Monday, 24 March 2014

Kevin Brooks chat

We sat down for a chat...with Kevin Brooks

Kevin Brooks is the author of what might be the most controversial novel on this year’s Carnegie shortlist, The Bunker Diary. It’s about a teenager called Linus who is kidnapped and the novel is his diary. The novel is unflinching in its portrayal of tough issues and, partly because it doesn’t provide clear cut answers, it is also mind expanding for the reader. I’m delighted that Kevin Brooks has taken the time to consider my wanderings. For any librarians who’re wondering how they’re going to shadow The Bunker Diary with younger students, his answers may offer some inspiration.

Photo credit: Puffin
WSD: My reading of The Bunker Diary offered up a meta-fictional interpretation, suggesting that Linus is in a mental health institution (some readers suggest that is me in denial!). Other reviews have asked whether the novel might be an allegory. Other readers take the story quite literally. How do you view the novel - and is this different to how you viewed it while you were writing it?
Kevin Brooks: One of the many wonderful things about stories is that they can mean whatever the reader wants them to mean. In fact, for me, that's what actually makes them stories – they become part of the reader, part of their hearts and minds, and that in turn makes them into something much more than whatever they mean to the author. Your interpretation of the book, for example, is something that's honestly never occurred to me, but I love it, and now that I'm aware of it, it's become part of my understanding of the book.

As to how I view the novel ... well, without meaning to be mysterious or secretive or anything, I think other people's views are much more important than mine.

Norman Mailer called writing "the spooky art", and I've always taken that to mean that quite often authors aren't consciously aware of exactly what they're writing about or where it comes from. Personally I like to think it comes from those special places inside me that make me what I am, but which I don't necessarily understand on a rational level – and that's perfectly fine with me! 

Photo Credit: Puffin
WSD: Does the kidnapping setting of Liverpool Street station have any broader significance?
Kevin Brooks: Only in that I used to commute to work in London from Essex for many years before I was a published author, and Liverpool Street was my station.

WSD: You studied psychology and philosophy at university. Did these have any direct influences on The Bunker Diary concept or its characters?
Kevin Brooks: As well as my academic studies I've also had a lifelong fascination and love for psychology and philosophy, especially philosophy, and it's been a massive influence on all my books, not just The Bunker Diary. Philosophy, for me, is all about questions that don’t have any clear-cut answers; and that's also, for me, what life – and, as such, writing – is all about. It's not the answers themselves that matter so much as the journey you take in looking for them. 

WSD: Do you own any pets?
Kevin Brooks: Three dogs – Minnie, Midge, and Daffy – four rabbits, and five sheep.

(WSD: Oh my goodness! I wonder what breed of dog they are??!!!! J)

WSD: Is there anything you would like to say, and particularly in relation to The Bunker Diary?
Kevin Brooks: I'd like to quote from a book called The Aristos by John Fowles (whose novel The Collector is one of my all-time favourites and was one of the reasons I wanted to write The Bunker Diary. In The Aristos, Fowles wrote:

"We are in the best possible situation because everywhere, below the surface, we do not know: we shall never know why; we shall never know tomorrow; we shall never know a god or if there is a god; we shall never even know ourselves. This mysterious wall round our world and our perception of it is not there to frustrate us but to train us back to the now, to life, to our time being."

 To read my meta-fictional interpretation of The Bunker Diary, here’s my review.


  1. I agree with Brooks about the importance of reader response in giving a book meaning. Writers are often told to write for themselves, but I also believe a book can only reach its full potential when readers bring their own experiences and worldviews to the text. I haven't read The Bunker Diary yet, so I can't give you my interpretation, but Brooks is my favorite YA author; I love his work precisely because of its unflinching and gritty nature.

    1. Of all this year's Carnegie shortlist, I think The Bunker Diary is the one that could encourage the broadest types of reader response - in a similar way to last year's A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton (which was otherwise, a very different novel).


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