Bestselling author Nicholas Evans (The Horse Whisperer, 1995; The Divide, 2005, etc.) found unlikely, unhealthy inspiration for his latest book, The Brave. A broad novel, it portrays generations of the Bedford family—at an English boarding school, in golden-aged Hollywood, fighting in Iraq—overwhelmed by dark family secrets and the fear of begetting a tragic life. In 2008, while writing the novel, Evans survived his own tragic lunch—Evans, his wife and brother- and sister-in-law mistakenly ingested deadly webcap mushrooms as part of a hand-picked snack in the English countryside. Renal failure soon set in, but all are lucky to have survived. “I left the book for about a year while I tried to get my life back,” says Evans, who still requires dialysis every other day. “I think the book benefitted from this experience in a funny way. I empathized with the characters much more. I felt I was more fully in their heads and hearts.” Kirkus recently spoke with a still-convalescing Evans about maturing, his experiences in television and film, and the pleasure of working with his wife.
We see five generations of the Bedford family in The Brave, each with its own take on bravery in the face of tragedy. Does the definition of bravery change with each generation?
I think the notions of bravery that Tom is confronted with when he is a child—particularly when he is sent away to boarding school, “To make a man of him,” as his father says—had a profound effect on him. As an older man, he of course has had 50 years to reflect on what happened, and I think he has a much less-certain view of what bravery constitutes. Certainly, when he looks at what his son has done and his attitude toward the war in Iraq, I think Tom would eschew those notions of bravery he had as a child.
There’s also a juxtaposition of American and British values. As a Briton who’s spent a lot of time in America, were you eager to compare the two?
Not really. That comparison isn’t really something that interests me. In The Horse Whisperer, and certainly now in The Brave, there’s an English main character; the other books have been purely American. It’s funny, but I feel more at home in an American culture than I do in an English one.
Before writing novels, you had written for television and film—what was it like diving back into those industries for this book?
Much more fun than actually working in them. [Laughs] I quite enjoyed working for TV, but my brief and not terribly successful foray into the movie business was mostly heartbreaking. I’ve never hung out in Hollywood, I’d only been there when I was casting or when something was premiering. But I’ve seen two or three friends pretty much damaged by their experience in Hollywood. It was fun revisiting it as a period for The Brave, and I suppose some of my experiences when I was involved with movies has bled through in a way. The superficiality and the fact that everything is business and that failure is an infectious disease in Hollywood—those are things that found their way into the book for sure.
Your wife, singer-songwriter Charlotte Gordon Cumming, wrote an album of songs inspired by the book. How was that working relationship?
She was involved fairly early on when I would talk a lot. I talk to one or two people about what I’m doing—literally two, actually, my agent and my wife. She was intrigued by the story, and she had the idea of writing songs. Not that we’re related specifically to the plot points or characters in the book, but certainly by the themes of the book. I’m a fan.