Ewan Gault is an award winning Scottish writer. He was born in Kuwait and over the last decade has lived in Japan, Italy, Kenya, Ethiopia, The Western Highlands and now Oxford. Writing is the only way he can get back to all the places he has been.
Since graduating with a distinction from Glasgow University’s Creative Writing Masters in 2006, his short stories have been widely performed and frequently published in journals such as: New Writing Scotland, Gutter Magazine and From Glasgow to Saturn. Other short stories have won the Fish/Crime Writers Association prize in 2007, shortlisted 2008, won The Glasgow 2020 Prize, and the Runners Up prize in The Scotsman/Orange competition 2005. Last year two of his stories were shortlisted for The Scottish National Galleries Short Story Prize and The Bloody Scotland Festival Short Story Prize.
The Most Distant Way was inspired by the time Ewan spent training at a high altitude centre in Kenya’s Rift Valley, an area that is home to the legendary Kalenjin “running tribe,” who. since 1980, have won 40% of distance running men’s medals at World and Olympic Championships.
The Gutter Magazine review of The Most Distant Way:
The UK has long fostered a rich tradition of hosting divisive public spectacles, but none can rightfully claim to have been quite so intrusive as London 2012. Even the most committed hermits could never have hoped to out-run the daily waves of scandal and incompetence – the overzealous brand protection, the empty seats, and, during the build-up, a terrifying glimpse at the privatised future, courtesy of G4S and thirty unpaid workers made to sleep under London Bridge. It was easy (and in some cases wholly correct) to get caught up in all that anger, but it did drag the spotlight off one group of individuals who had some pretty pressing concerns of their own. They’re called athletes, and many of them had to sacrifice what could be termed an even vaguely normal lifestyle to reach the stage they did.
It’s these incredible stories so forced onto the periphery that Ewan Gault tackles in his debut novel The Most Distant Way. Set some years before the games themselves, the book follows Kirsten and Mike, two young long-distance runners in training with hopes of being selected for Team GB. Kirsten’s father, who works as Mike’s coach, has sent the pair to Kenya to train at one of the high-altitude facilities that allegedly help to produce the likes of David Rudisha, Geoffrey Mutai, and numerous other world record holders. The pair are approaching the end of their stay, with a few more days left at the facility before a gruelling trip back to Glasgow, first via Mombassa, and then Nairobi. The upcoming election has upped tensions in the country, with mobs already roaming the suburbs, and the police all but happy to violently suppress anything that could be conceived as a threat. On top of that, Mike and Kirsten are clearly both experiencing growing pains – pains that have exacerbated themselves overtime, having been so rudely forced out of the regular teenage routine.
The resulting novel deconstructs the hygienic myths that characterise the games, and the fantasy of sheer, undeterred, superhuman endeavour. The first-person narrative switches between the two with each chapter, and it’s not long before we realise how delightfully flawed both characters are. That said, one of Gault’s major achievements here is the creation of narratives delivered in such a naturalised fashion that we as readers initially think nothing of Kirsten and Mike’s often-unhinged behaviour – whether it’s Kirsten getting debilitatingly stoned in the middle of hyena country, or Mike taking an ice bath in a wheelie bin stolen off his neighbour.
The contrast between the two creates a fascinating tension. Kirsten is traumatised both by the violence that surrounds her in Kenya, and the violence of her past, which includes a father ruthless enough to bully his own daughter if it takes her any closer to the podium. Mike meanwhile struggles to relate anything outside the experience of running, despite an obvious desire for Kirsten’s affections. He runs to affirm his own existence. Kirsten runs in an attempt to obliterate herself.
Ultimately, Gault’s work is an unflinching, painful study of the lives of young people striving for greatness, and an unveiling of the brutality that often lies beneath the surface, and its devastating consequences. The Most Distant Way is an effective exploration of the individual’s inability to reconcile their personal struggles with any kind of wider situation, be it their home-life, or the politics of a nation on the verge of collapse. The result is a powerful, unsettling comment on something not so far from home as may first appear.