In the eighties there was a commercial for Greenall Whitley pubs which played on heavy rotation in the Granada TV region. Under the beating sun, a prisoner on a chain gang puts down his mallet. The guard pumps his rifle, and the convict starts to sing, heartbreakingly, about the pub back home – ‘the jokes, the warmth, the fun, the girl behind the bar’ – as images of his friends enjoying themselves in the boozer swirl in his mind. The guard begins to cry, no doubt imagining his own home far away from the desert and rocks. At the end, the whole of the chain gang join him in his impassioned, singing wish to return to Greenall Whitley Land.
His misty eyed view of home – where no one refers to him as ‘jailbird’, friends salute his framed photo on the pub wall rather than try to remember his surname, and his pretty girlfriend hasn’t run into the arms of a local snooker player – is perhaps a too fitting encapsulation of If This is Home. For Mark Wilkinson, the narrator of the main part of the book, home is a delusion, a place that has never quite existed – even when he lived there.
I wrote If This is Home over a four-year period during which I moved a lot; and though not geographically far, home was something that preoccupied me. London – or more specifically North-East London – had been my home for over a decade, but it felt less and less like home all the time. I found myself thinking about my home town – Congleton, in Cheshire, a small town off the M6 on the way to Manchester – about the years I had spent dreaming of leaving, and the fact that those years didn’t seem to cross my mind an awful lot. If This is Home is a product of that searching back to what it was like, looking out of the window, hoping days away until I could escape into the city.
What I wanted to create, much like the Greenall Whitley advertisement, was a nebulous sense of home, a place of one’s own creation that doesn’t quite exist – perhaps like George Orwell’s perfect pub, The Moon Under Water. Where one is from and where one lives is very different from home: I think for most people, home exists as a mental exercise rather than a physical place. This is why I cut long sections which were planned and written, set in New York, the place that Mark imagines is his home. I wanted him stuck in Las Vegas, not knowing where was home and where was not. In the end, to Mark, it’s clear that home is more complex than getting on a plane and heading back to his New York apartment.
The American writers I love – Roth, Ford, Faulkner, Carver, Jayne Anne Philips, Grace Paley – always imbue their writing with an incredible sense of home, either achieved or wanted, and I wanted to emulate something similar, but with a very British sensibility. It’s not quite a love letter to my home town, and not quite written with a poison pen, but it is supposed to be an honest and at times brutal dissection of what it means to be home, and one that takes issue with Robert Frost’s definition that home is “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Stuart Evers discusses the influences that moved him to write his new novel, If This Is Home.