Friday 5 April 2013

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Laura Jarratt

After loving Laura Jarratt's superb debut Skin Deep last year, I was thrilled to find her second novel, By Any Other Name, was just as good! It was brilliant to get the chance to interview her - thanks to The Bookbag, where this interview originally ran on Monday, for arranging it!

(And speaking of interviews, just before we start this one, can I direct your attention over to The EDGE blog, where I've been interviewed today! Laura's superb Skin Deep gets a mention or two from me there.)

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

Laura Jarratt: I see the kind of people I work with every day, a whole spectrum of teenage girls. Generally I write with teenage girls in mind though I have got some teenage boy readers too. My adult audience is more varied but I don’t have them in mind when writing YA – I think it’s important to write YA for that specific age group and let any crossover happen naturally.

2. I've loved all three narrators in your first two books - was it easier to write the dual narrative of Skin Deep or Holly's solo narrative in By Any Other Name?
LJ: It was much easier to write the dual narrative in Skin Deep originally but that took way more editing later to keep the voices as distinct and authentic as possible. Holly was harder initially and it took several chapters for me to know her voice, possibly because she doesn’t really know who she is herself any more at the start of the book, but once I had her then she was much easier than writing a dual voiced book.

3. What are you reading at the moment?
LJ: Insurgent by Veronica Roth. After ignoring Divergent for ages, I finally picked it up to read it for an article I was writing and was utterly hooked from the start. I devoured it in two days and then couldn’t wait to get my hands on Insurgent to find out what happens next. Four is currently my current favourite male mc in YA and is going to take some toppling from that pedestal, but I also like Tris a lot. Quite often with two main characters, I find I like one much more than the other so it’s really good to find a book where I think both are great. I don’t mind dystopia in general but I don’t go out of my way to find it, however I’ll read any genre if the characters hook me.

Not a huge dystopia fan - despite loving Lauren Oliver's Delirum books - but one of my students was raving about Roth a few weeks ago, so she's on my list of authors I really need to get round to reading. Sounds like a fab series!

4. Coming from a fairly small village myself, I loved the setting of By Any Other Name and the way you captured the feel of the place, with everyone knowing each other fairly well. Did you grow up in a village yourself?
LJ: No, I grew up in the middle of Salford (next to Manchester) on a massive, sprawling council estate. However I should have been born in the country – I was definitely misplaced and escaped the city as soon as I finished Uni. I’ve lived in villages ever since. I like to be able to see green, open space from my window and I’d never go back to living in a city now.

5. It was fantastic to see your first novel, Skin Deep, get nominated for the Waterstones Children's Book Award. Did you ever dream when you wrote it that it would be as well-received as it has been?
LJ: Usually when I’ve written a book I think it’s very weak, to be honest, so I definitely didn’t expect a good reception! It takes me about a year to be able to see anything good in one of my books at all so it wasn’t until Skin Deep was coming up to publication time that I thought perhaps it wasn’t too bad. Logically I knew the book couldn’t be that poor or I wouldn’t have picked up an agent with it or sold it – I just can’t see the positives myself at first. And when you’re editing you’re always looking for the flaws so that colours your perspective for a long while.
I’m delighted by the response it’s had though, of course, from the very detailed and insightful reviews to the ‘I <3 Ryan’ ones from some of the teens, because, of course, I wrote it for them. And the Waterstones nomination is fantastic because it helps bring the book to a wider audience

6. My favourite character in By Any Other Name (as great as Holly was!) was Holly's autistic sister Katie. Did you have to do a lot of research into autism to portray her so convincingly?
LJ: I did some back-up research but mostly Katie was inspired by an autistic girl I met when I was doing a summer job while at Uni. Katie isn’t based on her in terms of the things Katie obsesses over or her little behavioural peculiarities – those are all Katies’s own – but she is inspired by her. And as I’ve worked a lot with children with special needs, I have got experience of milder autistic spectrum behaviour too.

7. If you could ask any other author any question, what would you ask and who would you ask it to?
LJ: I’d like to ask the late Rosemary Sutcliff where the inspiration for some of her characters came from. I read her autobiography, Blue Remembered Hills, many years ago and would never have realised from the richness of her books that she’d had such a difficult and restricted life in terms of her ill-health. Many of her characters exhibit a very distinctive form of honour, and I’d love to ask if that came from her or was inspired by people she knew. Her characters on several occasions describe the notion of not ‘breaking faith’. They seldom explain what they mean by this, though there is one beautiful example in The Mark of the Horse Lord, but you understand instinctively because she’s painted them so well as characters.

Fab question - RS was a favourite author of mine when I was a teen!

8. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what was the soundtrack to By Any Other Name?
LJ: I sometimes have music on, usually if I want to create a certain mood and am struggling to get into the zone, but then I tend to play a few tracks and switch off to write. I’m happiest writing in a coffee shop actually, with people around me. I prefer them as my soundtrack. Most of By Any Other Name though was written in my now-husband’s flat so the soundtrack was probably his stuff, which really isn’t my taste at all, but for some reason having to block out noise helps me concentrate on writing a first draft. Er, I’d guess there was probably a lot of Skrillex playing while I was writing, much to my disgust!

9. Your two books so far have had two of the most gorgeous covers I've ever seen! Do you get any input as to what's on the covers, or is it a total surprise when you see them?
LJ: I’m glad you like them!
I didn’t get any input at all with Skin Deep, although you get asked if you like it as a courtesy. I did have to slightly change Jenna’s hair colour in the book though to match the model as it wasn’t the same shade and I hate it when the cover art doesn’t match what the character looks like inside. Because of the light used in that photo, it just wouldn’t have looked as good if they’d photoshopped the model’s hair to Jenna’s original colour.
With By Any Other Name, I did ask for a minor tweak which was related to a photographic effect that I thought made it look more contemporary. They sent me several different samples for that one so I could comment on them.
I have a friend who is a cover designer though and she has impressed on me that the cover designer knows best! They have a knowledge of what attracts the target audience in terms of the art work that a writer doesn’t have in the same depth so she’d already primed me to leave the covers to the experts unless there was something really amiss. I showed both to her when I got them and she really liked them too.

10. What's next for Laura Jarratt?
LJ: I’m due to have a baby in the same week that By Any Other Name comes out so one thing that’s next will be a lot of nappy changing!
I’ve been working on two other books over the last year, one YA and one for an older audience (still not happy with that though), and I’m now writing another YA which is the one I’d like to see out on the shelves next. It’s a romance/thriller where one character get sucked into something he never intended to get caught up in with disastrous consequences and I guess it’s also about how some relationships just aren’t good for us, no matter how much we might want them.

Wow - best of luck with ALL of that, Laura!

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