my attempt to come to some sort of understanding of what it might be like to live and to try and build a life in a place where the bloody divisions of the past, though dormant, are very much still alive, and threaten to spill into the present… I’ve been watching the news coming out of Bosnia lately with sadness, but haven’t lost hope.
What are your plans as a writer for the future?
Lately, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly interested in what it would take to make meaningful literature given the near certainty of climate catastrophe… I’m still at a bit of a loss, but have found solace in the seemingly endless stream of excellent novels that continue to be published. I’ve begun working on the rough outline of a postmodern novel that toys with the ideas of immortality/AI/free will. But this could very well remain an outline. I’m also working on redrafting some poems that will hopefully find their way into print someday.
Have you ever been in Greece before?
I’ve never been to Greece before, but I have always wanted to go. So much Greek philosophy, mythology and literary culture has been important to me and to many of the writers and artists I most admire. I would love the chance to go and see experience it for myself.
How do you feel that your book will be translated into Greek?
It’s a real privilege to be translated into Greek. When I was writing the book, I never really thought it would find a reader, so the idea of it potentially landing in the hands of readers in Greece, and rendered in another language, is humbling and immensely pleasing.