Friday 18 May 2012

Friday Feature: Interview with Louisa Reid

Louisa Reid's debut Black Heart Blue is bleak, uncompromising, disturbing - and definitely shouldn't be missed! She was kind enough to grant me an interview which originally ran at the Bookbag - many thanks to them for allowing me to publish it here as well.

1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

I guess because I'm a teacher, the first thing I see is a class full of teenagers, although that may be just because of my familiarity with that environment. I absolutely adore teaching literature - I probably get a bit too passionate about it sometimes - and I'd love it if my book were discussed in classrooms.

2. Rebecca, one of the two narrators of Black Heart Blue, suffers from Treacher Collins Syndrome. What inspired you to write about someone living with this condition?

I saw a documentary about a man with Treacher Collins - Jono Lancaster. His story is really inspirational. The fact that his parents had given him up when he was born because of his syndrome struck something deep in me. As a mother myself, I couldn't imagine having that reaction, although of course I don't stand in moral judgement over his parents - they did what they felt they had to do. But that might also have inspired some of the anti-maternal feeling in the book.

3. I have to be honest, there were a couple of times when I nearly had to put Black Heart Blue down for a bit due to the subjects covered and the power of your writing. Was it as difficult to write as it was to read?

The words came incredibly naturally so in that sense it was not difficult to write. I felt I knew both girls so well that they spoke for themselves. But yes, the subject matter is harrowing. In many ways I was shocked at myself for putting the characters through those horrific situations. However, if I hadn't been true to my imagination, then I wouldn't have been true to their stories and then what would have been the point? I don't intend to shock or upset people just for the sake of it, but I do hope the book makes readers think. Having said that, I had no idea of the impact the book would have. To some extent the response I've had so far reassures me that we have not become as desensitised to horror and suffering, because of what we see on our screens and read in the news, as I had thought might be the case. When I wrote this book I had no inkling that anyone would ever read it so I didn't censor myself and I think that's ultimately a good thing.

As hard as it was to read, I definitely think the power would have been diminished if you'd censored it at all. It really is incredibly hard-hitting!

4. I loved the structure of Black Heart Blue and the way we switched viewpoints in each chapter. Did you find one of the twins easier to write for than the other one? 

I started with Rebecca and wrote a lot of her story first. But there was something missing, and that was Hephzi. She needed her chance to speak too. Both voices were equally easy to write, perhaps because they are so different.

5. Which book has most influenced you and do you still have a copy?

There are many books which have influenced me and I'm still adding to the pile. One of the most long-standing influences is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It's so much more than a ghost story - but I won't get into that here - and yes I do still have a copy. I teach it regularly.
I tend to be influenced heavily in my writing by the novels or poetry I'm teaching at that particular time in school. When I was a teenager there was a book my friends and I absolutely loved called Easy Connections, by Liz Berry. I think it's out of print but I still have a copy of it and still think it's a great teen book. It's pretty controversial though - funnily enough.

Easy Connections sounds intriguing! Will have to try and track down a copy somehow... eBay may be calling me.

6. Do you listen to music when writing? If so, what was the soundtrack to Black Heart Blue?
Sometimes. The Hephzi and Craig love affair is set to the song "Rosa" by The Gilded Palace of Sin. I imagine them on Craig's bike, motoring off into the distance to the sound of that song. There is a bittersweet beauty to it. The ending I wrote to the song "I'm With God" by the Cesarians. That may seem ironic, but the music is so uplifting and swept me up in its power. I think it's actually a song about drugs but that's not really the point for me.

Have never heard of the Cesarians before, but just checked out I'm With God - wow, fabulous!  

7. If you could collaborate with another author on a novel, who would you choose and why? 

Living or dead? Dead it would be Emily Bronte. I think we both like looking at the savagery of human nature. Living would be Emma Donoghue. Her novel Room is one of my absolute favourites. She is brilliant at capturing voice and creating tension. It would be incredibly interesting to work with someone as brilliant as her.

8.What do you like most about writing? What would you rather not do at all?

I really love playing with language. When I write a line in which I think the choice of words really reveals character or says something important about setting I get a bit of a thrill.

I would rather not have to delete things that I've written that I like and feel a bit proud of. But you have to if they just don't work! 

9. There were lots of wonderful characters in Black Heart Blue - apart from the two narrators, did you have a particular favourite? 

I think it would be Danny. He is the epitome of down to earth goodness. But I also love Cyrilla, the old lady in the care home. I based her on my grandma who died last year.

Danny's my favourite too! Great pick.  

10. What's next for Louisa Reid?

Another novel, Lies Like Love, coming out next year, if I ever manage to pin it down. More books after that - I'm writing one now which I'm getting quite excited about. I'll keep on writing forever I should think. 

I hope you do! Really looking forward to Lies Like Love. Many thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Louisa.

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