A Sideways Ride Through Jekyll and Hyde (Article in The Skinny)

A Sideways Ride Through Jekyll and Hyde

Posted by Keir Hind, Thu 02 Sep 2010
Kevin MacNeil is a writer from Lewis whose previous work has included poetry, plays, and a debut novel The Stornoway Way – which Rodge Glass named as his choice for ‘Best Scottish book of the 21st Century’ in our Unbound pullout. His latest book, A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde, is out on 1 September

Happily, it turns out that A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde is a great book, and no mere retread of the classic original either. “I thought that would be a bit cheeky to do,” says the author. “Instead I wrote something that alludes to the original Jekyll and Hyde story, but it’s not a retelling. If you have a knowledge of the original Jekyll and Hyde it might help you with appreciating some of the subtleties in the novel – but you don’t need to know it.” To give a flavour of what this means, in this novel an actor called Robert Lewis, who’s appearing in a stage version of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, is involved in a terrible bike crash, (MacNeil too is a keen cyclist, having cycled the length of the Danube last year) and finds himself in hospital – and attended by a nurse Stevenson too – after which things get stranger still. Later there are further developments that not only change Lewis’s life completely, but also the way the story is told.

Remember though, that Stevenson’s book was told in an unusual manner too, with different narrators gradually revealing what was going on. “I think I partly took my cue in structuring this novel from Stevenson,” MacNeil says, “but I also think it’s fair to say that I write novels with unconventional structures anyhow, because I don’t really follow the tradition of structuring novels the way that ‘How to Write a Novel Books’ tell you to.” He’s right – his novel is refreshingly different structurally, whilst still exploring familiar themes, of identity, and of place. MacNeil has brought this story back to Scotland, if it ever left. “I think the London of Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde is…. I agree with GK Chesterton, it’s a very Caledonian London, and to me it’s quite like Edinburgh,” he says, and it’s very true of Stevenson’s novella. And more true of MacNeil’s novel, which is set directly in Edinburgh. “And Edinburgh does have that feeling of being a divided city, “ MacNeil says ”which I love. It’s got these grand avenues and little dark secretive seedy closes. It’s got the old town and the new town. It seems perfect for this novel.”

Oddly enough for a story dealing with duality, Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde had a double, an earlier draft that Stevenson’s wife didn’t like. “I love that” says MacNeil “He threw it on the fire, and who knows, that’s one of the world’s great lost books. Or was it great – maybe his wife was a good critic?” he laughs. This work has some parallels with reality – MacNeil mentions “the guy whose vehicle ate my bike” in the dedications page – but thankfully not too many, as he escaped harm – narrowly. Happily, he’s enjoying his work now, brushing off any notion of second novel syndrome, and telling me, “Although it’s my second novel, it’s my fourth or fifth book, so I didn’t have any great anxieties over that. In fact if anything, I’m bursting with ideas. I’ve got a new play commissioned that I’m desperate to do, I’ve got two ideas for new novels, and I’ve got a non-fiction book about my Danube cycle, so I’m not shy of ideas. And the album’s coming out and there’s other little projects, and I was doing short stories as well.”

But for now there’s this novel, an excellent story about an unusual man, who creates characters but who turns out not to know his own reality quite as well as he should – with his crash, and the play within the novel all contributing to this. It’s a dark novel in places, but there’s no small measure of hope in the book too. Sadly, I can’t really say more than this without spoiling what is an excellent read. Imagine reading the original Jekyll and Hyde without knowing about the dualities involved in the story, having not had the plot spoiled by innumerable sources from popular culture – and you can get a flavour of that by reading this intricate, powerful novel. A novel whose author says that “I didn’t want to look at mere duality, I also wanted to look at multiplicity.” And then slyly adds “But I wanted to resolve that in unity”.

Really, you’ll have to read the book to find out what it all means.




Saturday 4th September, Stornoway

Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde, A
04 September 10


In his long awaited second novel A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde, critically-acclaimed novelist and poet Kevin MacNeil splits the difference about what it’s like to be in two minds. After a bike crash in a foggy city, young actor Robert Lewis wakes to find that life has changed. For the darker. And definitely the weirder. What was his role in a new play is now shared with ‘the next big thing’, Edward Woolfe. His lovely Juliette isn’t his anymore as her career moves on and up whilst his begins a slow, embarrassing reversal.

Join Kevin as he reads from the novel, and performs a song or two from his upcoming album with Willie Campbell on Saturday 4 September at 8.00 p.m. in the auditorium at  An Lanntair Arts Centre, Kenneth Street, Stornoway HS1 2DS. Tickets are £6. For more information go to www.faclan.org.

Imprint | Author | Book

Audiobook of ‘The Year of Open Doors’

-Chemikal Undergdound have released an audiobook of ‘The Year of Open Doors’, which features my short story with a long title, ‘A Snake Drinks Water and Makes Poison, A Cow Drinks Water and Makes Milk.’

“There are two stand-out contributions, those of Duncan McLean and Kevin MacNeil – both, significantly, authors with an established track record. McLean’s brand of anarchic comedy and exasperated pathos is in fine form in Here Wouldn’t Be There, a story which manages to use the word “jitteryer” as if it wasn’t newly formed.

MacNeil’s A Snake Drinks Water And Makes Poison, A Cow Drinks Water And Makes Milk is set against the 2004 tsunami, and manages to balance a striking sense of actually witnessing the events with a feeling of reflective distance. The sentences expand and contract in imitation of the sea’s retreat and apocalyptic resurgence; and MacNeil weaves in reflections about the supernatural and the divine in a purely human manner.” Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday

Link: http://shop.chemikal.co.uk/acatalog/CHEM146.html


An Lanntair, Stornoway – Reading

Faclan – Kevin MacNeil PDF Print E-mail
Faclan logo
‘A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde’
With Kevin MacNeil
Author Kevin MacNeil

After a bike crash in a foggy Edinburgh, troubled young actor Robert Lewis wakes to find that life has changed for the darker. And the weirder. He’s still a deceitful egoist but now life seems to be deceiving and manipulating him. Everything that can go wrong is going wrong. He’s losing control of his love life, his starring role in a new adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde, and, quite possibly, his mind. A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde is a dark, maniacal thriller that explores many kinds of duality – individual, social and cultural, and is a heartfelt tale about the search for belonging and the nature of love and desire. It is also bloody funny.

Kevin MacNeil was born and raised on the Isle of Lewis. A poet, novelist, aphorist, lyricist, screenwriter and playwright, his books include Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides (Canongate), Be Wise Be Otherwise (Canongate), The Callanish Stoned (Theatre Hebrides) and The Stornoway Way (Penguin). His first book won the Tivoli Europa Giovani International Poetry Prize for best poetry collection published in Europe by a writer under 35. The Stornoway Way was a bestseller and is currently being optioned for a film. At Faclan he will be reading from his new novel which will be available for the first time at Faclan!

We will have the first 100 copies of Kevin’s book and ticket holders are invited to join Kevin for a glass of wine and book signing in the gallery after his talk.

 'A Method Actor's Guide to Jekyll & Hyde' by Kevin MacNeil!

Disathairne 4 an t-Sultain Saturday 4 September

Tiocaidean Tickets: £6 / £5

Book tickets online HERE

Moniack Mhor

I’ve just been co-tutoring (with Zoe Strachan) a novel-writing retreat at Moniack Mhor (the Arvon Foundation). The course participants do the cooking and on the last night they put a special message in the apple pie!

Awww. What a lovely group they were.


Intense Weekend

Through wind and rain (via misread maps), over hills that would challenge a road-bike never mind a fixie with a big gear, to get to a weekend retreat at a Zen monastery…I got about a month’s physical and mental exercise in one weekend. Lost myself, found myself. Now back to that massive August workload…