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Debut novel written in a campervan recognised by Man Booker

Could a campervan holiday be the key to your creativity?

An exercise in campervan creativity has paid off for Wyl Menmuir, who has just had his debut novel The Many longlisted for the prestigious Man Booker prize. Menmuir moved from London up to Cornwall a few years ago, and wrote much of the novel in his campervan (christened Skye) by the Cornish seaside. In an interview with the Guardian, he said that this setting was an important part of capturing the right tone for the story. “Sometimes I’ll take the van down to the beach or up on to the cliffs, away from people, away from the internet and sit on the floor and write. Being close to the sea is important to me and was important to the novel... I wanted to get that sense of being right on the edge of something.” 

The Many, an odd and foreboding tale which blends mystery, horror, sci-fi and suspense, is set in a small seaside town in Cornwall. It follows an outsider who buys a house in the town only to be met with evasion and hostility when he attempts to probe the town’s mysteries. Menmuir said that travelling to the communities which inspired his story helped his headspace. “It meant I could spend a lot of time travelling to fishing communities like Newlyn, Mousehole and Cadgwith. They are picturesque places, but there’s an edge there as well. Cadgwith, for example, is full of second homes and it’s quite a strange place to be out of season.” 


This is Wyl Menmuir’s first novel, and has far exceed his expectations. “I had no expectations that it would be published or that anyone would review it, let alone that it would make the Man Booker longlist,” said Menmuir. The tone of the novel has been praised by award-winning English author Michael Marshall Smith as “Ominous, subtle and beautiful”, a feeling that was crafted, at least in part, by Menmuir’s campervan writing sessions at the Cornish seaside. He is far from the first author to use a campervan as a creative catalyst - most notably, John Steinbeck, author of the Grapes of Wrath, wrote Travels with Charley: In Search of America while driving around the United States in his campervan named Rocinante.


Though it’s easy to think of novel writing as something that only “authors” do, and believe that it’s out of reach for ordinary folk, Wyl Menmuir’s success demonstrates that given time, persistence and the freedom that a campervan offers, it’s possible to take creative projects to a truly extraordinary place.


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