Poet Kate Tempest talks writing her first novel, reveals cover for 'The Bricks That Built The Houses' -- exclusive
British poet Kate Tempest is a woman of mind-boggling talent. She’s given a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR, been profiled in the New York Times, and her book of poetry, Brand New Ancients, won the 2013 Ted Hughes Award.
It’s only natural, then, that someone with this much to say and so many ways to say it would eventually write a novel. Tempest’s first novel, The Bricks That Built The Houses, will be released in the U.S. on May 3, 2016, and EW is thrilled to reveal its vibrant cover and the book’s prologue exclusively.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How long have you been working on The Bricks That Built The Houses?
KATE TEMPEST: I began this process three years ago. It began as an idea for a story that became the plot of an album, that turned back into the narrative for the novel. I’ve been on tour for the best part of two years, and before that I was touring Brand New Ancients, the novel has come with me to all the gigs, it’s sat there in the back of my mind at all times. I dreamt of five months of solitude to write it, but that was a luxury I’ve never been able to afford. Instead, in the three years I’ve been hanging out with this story, I’ve spent maybe three months actually writing. But the fact I’ve been carrying it around, mulling it over, seeing it in everything and listening to it speak whenever it can has enabled it to grow into something which hopefully feels as big to the reader as it is to me.
Tell us about your writing process. Does it differ at all from the way you write poetry?
The first draft came very quickly, and was written in a week. But that draft was a long way from the finished book. Something that I’ve learned through this process is that anyone can write, anyone can be moved by feeling or characters they’ve invented or stories they need to tell… but a writer is someone who can sit at the page when all that fire and rush is cold, when they have a deadline to meet and an impossible task in front of them.
The real writing is the writing that isn’t fun or instinctive, it’s the chiseling, it happens on the days when you feel you should never have even allowed yourself to dream of being a writer, these are the days that make you one. If you can turn the voice off in your brain that tells you to give up, that says that you are no good, if you can shut that voice up and tweak the work and rewrite and improve and slowly, agonizingly work a change through from the first page to the last, then you begin to understand what it means to be a writer. You begin to understand what it means to be able to trust your hand.
THE BRICKS THAT BUILT THE HOUSES by Kate Tempest
It gets into your bones. You don’t realise it, until you’re driving through it, watching all the things you’ve always known and leaving them behind.
They’re driving past the streets, the shops, the corners where they made themselves. Every ghost is out there, staring. Bad skin and sunken eyes, grinning madly at them from the past.
It’s in their bones. Bread and booze and concrete. The beauty of it. All the tiny moments blazing. Preachers, parents, workers. Empty-eyed romantics going nowhere. Streetlights and traffic and bodies to bury and babies to make. A job. Just a job.
People are killing for gods again. Money is killing us all. They live under a loneliness so total is has become the fabric of their friendships. Their days are spent staring at things. They exist in the mass and feel part of the picture. They trust nothing but trends. The most that they can hope for is a night out smashed to pieces, sloppy-faced from booze and drugs that hate them in the morning.
But here they are, leaving the stress and shit food and endless misunderstandings. Leaving. The jobcentre, the classroom, the pub, the gym, the car park, the flat, the filth, the TV, the constant swiping of newsfeeds, the hoover, the toothbrush, the laptop bag, the expensive hair product that makes you feel better inside, the queue for the cash machine, the cinema, the bowling alley, the phone shop, the guilt, the absolute nothingness that never stops chasing, the pain of seeing a person grow into a shadow. The people’s faces twisting into grimaces again, losing all their insides in the gutters, clutching lovers till the breath is faint and love is dead, wet cement and spray paint, the kids are watching porn and drinking Monster. Watch the city fall and rise again through mist and bleeding hands. Keep holding on to power-ballad karaoke hits. Chase your talent. Corner it, lock it in a cage, give the key to someone rich and tell yourself you’re staying brave. Tip your chair back, stare into the eyes of someone hateful that you’ll take home anyway. Tell the world you’re staying faithful. Nothing’s for you but it’s all for sale, give until your strength is frail and when it’s at its weakest burden it with hurt and secrets. It’s all around you, screaming paradise until there’s nothing left to feel. Stuck it up, gob it, double drop it. Pin it deep into your vein and try forever to get off it. Now close your eyes and stop it.
But it never stops.