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In The Mizzle and Fog: Wyl Menmuir on The Many

Posted on 7th September 2016 by Sally Campbell
One of the more unusual novels to make 2016’s Man Booker longlist was Wyl Menmuir's The Many. Originally from StockportMenmuir now lives with his family by the rugged north coast of Cornwall. Here, he takes us for a walk over the Cornish rocks and across the landscape that inspired his dark, enigmatic and intricate debut.   

Photo: Wyl Menmuir (c) Dave Muir

To say the Cornish coast is glorious in the summer is to state the obvious. But summer is on its way out now. Just a few days ago, I walked up onto the cliffs close to where I live on the north coast and felt the change for myself and with it a familiar buzz. After all, it was Cornwall in the late autumn and winter that inspired the setting for my novel, The Many, not the picture postcard South West of July and August.

The Many unfolded itself to me gradually, out-of-season, as I walked along the coast in the mizzle and fog. I doubt the village in which I set the story would appear on any postcard, but the setting is inspired more by the Cornish coastline than anywhere else and, hopefully, as infused with the salt spray washing in off the Atlantic as any of the places I visited.

Rolling waves seen from the Cornish coast (c) Dave Muir

My routine while writing often followed a similar pattern. I would spread out the map, scour it for a while looking for somewhere interesting and head out for a few hours to walk, explore and scratch at the surface of things before I sat down to write later in the evening. A scene suggested itself as a grey wall of water approached the cliffs from far out at sea, and I stayed put just to feel the sensation of the storm hitting the land, of the storm reaching me. I gleaned small details from villages all around the coast: a hut filled with abandoned winch equipment; the emptiness of holiday homes off-season, mouldering photographs on a village noticeboard; stacks of nets by a harbour wall; container ships sheltering from heavy weather.

The further I walked, the more clearly the village appeared to me until it was fully formed, its tightly packed streets and grim cove, the boats pulled up above the high water mark. As the details of the place emerged, I wanted to see how this landscape would shape my characters and what would happen when I put the city-dwelling Timothy Buchannan in the thick of it.

The rocky Cornish coast (c) Jay Armstrong

And wherever I went on my travels I watched the sea and its changing faces, from millpond calm to boiling and seething. I wondered on the strange things the sea throws up into fishing nets or onto the shore, its hints and mysteries, on the role the sea plays in our collective psyche and our uncomfortable relationship with it. Everywhere I walked, I would find somewhere to sit up on the cliffs and watch the water because I knew from early on that the sea would be as much a character in the novel as any of the others that haunt its pages.

I’m constantly drawn back to the sea, ‘to the lonely sea and the sky’ as John Masefield so beautifully put it. And if I have a hope for how readers will take The Many it is that they will be drawn back to it over and again. I’d love to think it will cause them to reread and ponder its mysteries, and that it might mean something slightly different to them each time the barometer starts to fall and the winter swells roll in. 

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