All The Birds, Singing is the second novel by Australian-British author Evie Wyld. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Wyld about her sinister story revolving around the life of Jake, a sheep farmer.
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Jake Whyte is a young woman who lives in a wild, windy, bloody world. She lives alone, save for her dog, whose name is Dog, and the sheep she tends on a small island off the coast of Britain. The men who work on the island call Jake a good bloody bloke, although many locals wonder why strangers come into their midst. It can't be the work or the weather, which are tough and raw - raw like the mysterious scars on Jake's back. Jake White is at the center of the Evie Wyld's new novel "All the Birds, Singing." Evie Wyld joins us now from the BBC in London. Thanks so much for being with us.
EVIE WYLD: Pleasure.
SIMON: This book has - is kind of sinister.
WYLD: Yeah. I'm kind of sinister.
SIMON: I didn't expect to begin that way. Anything - what should be aware of then?
WYLD: Well, I've always been interested in horror movies, and I read a lot of horror growing up. I just think it's a lot of fun.
SIMON: Well, let me - can I get you to read the first paragraph of the book?
WYLD: Absolutely, yeah.
SIMON: Let people judge fun for themselves.
WYLD: (Reading) Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapors rising from her like a steamed pudding. I shoved my boot in Dog's face to stop him from taking a string of her away with him as a souvenir, and he kept close by my side as I wheeled the carcass out of the field and down into the wool shed.
SIMON: What keeps us reading after that, though? And you recognize there's some people that'll particularly - I must say, when I read crusting, I thought, oh.
SIMON: But what keeps people going after that?
WYLD: Well, so the idea is that there is a creature in the woods, or something at least is killing Jake's sheep at night.
WYLD: And she's trying to work out what that is.
SIMON: I mean, there are lots of teenage jerks in the town.
WYLD: Oh, yeah. It could be any number of sick pranks. There's a lot of sort of mystery around whether or not it's a person taking some kind of revenge trying to scare her off or whether it's actually a large mythical cat or something else or even herself.
SIMON: The story goes back and forth between the present day on this island off the coast of England and the past in Australia. You kind of grew up between the two places, too. What do they represent for you and for Jake?
WYLD: Well, for me, I was born in the U.K. and grew up in London, but with frequent trips to my family in Australia on a farm where it was wild, and I was allowed, as a very small child, to just wander off. So it was this kind of strange danger in Australia that you were left to your own devices. If you poked a snake with a stick and got bitten, that was your own fault, whereas, in South London, where I'm from, which used to be very rough when I was growing up, I couldn't go outside because of other people because we didn't trust what other people might do.
So for me, it was a real sort of freeing experience being kind of given responsibility for your body. And also the landscape of Australia is a sort of fascinating thing. It's very, very different from London. It's - the light is different, the heat and the flora and fauna. It's so different that, for me, it's kind of a place to escape in my imagination. And I think I sort of feel like Jake doing the opposite, starting off in Australia and coming to the U.K., is a kind of a similar thing.
SIMON: How much did you have to learn about sheep shearing...
WYLD: An awful lot.
SIMON: ...And for that matter, sheep mangling, too?
WYLD: (Laughing) The sheep are funny. I tried everything I could to keep them out of the book, to be honest. I've got no great warmth towards sheep. It's just that the places that Jake ended up were full of sheep. And she's a large woman with a strong back, and it just made sense in the end. So then I went and stayed on a sheep farm in Wales and talked to the farmers and, you know, watched endless births, watched a lot of shearing. I never sheared a sheep myself because I felt like it was a bit much to put an animal through that sort of pain and fear just to have a sort of realistic version of shearing a sheep in my book. But I got quite close. I got close enough to smell it anyway.
SIMON: It occurred to me midway through that Jake, wondering what is there out there in the woods that's destroying the sheep, we all have our version of that. Don't we?
WYLD: We do, yeah. I think that's something that I'm always drawn to. And in my first book, I had an aboriginal ghost, called a bunyip, that was in the sugarcane. So I'm starting to wonder if I'm going to have a monster in all of my novels. I do think it's - the thing that we're afraid of is always sort of really ourselves. You get afraid of the idea of a ghost, and when you kind of pick it apart, if a ghost exists, then there's an afterlife. So what's scary about death, and what's the ghost going to do to you? And it's being left alone with ourselves that sort of draws out the biggest monsters.
SIMON: I hope you don't mind me asking about something from your past...
SIMON: ...But you have written about it. When you were 2 years old, you had something that I'll characterize as being both the fright and the fight of your life.
WYLD: I did.
SIMON: You fell into a coma.
WYLD: I did. I had encephalitis, which is a virus in the brain. I was only 2, so I remember kind of images more than anything else. And I remember the convalescence. I was on a drug to sort of quiet my brain and stop my temperature going up for quite a long time - about sort of seven or eight years. And so I was quite a slow child. I was very lonely but quite happy in the loneliness. I just didn't understand interaction with other people all that much. I didn't like meeting new people. And I was, you know - I was very, very shy. So I'm sure that had a huge impact on how I look at people and animals.
SIMON: And that impact would be?
WYLD: I think I watch, and I listen quite a lot. And I think I try and second-guess what might be going on behind an exterior, I suppose. I kind of try and read people not for what they're saying, but for what they might be doing with their hands. Or I try and understand people through that because I would find it very difficult to follow just what people are saying. And I still struggle on the telephone if I can't see someone's face. So it's sort of body language and a lot of imagination - putting myself in people's shoes and trying to imagine what they might be feeling and why.
SIMON: Evie Wyld, her new novel "All the Birds, Singing." Thanks so much for being with us.
WYLD: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.