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Local author is Somerset Maugham prizewinner

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  • by Debbie Butler
 

Joe Stretch, 31, from Burton-in-Kendal has just won the 2013 Somerset Maugham prize for his third novel, The Adult.

He is also playing the part of Eilert Loevborg in a production of Ibsen’s, Hedda Gabler, for Warton Drama Group which is being directed by his mum, Marion Plowright who is Head of Theatre and Media Studies at Ripley St Thomas School, Lancaster.

This is Joe’s first acting role since he attended Queen Elizabeth School, Kirkby Lonsdale.

The play will be performed in Warton from November 20 to 22 and then at The Heron Theatre in Beetham on December 6 and 7.

Read below for Q&A with Joe;

Q Previous winners of the prize include Martin Amis and Ian McEwan so how do you feel to be given this prestigious award?

A I feel happy. I used to wake in the middle of the night feeling sick about stuff I’d written. That happens a little less now. The list of previous winners is cool, people like Seamus Heaney and William Boyd, but those writers were consistently good, and I guess that’s my aim.

Q When did you find out you had been chosen?

A I was in a pub in Hereford, on my way to Hay on Wye. I was sitting at the bar and this stranger, really drunk, was talking about his dad. My phone rang and I got the news. It was raining. I walked round Hereford town centre, which is quite bleak, but I felt light. I ate a three-course meal in an empty Pizza Express. It was lasagne, I think.

Q How many people received the award this year? How much is the cash prize (you don’t have to tell me!) and where will you travel with it?

A Two novelists and a poet won. It’s not much money to be honest. I’ve spent most of it already. I went to Paris for ten days. I went to Israel, to Jerusalem, which was fascinating. I drove up to occupied Syria, not far south of Damascus, and camped. I burned a notepad to get a fire going and there was a lot of artillery fire in the distance. When that finished wolves started howling. I went to a town to get beer and there were soldiers everywhere. I ate a yoghurt sandwich. It was kind of a sad, surreal experience, being close to a war. I think I’ll go back to Israel this year if I can.

Q You won the award for your third book, the coming of age novel, The Adult. Briefly, give your synopsis of the book and am I right in thinking that some of it is set in this area? Has its success surprised you? Do you feel this is your best piece of written work to date?

A I think The Adult is the best thing I’ve done. It’s set around Lancaster, and the south Lakes. I hear the fountain’s gone in Market Square - I was sad to hear that; it was pretty glum, but I liked it. The Adult’s about life in England between 1989 and 2009, from one recession to the next. It’s about love, sex, pop music, family, how England’s changed, got worse, got better. I hope it’s strange and honest. I hope that’s what people like. I tried to write something bleak, funny, disarming, sincere.

Q When did you start writing? What inspired you to write?

A I always wrote. From when I was eight or nine. And I suppose you just keep going. I wrote a lot when I was at university. And then for years after I worked as a waiter and worked really hard on writing. I don’t know what inspires me really. I just write.

Q Were you born locally and what about your education?

A Yeah, I went to primary school in Burton-in-Kendal and then to Queen Elizabeth School, Kirkby Lonsdale. I studied politics in Manchester after that. I lived in Burton. But I remember nights out at Keystones and the Warehouse. I bought my first pint in the John O’Gaunt in 1998. I told some guy I was an existentialist, but I didn’t know what that meant. I still don’t.

Q Where do you live now?

A I live in Manchester and have done for thirteen years now. I like it because it’s easy to get to London and easy to get back home, and easy for the Lakes. Mum still lives in Burton-in-Kendal and Dad lives in Silverdale. I’m unmarried and childless, but I live with my partner and I pretend my cats are human. I spend my days talking to them.

Q Tell me a little bit about your film-making and its success and also about your band?

A I’m one third of a writer/director team called Metal Man.

We made our first film, Wizard’s Way, on a tiny budget and won some prizes and it was shown at the British Film Institute. Hopefully it’ll be on general release next year, but we’ll see. We also sold the re-make rights to quite a big Hollywood star, but I’ll probably be sued if I say his name. We’re developing a new film with Film4. It’s called Journey to the Centre of the Moon and some of that’s set round Lancaster – I’m still sad that the fountain’s gone. I watched its demolition on YouTube recently, and wept. Oh, and the band. I was in a band called Performance. We were signed, but just struggled really. It’s all on YouTube, along with the fountain’s demolition, which is probably pretty apt.

Q Tell me about the Warton Drama Group production you’re appearing in?

A It took a month for Mum to persuade me. But my step-dad, who was a big inspiration for me, used to run the drama group, and he died not so long ago, so I’ll be thinking of him when we perform the play. We’re doing Hedda Gabler by Ibsen. It’s amazing. I’m not much of an actor, but to be part of a local drama group is one the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had actually. I can’t wait for the performances. Mum’s a great director. And the cast are extremely talented. People should come along. I reckon we’re at least as good as television. Probably better than ITV.

Q Finally, is there anything you love doing in your spare time (not that I can believe you have any)?

A Reading. I love reading. I just finished ‘The Circle’ by Dave Eggers. I’d recommend it to people interested in social networking and its impact on our consciousness. I eat a lot of spaghetti.

 

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