Today, I have the great pleasure of interviewing the lovely Lisa Williamson, author of The Art of Being Normal.
Hi Lisa, welcome to my blog it is a pleasure having you here!
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I was born in Nottingham in 1980. My mum worked in a shop and my dad was a plumber. I have big sister who is now a nurse. I was a really shy kid and loved to draw and make up stories. When I got a bit older, I became a little less shy and got really into drama and through my teens I did loads of school plays and amateur dramatic productions. When I was 19 I moved down to London and did a degree in drama. I’ve worked as an actor ever since, appearing in plays, musicals and TV commercials. About eight years ago I realised I was craving an creative outlet I had a bit more control over and started writing again and rediscovering my passion for telling stories.
Funny, that is just like me! I am also really interested in my drama and have shows on the go all the time but I still crave to explore my creative writing side a bit more too! The trouble is, I never know what to write about…What is your inspiration for writing?
It could be anything – an article online, a snippet of conversation I overhear in the street, a memory that pops into my head – inspiration is everywhere (I try to carry a notebook with me at all times). I usually start out with a character and then try to put them into as many tricky situations as possible. I like to throw rocks at my characters!
That’s always the best way to write, I find! Sometimes I love to feel just as stuck as my character to before I find a way out of the situation I’ve created for them!What inspired you to write The Art of Being Normal?
In 2010, I got a job working as an administrator at The Gender Identity Development Service (an NHS service offering talking therapies for under-18s struggling with their gender identity). It was just meant to be a temporary thing between acting jobs but I ended up staying for two years! As part of the role I typed up notes from all the individual therapy sessions and heard all these incredible stories – happy, sad, painful, triumphant. I was writing something else at the time and it took a while for it to dawn on me that I had some incredibly rich source material at my finger tips and should perhaps be writing about that instead! I set about looking for fiction featuring trans protagonists and found very little. It quickly became very clear young trans people were massively under-represented in the arts and media, and I became very committed to doing something about it if I possibly could. I observed several group therapy sessions for trans teens, all of whom were as engaging and complicated and individual as any great YA hero or heroine. Collectively they inspired me to create a character who was struggling with their gender identity but not defined by it. They also inspired the tone of the book. Although several of the young people were having a really tough time, there was always so much joy and positivity and energy in the room at these sessions. I didn’t want TAOBN to feel like an ‘issue’ book or heavy or gloomy in any way. Although there are painful moments, there are also moments of magic. I wanted the book to have light and shade, and for the downs to be balanced with real ups, just like real life.
That’s such a fantastic inspiration to get! Just shows that it can come from anywhere. That must have been so interesting to learn about! You are completely right with the tone of the book. I really enjoyed reading about such a taboo subject in such a normal sounding way, if that makes sense… The amount of joy in the book made it stand out against most of the other YA contemporaries out there that tend to opt for the sadder route. What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To keep writing, take risks and touch as many as people as possible through my books. I’d also LOVE to see a film version of TAOBN. That would be awesome!
A film would be so fantastic! It would really bring the book up and give it a whole new meaning as well as bringing a generally taboo subject out into the open and into the light. It could really teach us all and I think it would be a great laugh as well! Your characters are by far the most hilarious they can be and I really appreciate that. Give us an insight into your main characters. What do they do that is so special?
TAOBN is told from the point of view of two main characters – David and Leo, and I love them both! David is 14 and is starting to realise the desire to be female he’s had since a small child is not going away (if anything it’s getting worse). Despite his distress at his changing body, David is upbeat, kind and brave. Leo is 15, a grumpy loner, and the new kid at school. Having transferred from his old school under mysterious circumstances, he’s keen to keep his head down and avoid getting close to any of his new classmates. He certainly doesn’t bargain on falling for the most gorgeous girl in year 11. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms and they impact on one another’s lives in ways neither of them anticipate.
I loved all of the different situations you chuck your characters into, I think it gives them a real depth which you don’t normally see in YA contemporaries. How do you write? Full-time or part-time? Every day or three times a week? Do you have a structured plan for your writing?
I’m lucky enough to write more-or-less full-time. I continue to act in TV commercials but as the shoots tend to be quite short, the work fits round my writing really well. I work at home but occasionally venture out to work in a cafe or library for a change of scenery. I try to write every day if I can and have no set finish time. If it’s going well, I’ll work until my boyfriend makes me stop and eat something! I always intend to plan but invariably the plan falls apart the moment I sit down to write (my characters tend to be pretty bossy about what they want to happen and I regularly sit down to write one scene and it turns into something entirely different).
I should probably create a schedule for my writing too! I usually use my writing as a procrastination tool for when I have GCSE’s to work on! Tell us about your book covers. They represent the book in such a strong way.
I absolutely love the cover for TAOBN. The illustration is by Alice Todd, a young graphic illustrator based in Brighton. When my publishers sent me over her initial ideas, I was so chuffed! I love that she’s created such an iconic image and am thrilled we’re sticking with it for the paperback edition (out in January).
I love how deep a meaning they give to the book without you even realising- I didn’t realise how powerful the image was until I’d finished the book. What is the hardest thing about writing?
The days when it doesn’t come naturally and you start to feel like a fraud! Writing can be a very lonely profession and self doubt can creep in. That’s where the amazing UK YA community comes in. Over the past year I’ve connected with loads of fellow authors and taken advantage of their wisdom and experience, as well as made some great new friends.
Did you ever get Writer’s Block? If so, do you have any tips?
Yes! Sometimes you just need to get away from your desk – go for a walk, go to the gym, watch a film – just do something different and let your thoughts untangle themselves in their own way and at their own speed. Other times though, you need to battle through and just get words down on the page. I suffer from perfectionism and often feel I can’t move forwards until what I’ve already written feels polished, which incidentally is a really silly way to write! I’m trying to get better at being brave and not caring about writing badly. As someone very wise once said, you can’t edit an empty page. Free writes are a great way of getting into the right mindset to write.
Do you have any advice for inspired authors out there?
Write as much as you can (even if it’s just a few lines per day). Writing is a muscle and like any skill, you need to put the practice in to get better. I kept a diary growing up and it was a great way of getting used to expressing myself on the page. If you’re worried about it being found, set up a dedicated email address and email yourself instead (this is what I do). I would also recommend reading as widely as possible. I learn so much about plotting and characters from reading other books. Occasionally it’s intimidating when you read something amazing, but mostly I just find it really inspiring to read wonderful books. Another great advice I was recently given was to create tension but taking things away from your main character. I’ve tried it on my latest protagonist and it completely works. As I said earlier, I like to throw rocks at my characters! Finally, be true to yourself and the story to have to tell and follow your instincts.
How can readers find out more about you and your books?
Follow me on twitter (@lisa_letters) or visit my website – www.lisawilliamsonauthor.com. You can also find out more info via my publishers – http://www.davidficklingbooks.com
Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me, it was lovely to speak to you!