Brian Kimberling: the twitcher of Evansville

The author's debut, about birdwatching in his native Indiana, is like Lake Wobegon on meth, he tells David Barnett

So, Brian Kimberling, the author of the captivating new novel Snapper – show us some ornithology. Kimberling, looking every inch the Southern Indiana boy brought up on fresh air and schnitzel (his hometown, Evansville, bears its German heritage with pride), glances around Hyde Park. It is the first long-heralded sunny day of a spring that has dragged its feet in arriving, and Londoners are out, blinking uncertainly, in force. And so are the birds.

Kimberling is 6ft 8in in his boots, and he scans the unexpectedly blue skies. "Parakeets," he says, almost nonchalantly, nodding at not one, not even a pair, but four vibrant green birds flitting about the tree-tops. It is fair to say I am impressed by Kimberling's birdwatching chops. He's managed to summon parakeets, like some corn-fed, blond-haired, bird-whisperer.

The photographer wants to know if Kimberling has any binoculars for posing with. Kimberling shrugs and confides: "I actually don't know that much about birds, British birds at least." But the level of detail and casually assured knowledge evident in Snapper, the book which could do for birdwatchers what Annie Proulx did for small-town newspaper reporters and gay cowboys, would tend to suggest that he's being over-modest. But it's not a book about birds; more a book about a birdwatcher, Nathan Lochmueller, who is employed by Indiana University to track and log the nesting habits of songbirds in a specific corner of woodland near Evansville.

Nathan is a drifter, at least in career terms, and falls into the job when his predecessor's car is hit by a tree. He's also a locus for the kind of quirky, off-the-wall incidents and episodes that give Snapper its aura of edgy charm: a friend gets a digit bitten off by a turtle; Nathan gets stalked through the woods by a gun-toting Ku Klux Klansman; he struggles to return to the authorities a bone his dog finds in a graveyard. And then there's Lola, the free spirit who Nathan, for all his burgeoning birdwatching skills, simply cannot classify, quantify, or tame.

When the Hyde Park photo-shoot is finished – Kimberling looking like some early-Nineties grunge band escapee far younger than his 40 years – I wonder if he would mind comparisons to Garrison Keillor's hypnotically drawled vignettes of his native Minnesota?

Kimberling grins. "When I was first pitching Snapper I described it as 'something that might be cooked up in a crystal meth lab in Lake Wobegon'."

Like Keillor's oeuvre, Snapper reads less like a conventional novel with a distinct story arc than a collection of snapshots of Indiana life, darkly humorous or unexpectedly heart-rending episodes, all with Nathan at their heart.

"Most people agree it's a novel," he says. "Some people say it's a short story collection." He pauses for a long time, then says, "I call it a book." He thinks about it again. "I thought I was writing related short stories, but they started talking to each other."

He does that a lot, Kimberling, takes long, measured pauses after a question, sometimes for so long that you think he's declined to answer. Near the end of the interview he tells me that when he was 15, he stole a pack of gum and was pounded so hard in his left ear that he went completely deaf – an It's a Wonderful Life-esque episode that is replicated, to some extent, in the book, and explains why he often takes a moment longer than most people to digest what he's been told or asked.

This being Kimberling's first novel, there's a lot of the author in the protagonist. Nathan's job ("birdwatching is no fitting line of work for a man" opines a Texan uncle) is precisely the one that Kimberling did for two summers when he was 22, in a landscape pretty much identical to the one he fictionalises.

He stresses again that he is not a bird expert, save for the specific species he had to track and chart in a square mile of woodland. "My brother is the real expert," he says. "I enjoyed the job, I got to spend a lot of time out in the woods. It was only two summers, though." He goes silent, perhaps pondering those lost, distant, twenty-something summers, and then grins. "Maybe I'm using the book to create that career for myself, 17 years on."

In 1997, Kimberling left Evansville and Indiana, planning to travel for a year and teach English abroad. He fetched up in the Czech Republic, Mexico, Turkey and ultimately England. The year has become many, and Kimberling is happily settled in Bath with his English wife and their four-year-old son.

Regency Bath must be a world away from Southern Indiana. "I love Bath," he says. But he evidently loves his homeland as well – Snapper is testimony to that. "Evansville is number eight in the list of the 10 most miserable towns in the US," he says with a mixture of slight embarrassment and perverse pride.

While designing databases and doing production journalism for periodicals with titles such as Irish Dancing Magazine and University Caterer, Kimberling began writing plays for a local theatre company. He then enrolled on the Creative Writing MA at Bath Spa University, the course run by the novelist Tessa Hadley. "I was so lucky to get Tessa for all my classes," he says. "She encouraged me to write about Indiana."

Kimberling is currently on a US tour which takes him back to Evansville for the first time since he wrote Snapper. How will they take the book? "I'm sure my mother will let me know what people think as soon as I get there." He contemplates the old place for a while. "I think Indiana is a romantic place, partly because it's forsaken and forlorn. I love Indiana from a distance and wanted to commemorate the Indiana I grew up in."

Snapper, By Brian Kimberling

Tinder Press £14.99

"What kind of birds do you watch?" she said.

"All of them. I try to see how they interact. Some get along fine and some don't."

"I noticed that," she said. "I seen crows and blue jays give a hawk a hard time."

At that time I was most interested in brown-headed cowbirds, but Maud had a point ..."

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam