Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor
A Writer's Journey: Matson Taylor
Matson Taylor grew up in Yorkshire (the flat part not the Brontë part). He comes from farming stock and spent an idyllic childhood surrounded by horses, cows, bicycles, and cheap ice-cream. His father, a York City and Halifax Town footballer, has never forgiven him for getting on the school rugby team but not getting anywhere near
the school football team.
Matson now lives in London, where he is a design historian and academic writing tutor at the V&A, Imperial College and the Royal College of Art. Previously, he talked his way into various jobs at universities and museums around the world; he has also worked on Camden Market, appeared in an Italian TV commercial and been a pronunciation coach for Catalan opera singers. He gets back to Yorkshire as much as possible, mainly to see family and friends but also to get a reasonably-priced haircut.
He has always loved telling stories and, after writing academically about beaded flapper dresses and World War 2 glow-in-the-dark fascinators, he decided to enrol on the Faber Academy 'Writing A Novel' course. The Miseducation of Evie Epworth
is his first novel.
What was the first book that really inspired you?
So many books have inspired me, and still do, but probably the first one was The Hobbit
. My favourite teacher, Mr Barton, gave it to me in my last year at primary school. I loved it and read it again and again. I loved how it built such a complete world, with all the different types of people and creatures and the made-up history, even the made-up maps printed on the endpapers! I felt very grown up too because it looked like a ‘real’ book rather than a school picture book and I was very proud when I took it home and showed it to mum.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
It was pretty early on. At school English was always my favourite lesson – I loved it when we were given free range to write stories and make up new worlds and characters - I think it might have something to do with being an only child and having to be a very creative liar because I had no brothers or sisters to blame when things went wrong. And I always loved reading so the thought of being a writer really appealed to me. I didn’t really do much about it for a long time, though, because I was far too busy reading or generally enjoying myself and sitting down and writing a book seemed too much like hard work.
How did you know it could be more than just an ambition?
Not really until about 6 years ago to be honest. I’d written a chapter for a V&A book on London Couture and one of the editors, Edwina, pulled me into her office after reading my draft and said that I was a born writer and that I had to write. It was a really important moment for me because I’d always wanted to write and had been told by quite a few people that I should write but hearing it from a senior curator who’d written many books was a big thing. So I thought I’d better pull my finger out and do something about it. And I did! I enrolled on a Faber Academy course and wrote The Miseducation of Evie Epworth
What is the best book you have ever read?
This is such a hard question for a writer! I love many different books for many different reasons but, if you’re going to force me to choose just one, I think (today!) I’ll choose The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy. I love the playfulness of the book and the ‘poetic elasticity’ of the words and sentences (I know that sounds pretentious but I can’t think of any other way to describe it). You feel straightaway that you’re in the hands of someone who is in complete control of the language, shaping it in beautiful and surprising ways. I also really like how the book is very funny but at the same time heart-breakingly sad, something I’ve tried to do with Evie.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Brackets (I love them). I think it’s because a lot of life is thought out in brackets. They’re the internal monologues and asides we all have (or is it just me?).
When did you write your first book and how old were you? What happened with the book?
Evie’s my first book. I started writing the book in January 2016 (when I enrolled on the Faber Academy course) and got to the end of the first draft 2 years later. Then I had a year doing two big edits and -finally- I sent it out to agents in January 2019. There was a bit of a mad scramble from agents and, after some excellent wooing, I went with Alice from Curtis Brown. She took the book to the 2019 London Book Fair and, luckily, we had interest from several publishers. We went with Chris from Scribner and I’m extremely pleased we did because he’s a brilliant editor and the whole team at Simon & Schuster is fantastic. And what happened with the book? Who knows! It all feels very exciting at the moment – there’s been so much love for Evie in early reviews – it’s all quite overwhelming to be honest. I’m trying to keep my feet on the ground and focus on the next novel: Evie 2 (I’ve planned the story of Evie as trilogy but it all depends on how well the first book does!).
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love meeting up with friends and going to art galleries and museums (or rather, going to the cafés of art galleries and museums). I try to get to the theatre, too, and to the cinema (a lot) and various types of music concerts. I live in London and it’s always easy to find something to do or somewhere to go. All that is pre-covid, of course; during lockdown I’ve been binge watching various tv series: The Trial of Christine Keeler
; Killing Eve
; Peter Kay’s Car Share
; Normal People
; The Crown
; Schitt’s Creek
. I like to walk a lot because it clears the head and helps me puzzle out any problems I’m having with whatever I’m writing at the moment. But probably the thing I do most when not writing (and when writing, unfortunately) is eating. I love going out to eat with friends – there are some great pubs nearby and there is nothing I like more than a pie and a pint.
Have you ever learnt anything about yourself through your writing?
I’ve learnt that, even though I’m quite a chatty social person, I’m very good at spending time on my own working on a book. I love it. I can get caught up in a paragraph or even a sentence for hours and not realise what time it is – my brain goes off somewhere and something takes over. That’s such a great feeling. I’ve also learnt that I either need to get a higher chair or shorter legs.
Are you ever conscious of subconsciously including someone you know in your characters?
I think all writers do this. We’re generally quite good observers of life (ie. nosey) and store away useful character traits or incidents for future use. Maybe the germ of a character might be based loosely on a person but then, very quickly, the character takes over and you have to be true to the character not the person. The joy of writing fiction is that you can make it all up – the only thing that’s stopping you is your imagination. And I’ve always had quite a vivid imagination (ie. daydreamer) so I find inventing characters easy and good fun. I think that’s why I enjoy writing fiction so much more than writing academic things, where everything has to be correctly referenced and triple checked.
What is the greatest feedback you have received to date? And the worst?
I currently need two gravestones because I have two fantastic quotes and they are just too good to be on the same stone. One is something my agent said in our first meeting: “Evie is the lovechild of Sue Townsend and Alan Bennett”. And the other is from a brilliant writer called Joanna Nadin who, after reading a proof of Evie, wrote to my editor saying it had been “like discovering Adrian Mole or Bridget Jones for the first time”. The worst feedback probably comes from my dad who said, having not read the book I hasten to add: “why are you wasting your time writing a book?”
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
For most of my childhood, I wanted to be Han Solo. When I realised that this probably wasn’t going to happen I went for writer or pop star (the two are very similar).
What for you defines a good read?
Something with a voice; something that grabs you and keeps hold of you. Something that turns words into music, something with rhythm and life (ie. not just words chucked between two full stops). Something with a great story that keeps you engaged, opening up in odd little ways and taking you to places that you would never have guessed. And something with characters you want to spend time with, ones who live with you long after you finish the book. It should probably have a dog in it too.
The Miseducation of Evie Epworth
is published by Simon & Schuster