Diane Cook speaks about her Booker Prize longlisted book The New Wilderness.  

On being longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, Diane Cook speaks about transitioning from short stories to novels and the authors who have inspired her work.

Publication date and time: Published

How does it feel to have your debut novel longlisted for The Booker Prize? 

Shocking? Incredible? My book is only being published this week, and the announcement of the Booker Prize longlist completely changed its trajectory. This year has been really hard for writers publishing books. It’s hard to focus, hard to get attention, and it can feel strange to ask for attention amid the pandemic, protests, all that is happening in the world. I know the judges have expressed this, but it’s a real gift that so many debuts were selected this year of all years. I was expecting a pretty quiet launch, with the people who already know my stories being the majority of who might have read The New Wilderness. Now, so many more people are going to read my book. Some may love it. Some may not. But they’ll read it. And that is really all any writer wants. To have their work read, engaged with, taken seriously. I’m really grateful the judges responded to what I created. 

Your writing focuses on the tension between the wild and the civilised. What is it that interests you about this relationship? 

I believe focusing on that tension reveals our humanity. I like remembering that humans are animals. It lets me write richer characters. I have always been interested in what we share with the animal world more than what sets us apart from it. I think we might understand ourselves and others a little better if we kept this in mind. Our basest actions that show our desires and needs, our cunning, simple joys, loyalty, love, unnamable grief, it all activates so much of our lives and so many of these behaviours are universal. Being able to remember how much we share with the natural world makes the business of being human a little less bewildering, and lonely.

Diane Cook

I like remembering that humans are animals. It lets me write richer characters

— Diane Cook

How did you manage the transition from writing short stories to writing a novel? 

This was a difficult transition. Writing stories for me was very energetic and exciting. I never had outlines, I always let the element of surprise lead the way. Turning to the novel was so daunting because I had the opposite feeling. Many days, writing would feel like a slog just to get a few pages down while barely making a dent in the overall draft. There were still so many more pages to go. So I wrote with an outline for the first time. It was necessary in order to remind me I had somewhere I was trying to get to. The trick was to keep the joy of surprise in the writing even when I was moving the story along. I think I was able to do that with the characters, who really showed themselves to me as I moved them around the wilderness. In this aspect, novel writing became deeply satisfying to me. More so than with writing short stories. I can’t really believe I just said that, but there it is. That’s a new thought for me—I didn’t know I felt that way.  

Which authors have influenced and inspired your own writing? 

I’ve spent a lot of time reading the American transcendentalists and nature writers. Walden is a foundational text for me. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and One Hundred Years of Solitude taught me about world building, but the stories of Aimee Bender and George Saunders taught me that the ordinary world around me was cluttered with the materials with which to build. 

What are you working on next? 

I just had a baby so I’m trying to focus on him, my two and a half year old daughter who is deep in her feelings about the aforementioned baby, and my husband who is somehow keeping us all afloat. And I’m also launching The New Wilderness this week. In the immediate future, I’m writing a screenplay based on the novel, in hopes of adapting it to television. After I finished writing the book, I realised I didn’t feel done with the characters or the world. I missed them and felt there was more I wanted to explore beyond the story in the novel, and it made sense to try a different medium for that exploration. After that I’m not sure. I’ve been writing about humans in conversation with the natural world for the past decade. But it’s possible the next thing that piques my interest will diverge from that. Which is exciting but also kind of scary. But I’m curious to see where my brain will go now that it has no path to follow.