New novel: No Distractions: The Literary Fiction Of Sierra Ernesto Xavier
Here, Timothy Arden meets Sierra Ernesto Xavier to find out what inspires his writing.
With his second novel, Distortion, the British author has cemented his position as a literary powerhouse, providing an immersive story of a troubled relationship between two lovers with physical differences and deep mental scars.
Never has trauma been conveyed in fiction with such sensitivity, compassion, and insight, thanks in no small part to the distinctive choice of telling the emotive story entirely through dialogue.
Anyone who loves literary fiction with a difference will love the work of Sierra Ernesto Xavier, an author who continues to break boundaries with his latest novel, Distortion.
The British author first came to attention with his 2012 debut, The Malady of Love, which was sublimely daring in its innovation, challenging the conventional way of storytelling by comprising a dialogue-only narrative.
This bold approach, where the reader comes to form a picture and understanding of the story, setting, and characters solely through their conversations, is used again to spectacular effect for Distortion, which has just been released through Grosvenor House Publishing.
Both novels also share a similarity in that they concern couples whose relationships are challenged by the traumas they have encountered, and which still remain raw and unresolved.
Yet while The Malady of Love centred on the impact of lingering emotional traumas, Distortion deals with the trauma caused by having noticeable physical differences to everyone else.
The medical interventions intended to ‘correct’ these differences, and the reaction of others to their differences, have left mental scars which holds the lovers back from fully trusting the other, threatening their future together.
“Everything I write is based on exploring the landscapes of emotion and psychology,” says Xavier.
“The relationships between the characters are impacted by trauma, which is a fascinating subject to explore as a writer as it draws the reader straight into the central, human element of the story.
“With The Malady of Love, I focused on the lovers’ mental landscape but with Distortion I was able to bring the protagonists’ physical landscape to the fore; how their appearance, their bodies have had an impact on their perceptions of each other.”
He continues: “I’ve never been interested in writing a ‘traditional’ novel, such as one focusing on historical and geographical landscapes and background details such as the characters’ clothing or the colour of their hair.
“Through my writing I research emotion and feeling, and the choice to tell a story solely from character dialogue is deliberate as it strips away any distractions in the reader’s head.
“I was inspired to take this approach by earlier works of literary fiction such as Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, works by Nathalie Sarraute and, to a lesser extent, Noah Cicero’s Human War.
“The outcome of this dialogue-only approach, sans any external description or sense of time, is that the reader only experiences the point of view of the characters, and is only informed about the characters, their appearance, back stories, motivations, and actions from this conversational interplay.
“The reader is intimately present with them, as one would be with a close friend, and focused entirely on what they say rather than being at a distance observing them as would be the case with a traditional novel.
“While a more challenging form of storytelling, it more fully immerses and engages the reader in the life of characters, and engenders greater empathy and respect for the characters and their lives.
“I firmly believe that it is vital for the reader to actively participates in the story, venturing on a journey of discovery requiring the piecing together of the emotional, psychological, and physical past and present of the characters.
“Coming into one of my novels, there are no pre-expectations on the reader’s part about the characters or what will unfold. It all emerges over the course of the story and, of course, this also helps stimulate a sense of curiosity,”
Removing the potential for reader preconceptions before beginning of Distortion was also important to Xavier for another reason: ensuring an acceptance of the characters as human beings rather than stereotypes.
“I do see this form of storytelling as prescient for the current social movement of diversity, equality, and inclusion,” he says.
“With the novel I am sensitively bringing visibility to an underrepresented part of society within fiction – namely, those with physical differences.
“Characters are treated as human beings first and foremost rather than as ‘types’. I want to challenge the standard cultural stereotype of those with physical differences being automatically equated with wickedness, such as you might find with a James Bond villain.
“I want readers to be thrust into an intimate set piece where the relationship between the lovers is already growing, and we follow them from that point onward as their own personal demons – arising from the insecurities of their distorted self-perception – risk destroying all they have built.
“They will need to deconstruct and reconstruct their self-image in a more positive and self-accepting light to be with each other, but we as a society also need to re-evaluate those with physical differences to become more accepting.”
It comes as no surprise to learn that Xavier was once a mental health counsellor, with the dialogue-only narratives often feeling akin to the revealing discourse of a counselling session.
“My professional background in psychology and as a mental health counsellor propelled me to exploring the difficulties of the under-represented.
“And my experiences sat in a room, focused exclusively on what a client was saying, rather than how they looked, has definitely helped define my writing style.
“More than this, though, the lovers in Distortion slowly peel away layers of their wounded identities to rebuild themselves, and this is exactly the kind of process one goes through during counselling.
“But though I draw upon my career and the science of counselling, Distortion is meant primarily as an artistic endeavour, and one that I hope readers from all walks will embrace.”
Xavier no longer works in the mental health sector but his fascination with people has never left him, as he reveals when discussing his favourite place to write.
“I do the majority of my writing in cafes,” he says. “A café environment provides the perfect place to be with others and yet remain private.
“I am able to meet, interact, and observe as I write, and it gives me a creative space separate from home or the office.
“That’s not to say, though, that I don’t have ideas for my novels outside of the café. Thoughts can pop up when I’m driving or just about to go to bed, and I have to stop the car or jump back out of the sheets to write them down before I forget!
“Thankfully, in a café I can just relax over a cup of coffee and note ideas as they flow in. It is bliss.”
Distortion by Sierra Ernesto Xavier (Grosvenor House Publishing) is available on Amazon in paperback, hardcover, and eBook formats priced £10.99, £16.99, and £6.99. Xavier’s first novel, The Malady of Love, is also available on Amazon, priced £8.99 in paperback and £3.99 as an eBook. For more information, visit www.sierraxavier.online.