All About Evie by Matson Taylor is definitely one of the most anticipated books of the year. I, along with loads of other readers adore its prequel, The Miseducation of Evie Epworth. It’s a bestseller, a Radio 2 Book Club Selection and a Richard & Judy summer Book Club Pick 2021. Why? Because it is brilliant! 🙂
So you can imagine my excitement when Matson sent me an advance copy of the new novel. And believe me, it does not disappoint! All About Evie, which is released on Thursday 21 July, is bursting with fun, happiness and emotion.
I recently caught up with Matson when we chatted ‘all about Evie’ and Sue Townsend, amongst other things. When I commented about how everyone loves The Miseducation of Evie Epworth and how he’s built up a fan base since its publication in the summer of 2020, he said: “It’s absolutely just blew me away to be honest. It was such a wonderful, amazing thing. People are talking about Evie as if she is a real person, and I think wow, that’s amazing!”
All About Evie is set in 1972, ten years on from the original novel, with Evie now living in London and working for the BBC. As Matson states, Evie’s not a “virginal, young, sixteen year-old” anymore, “she’s 26 now, she’s got a life,” and just like its prequel, the new novel opens with a comic scene that is a bit naughty and had me howling with laughter. “I like them a tad naughty, because I think I am a tad naughty,” Matson said to me with a big smile on his face, “I just wanted something, big, dramatic and funny.” He continued: “Princess Anne was of the age where she was just starting to do interviews, so I could imagine her going to the BBC Woman’s Hour and doing an interview. And I wanted to get a Hornsea Pottery mug in…I just thought it’d be a fun, funny thing to do, such a dramatic thing.”
Princess Anne and the Hornsea Pottery mug plays a pivotal role in Evie’s fate, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. Until I read All About Evie I’d never heard of Hornsea Pottery…so I googled it, and low and behold, I recognised it. We even had some as I was growing up. If you were around in the 1970s and 80s, you’re sure to recognise Hornsea Pottery! 🙂
When I asked Matson where his idea of Princess Anne and the Hornsea Pottery mug came from, he replied: “I don’t know where anything comes from. I mean I was sat there watching the Champions Tennis in the Albert Hall [when I got the idea] and it came from God knows where…”
In the new novel Matson explores 1970s fashion: “Well that’s my day job, that’s from the V&A and all the material culture.” Matson is a design historian at the V&A, and teaches MA students design history. He found his day job useful when writing his first book, with nostalgic readers that grew up in the 60s often commenting how accurate his detail is. He wrote All About Evie when we were in lockdown, buying loads of second hand magazines from 1972 (he is now the owner of a big stash of old Vogue and Cosmopolitan magazines, which he says are hilarious). Going through the adverts in the old magazines, Matson says he got a real sense of “what people wanted to wear” at the the time, “what they wanted to smell like, what they wanted to see at the cinema. [The old magazines] are really funny, but they’re such brilliant research.“
As well as listening to “lots of music from the early 70s that embarrassingly I’d never listened to before, like Joni Mitchell, even very early Bowie,” Matson also watched films and TV programmes from the period. “The early 70s were just this vacuum that I knew nothing about, and one of the joys has been discovering the early 70s and the wonderful music, the fashion and stuff,” he told me.
He continues: “Its been interesting reading through lots of cultural history books…its very relevant to now because it was just before the three-day week, inflation was high, there were power cuts, strikes were going on, people were really worried about the economy. It’s like Oh My God! It’s now! It’s like where we are now!“
Matson chose to set the first Evie book in the early 1960s “because we all feel like we experienced the 60s even if we weren’t there because its just so omnipresent with the music, fashion, film and stuff.” In writing his novels he wants to give the idea that decades change, that what we think of a decade doesn’t start on 1st January 1960. So through Evie’s coming of age story, the first novel skilfully explores the question of when did the 60s start and when did the 50s end. Hence the second book is a continuation of this theme, exploring when did the idealism of the 60s end, “like being this 60s child, what happens next, where do we go?“
When I asked Matson where the inspiration for Evie came from he told me that he wanted to write something in first person. He grew up reading Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole books which made him realise that “you can have a lot of fun with first person narrators.” He also told me that he wanted to write about that “moment when you’re on the cusp of adulthood, because again, that’s a moment when there’s so much energy and potential.” He says: “I thought the first person voice would capture that. But I didn’t want to write it as a boy because I thought everyone will just say its me, so that’s why I chose a girl, Evie.“
The Evie books are often compared to the Adrian Mole books which Matson finds very flattering as he is a big fan of Sue Townsend: “It’s brilliant how evocative she can be with just so few words, you are there, transported back to the times… [The Adrian Mole books] are funny, but they are clever as well, she really does get the society and the politicians, and she manages to say serious things in a funny way.” He continues: “I often get asked about being a man and writing a young girl, and I don’t know whether Sue Townsend was ever asked about being a woman and writing as a boy…she must have been I suppose…“
Like Sue Townsend, Matson’s narrative is extremely funny (he is a natural comedian), as well as being serious and thought provoking. Both his novels are full of tenderness and emotion. He continues: “I feel really strongly that we should learn to die better. I know that sounds like a really crazy thing to say, but we all know its going to happen and I think we should all talk about it and prepare for it.” Matson explains further: “The first book is to some extent about the repercussions of a bad death, and the affect on Evie and the affect on her dad, it just broke him completely. In this new book I wanted it to be about how to have a good death.”
Just to warn you – do have your hankies at the ready as you will need them. This element of the novel had me in tears as it is so moving. “I always say I want to make people cry and laugh,” says Matson.
All About Evie is released on 21 July, and will be available from all the usual places. Matson is a massive champion of independent book shops and often drives around the country visiting them to say hello and sign copies of his books. So if you want your very own signed copy of All About Evie there is a good chance you will be able to pick one up from your local, independent bookshop. You might even meet Matson too. 🙂
All About Evie is a wonderful summer read, bursting with laughter, energy and emotion. As Matson rightly says about his novels, they are “funny books about serious things.”