NZ Booklovers chats with Tanya Moir, author of The Legend of Winstone Blackhat.
I am interested in your fascination with Western films and I think you have captured this world so well. I guess films are supposed to provide moments of fantasy, escapism, but it feels to me as this world a nearly complete substitute for reality. Was that your intention?
I think the phrase ‘nearly complete’ is the key. For Winstone, it’s a seductive world, a world that offers the possibility of heroism, where good and bad are easy to spot and do not have the irritating habit of morphing into each other every time you change your perspective. Part of its function for him is pure entertainment, and as such it serves him well. But when he tries to make his own real life experiences fit its framework, things get trickier.
This is a dark book at times, and I wonder when you set out was it always going to be this way?
Yes. I knew right from the beginning that writing this novel would mean journeying into a very dark place, a place I didn’t particularly want to go myself, and in which people would be reluctant to join me. But I believed it was important to us, as a society, that somebody go there – and since I couldn’t see any other hands up, I figured it had better be me.
I’m interested in the balance in this novel. This for me is probably the reason I was able to finish the book and also to be able to recommend it (highly). Were you conscious of the balance between direness and hope for readers? As a writer?
Yes, I was. I wanted to make readers think, not punish them! Part of the reason I set the book in such a beautiful place, and wrote its Western element in the way that I did, was to provide some respite for the reader. Obviously I couldn’t just call ‘time out’ and talk about kittens for a while, but serendipitously, Winstone can only think about events in his life for so long before feeling the need to escape, and hopefully his stamina correlates to the reader’s.
I was also intrigued by the balance between good and evil. For example, even though I knew that Zane’s behaviour towards Winstone was despicable, I managed to see there were benefits for Winstone (through his narration I suppose). Am I weird or was that intentional?
You’re not weird. Or perhaps we both are. I wanted the reader to at least consider the possibility that Zane might not be a wholly bad person, and that in his own, deeply damaged, way, he might really care about Winstone. If Zane were to describe his feelings, he would use the word love, and he would believe himself to mean it. Zane might have been a Winstone once. And Winstone, left to travel his road alone, might grow up to be a Zane.
The final chapters came quickly to me as a reader. It was as if were always heading towards this climatic storm, which was a direct result of everything that had happened to this young boy. Were you conscious of the rising storm of events while you were writing?
Because I knew what the first literal storm of winter up at Winstone’s hideout was going to bring, I think I was most conscious of the weather omens building as autumn drew to a close. I tried to build the metaphorical storm in tandem with the literal one, overlaying the two. I wanted a sense of approaching thunder, but also the unstoppable motion of the earth.
Was the ending inevitable? Do you think this story could have ended any other way?
That’s really the crux of the novel – I wanted readers to ask themselves if Winstone’s story could have ended differently. Did they want a happy ending for him? What would have to happen to make that possible? I felt the only way I might be able to elicit those questions was to end the novel in the way that I did, so for me as a writer, no, there could have been no other ending.
As a reader, my own response to those questions is that maybe the story could have ended happily – if it had been safe for Winstone to reveal himself, come in from the cold, and ask for the help he needed.
As a writer, how do you extricate yourself from Winstone’s life?
I guess to a large extent by leaving him in the state that I did. The ending is its own goodbye, and in a sense, I made him as safe from harm as I possibly could. He’ll always be with me, though, in a truck on the highway, a story in the news, in the weight we give to our human desire for vengeance.