Monday, 28 September 2015

An Interview with Lara Williamson by Tizzie Frankish

When you lose someone, goodbye isn’t the end...

As a reader of 'heartbreak and humour' stories, I am delighted to welcome Lara Williamson author of A Boy Called Hope and her new book The Boy who sailed the Ocean in an Armchair...

An extraordinary story of courage, dreams and finding your way.

So, pull up an armchair * and join us on our journey where we navigate the tricky waters of 'second story' syndrome, ride the waves of writing for Middle Grade and sail with the silent snail who has a starring role. 

* Jaffa Cakes optional

A Boy Called Hope epitomises the phrase ‘Humour and Heartbreak’. Can we expect the same emotional pulls from The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair?

I think you can. I’ve always thought humour and heartbreak are very close. One minute you’re laughing and the next crying. I’d like to think I take the character in the book on an emotional journey with lots of humour and highs followed by lows, moments where it’s hard to see the way forward and perhaps in some cases no way forward at all. Then by the ending I leave that character happy; knowing that they’ve grown in some way and they’re stronger for the experience.

How did Becket find you? Did he surf into your subconscious and appear fully formed or did he sail around the side lines for a while?

I was on a writing course and we were writing a piece that could be the beginnings of a new book. To be honest, I didn’t really have an actual book idea but what I did have was an image inside my head that would not go away. I could see an ocean and there was an armchair sailing on it with two brothers aboard. Each was comforting the other as they negotiated turbulent waters towards their destination. Instinctively, I knew that it wasn’t just about the destination but the journey. The title The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair came to me that day and never changed. Basically, I wrote the book around that image I had in my head.

I love Ninja Grace (Dan Hope’s word-witty sister) and Charles Scallybones (Dan’s chewing-spewing dog). What roles do Billy (Becket’s brother) and Brian (Billy’s pet snail) play in The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair?

Billy is Becket’s little brother and the relationship between them is important. As their mother has died Becket is trying to take over her role in looking after his little brother, in telling him stories to comfort him when things are hard. Family is everything to me and in both my books they end up being the glue that binds everything together. When I wrote the first draft of The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair I didn’t have any animals and I realised I missed having one. It would have been obvious to have a cat so I went for something completely random and ended up with a snail. And I actually love that snail because he says and does nothing but in the end he has an important role to play.

So far, the characters in your books (Dan in A Boy Called Hope and Becket in The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair) are boys. Where do you find inspiration for these authentic characters?

I think I tend to write stories from the heart whether the main character is a boy or a girl. Everyone knows what it feels like to be rejected or lonely or to suffer loss, sadness and happiness and that’s usually the starting point for me. From there the character grows and blossoms.

We often hear of the trials and tribulations of ‘second story syndrome’. Was writing The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair a difficult process for you and how much did it differ from writing your first published book?

Not that I’m an authority but I imagine each book can throw up its own set of problems. With the first you have the luxury of time and so you might spend years writing it and then still have the time to set it aside and come back later with fresh eyes. The second book is going to be to a deadline and so that is guaranteed to make it feel different. Also, you want the second to be as good, if not better, than the first. But I have enjoyed writing both books for different reasons and now I’m really looking forward to the third. Wait… is there a third story syndrome?

You will have to come back and let us know. Both your books are for the 8-12 age group. What is it about writing for this age that appeals to you?
To be honest, I’ve never really grown up and I’m still about 8-12 inside my head so it feels pretty natural to write for this age group. In fact, I have really strong memories of my childhood and it was a time when I felt like I had the whole world ahead of me, anything was possible. Not that everything was totally perfect, but it was magical to me in many ways and I want to hold on to that feeling for ever. Writing for this age group allows me to do that.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Panster! I have a beginning in my mind and I know the ending but I like to be surprised in the middle. For me, if I plotted everything with precision I might not enjoy any little twists and turns that unexpectedly come my way. That’s not to say that while I’m on the journey I don’t go to a dead end and have to back track and find another route and that takes up valuable time. I’ve realised I’m very much the same in real life. For example: if I’m on a motorway and there’s a jam I would rather turn off and get lost going around little villages in order to get to my destination. And I will reach the destination, it might take me longer, but the journey will have been all the more exciting.

You have talked about re-reading your diaries from when you were growing up (my toes are curling for you!). Do you think writing diaries was where your love for writing began?

I’ve tried to think of a time when I didn’t write or draw and I can’t remember one.  Even from a young age I was writing little stories and illustrating them. My primary school had a shield for the best handwriting and winning it was one of my proudest moments. Still is. And when I wasn’t writing I was making up plays with my friends and putting them on. At the age of ten I started keeping a diary and kept one until I was twenty-one and I’m so happy I did. Now I realise, looking back, that there are things in my diary that inspired me to write both books. And they’re not life changing things either they’re just random things like the dog chewed my favourite rubber ball (does that remind you of a certain dog in A Boy Called Hope?).

Whatever happened to Julie and Jenny of Lakeview School? Will their story ever be finished?

Ah, lovely Julie and Jenny of Lakeview. This was the first book I ever wrote aged ten and I think I was inspired by St Clare’s and Malory Towers. Thing is, I didn’t have the first clue about lacrosse or boarding schools and so I eventually ran out of steam after a few chapters. Tempting as it is to bring back Julie and Jenny and their shenanigans at Lakeview I feel that they have served their purpose. That being they prepared me for writing a book later on in life and for that reason alone I shall always have a soft spot for the pair of them.

Finish these statements:

If I wasn’t a writer, I would be a dancer. As a child I imagined I was a ballerina despite never taking a ballet class. Now I tap dance and although I’m never going to set the world alight with my fancy footwork I imagine I’m on Strictly Come Dancing when I dance. Ah, isn’t imagination wonderful?

My favourite thing about being an author is everything. Writing allows me be anyone or anything, to live in any world of my own making. How lucky to be able to say that you can daydream and get paid for it. And then to have people read and connect with your words is amazing. I will never stop being excited about this.

I write best when I am at my desk by 9.30 with a cup of lemon and ginger tea (with biscuits nearby).

Growing up, I wanted to be a forensic scientist or a fashion designer.

My special talent is wiggling my ears, raising one eyebrow and flaring my nostrils. Yes, I have a very flexible face.

My favourite form of potato is chips.

My word of the day is serendipity. When you’re writing and you get a moment of serendipity it’s the best.

If I could be a character from any book, I would be Moon-Face from The Enchanted Wood.

The character in my next book is called… I’m going to leave you wanting more by saying you’ll have to wait and see.

Untill then... fill the wait by reading The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair, which is published by Usborne on 1st October. Paperback £5.99 or click on the link below.

Becket Rumsey is all at sea.
More than anything he needs to say goodbye to a loved one.
His dad has run away with him and his brother Billy in the middle of the night. And they’ve left everything behind, including their almost-mum Pearl. Becket has no idea what’s going on – it’s a mystery.
So with the help of Billy and a snail called Brian, Becket sets out on a journey of discovery. It’s not plain sailing but then what journeys ever are?
When you lose someone, goodbye isn’t the end. There is no full stop. It’s just the beginning of a new and different journey. Then again, that’s something Becket needs to discover for himself.

Thank Lara for taking the time to answer our questions. Happy writing!
Interview by Tizzie Frankish       @tizzief