Paperback : 05 May 2011
Read an extract from: Mr Chartwell
Mr Chartwell is Rebecca Hunt’s stunning debut novel in which she turns Winston Churchill’s “black dog” (how he referred to his depression) into a physical and insidious dog that assimilates himself into all areas of Churchill’s life.
July, 1964. At home in Kent Winston Churchill wakes to a visitor: someone he hasn’t seen for a while, a dark, mute bulk, watching him.It’s Mr Chartwell.
In Battersea, Esther Hammerhans, young, vulnerable and alone, answers the door to her new lodger. Through the glass she sees a vast silhouette. It’s Mr Chartwell.
Mr Chartwell is a large, black dog.
He is charismatic and dangerously seductive, but as their lives are slowly drawn together, can Esther and Winston withstand his strange, powerful charms and strong hold? For Mr Chartwell’s motives are far darker and deeper than they seem.
‘Charming, funny, moving, finely crafted and engagingly evocative’ >Independent
‘Charming, original, rewarding, entertaining’ Financial Times
‘Brilliantly original and thought-provoking. Hunt tackles a serious topic with humour and intelligence’ Sunday Express
With Mr. Chartwell, Rebecca Hunt was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and shortlisted for the Galaxy National Book Awards New Writer of the Year.
Mr Chartwell Author Reading
Rebecca Hunt in conversation about Mr. Chartwell.
What prompted you to write a book about such an odd subject?
The central premise for Mr Chartwell, of Churchill’s ‘Black Dog’ being an individual character who would then be free to visit and ‘belong’ to other people besides Churchill occurred to me when I was walking home from work. To me, the possibilities this opened up were fascinating, and I wanted to allow them to develop. Although the book does contain a colossal talking hound, the foundations of the story explore very real subjects and situations – courage and loss, hope, depression and love - which the dog enabled me to access. The private thoughts and emotions of the other characters could be translated into dialogue in a way they might not have been without the dog as a separate, independent entity. My way of discussing the subject, although admittedly pretty odd, provided me with a method of engaging with a conversation that was important to me.
Why do you think depression is like the visitation of a black dog?
I think to describe depression as a ‘Black Dog’ works in a series of ways. The phrase brings to mind a faithful but dangerous companion who exhibits a jealous and aggressive devotion. I like the way it converts the typical characteristics of a dog into something much darker – the loyalty becomes isolating, guarding its master from friends and loved ones; the predatory instincts focus on a very specific prey. This dog is not so much a best friend as a determined friend which hunts you.
You have trained as a painter: How different is painting from writing? How did your training help you when you were writing?
I have found the process of painting and writing to be surprisingly similar! Both involve trying to express and explore ideas. Both can also be extremely frustrating and satisfying. And with both, working through the problems and false starts, through the near-misses and wildly miscalculated potential solutions, there comes a brilliant time at the end, where I feel that I have got as close as I’m able to the objective I set out at the beginning. In terms of the training I received at art school, I think that the basis of having to find a medium and method in which to convey an idea was very helpful to me with the book. The three hugely enjoyable years I spent at Central Saint Martins involved talking about ideas and trying to convert them into something. It didn’t matter if the result was good, bad, ugly, or tragically weird, we were free to experiment. This spirit of experimentation is what I hope I’ve taken with me since leaving college.
Are you going to continue painting?
Yes I am. I admit that my studio has been woefully neglected for a while because Mr Chartwell has been my main priority, but I am going to amend this in the next few days. For me, painting is a source of great enjoyment, as writing is, and I wouldn’t want to give up either. Sometimes the balance is off, and one takes a serious cut in time and attention, but it’s only a hiatus and not an end.
What are you writing next?
I have been thinking a lot and making pages of notes, gearing up to begin writing the next book. The ideas are still quite loose at the moment, and I’m spending time filtering through them. It sounds ridiculous, but I found it quite sad in a strange way to be leaving the characters in Mr Chartwell, probably because I had spent such an enormous amount time with them. Now other characters are on the horizon it feels very exciting to be starting something new.
Size : 129 x 198mm
Pages : 224
Published : 05 May 2011
Publisher : Fig Tree
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