Hello everybody! Today, I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of the blog tour for one of my favourite YA books of last year, Paper Avalanche, and even more thrilled that I get to interview Lisa Williamson! Onto the post!
1. First of all, can you please describe Paper Avalanche in 5 words?
Moving, infuriating, uplifting, occasionally stressful!
2. One of my favourite things in all your books so far have been the friendships, whether that’s been between two characters or a bigger friend group. Who are some of your favourite fictional friends, and why?
Thank you! Friends have always been a hugely important part of my life so it’s probably inevitable I give friendship so much weight in my stories. In terms of my fictional favourites, I love Bridget’s friends in the Bridget Jones books for their humour, loyalty and drunken advice; the relationship between Lydia and Kay in Mud by Emily Thomas for its wit and honesty, and the fledgling relationship between Mireille, Hakima and Astrid from Clementine Beauvais’s utterly charming Piglettes. I think it’s quite tricky to capture the beginnings of a new friendship in a way that feels natural, but Beauvais nails it. I also love the way Holly Bourne, Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison and Non Pratt explore the intensity and complexity of teenage friendships in their novels. Last but not least, I can’t possibly leave out Maddie and Queenie’s epic friendship in Code Name Verity of Elizabeth Wein.
3. I also adore the way your main characters are written, because they all feel so real. What tips would you give to writers trying to create characters that really resonate with people?
Again, thank you very much! My main piece of advice would be to let your characters make mistakes. Let them say or do awful things and really test their relationships. Don’t get bogged down with making your characters likeable. Some of my favourite books feature deeply unpleasant characters but they feel so real, you can’t help but invest in their journeys. None of us have a perfect moral compass and neither should your characters. Having them mess up every now and again also allows them to grow and gives you the opportunity to make them shine when it matters. It’s important to apply this logic to every character in your story, big or small. I don’t mean writing reams and reams of character description for every single minor character but a few carefully chosen details will anchor them in your reader’s mind. My books feature a lot of teachers, for example, so I always work hard to let the reader know one or two things about them to distinguish them from one another. The more specific or unusual these details, the better. Just to note, unusual doesn’t necessarily mean wacky. Just think about yourself and your friends – we all have traits specific to us that make us who we are. Give your characters similar traits of their own and they’ll inevitably begin to feel read on the page.
4. Something else I loved in Paper Avalanche specifically was the way you handled the theme of hoarding so sensitively, and really explored what it would be like from both the perspective of the person hoarding and also someone who hasn’t chosen to live like that at all. How did you go about researching this in order to give such a nuanced portrayal?
My initial inspiration for Paper Avalanche came from an episode of the Channel 4 documentary series The Hoarder Next Door. Up to this point, I’d incorrectly associated hoarding with elderly people living alone, so I was surprised and intrigued when this particular episode featured a woman in her thirties living with her teenage son. As the boy stood in his cramped bedroom, his mum’s possessions bearing down on him, my heart broke and my mind raced. Within days I’d filled a notebook with the beginnings of Ro’s story. Following that I watched every documentary about hoarding I could get my hands on. One that particular stands out is TV presenter Jasmine Harman’s moving exploration of life with her compulsive hoarder mother. I also read two memoirs by young women who had grown up in similar circumstances to Ro (Coming Clean by Kimberley Rae Miller and Dirty Secret by Jessie Sholl), both of which helped me get to grips with the complicated dynamic between Ro and the charismatic yet infuriating Bonnie. Another incredibly useful source was Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost & Gail Steketee. Meticulously researched and featuring dozens of case studies, the book introduced me to a brand new ‘hoarding’ vocabulary (terms like ‘goat paths’, ‘churning’ and ‘doorbell dread’). There is also a brilliant website for people in Ro’s position called Children of Hoarders.
5. 2020 marks 5 years since your first book was published. What have some of your favourite memories of your career so far been?
Winning the 2016 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for older fiction has to be up there. I was so shocked and so delighted (as evidenced in all the photographs from the night and by rather rambling acceptance speech). Getting to travel and meet readers aboard had also been a real privilege. Over the past five years, I’ve been to the Netherlands, Italy (twice!), Ireland and the USA. I’ve also had the opportunity to appear at literary festivals like Hay and Edinburgh, often alongside real heroes of mine (I’ve had too many ‘pinch me’ moments to count). Hearing from readers is a major joy. Five years on from its publication, I still hear from young trans people discovering The Art of Being Normal for the first time. How special is that? The best bit though, had been forging close friends with fellow writers. Writing can be a lonely business so these friendships and the support and camaraderie they provide is vital.
6. What is your writing routine like? Do you have any unusual habits or quirks?
I write when I can, where I can. I prefer working on a desktop, because it’s better for my posture and I like a big screen. Having said that, I find working at home day after day a bit isolating so occasionally l I venture out with my laptop. I enjoy the buzz of a café or a library and I always jump at the chance to write with friends (although we always end up chatting far too much). I’m best under pressure and thrive when deadlines are looming. I’m not much of a planner. I usually have a vague idea of how the story will pan out but all the details are up for grabs. It’s perhaps not the most economical way to write (I end up deleting a lot) but it keeps things fresh and spontaneous and I kind of love not knowing what my characters are going to do next until they’re actually doing it.
7. Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on now/will be releasing next?
My fourth novel in done and dusted and will be out in July. It’s called First Day of My Life and the tagline is ‘Three best friends. Two first loves. One stolen baby.’ I can’t say too much about it yet but the process of writing it was the smoothest and most fun I’ve ever had. Hopefully this bodes well!
Favourite chocolate? Basic – Cadbury’s Double Decker, Fancy – Tony’s Chocoloney (dark chocolate and almond sea salt)
Since we’ve just had Christmas, what’s your favourite Christmas film? A Christmas Story
Favourite winter activity? Sledding (snow permitting)
Top 3 books of 2019? Furious Thing by Jenny Downham, The Five by Hallie Rubenhold, Expectation by Anna Hope
3 books you’re most excited for in 2020? Pretending by Holly Bourne, Non Pratt’s new YA, The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
Have you read Paper Avalanche, or are you planning to? Are you a fan of Lisa? I’d love to hear in the comments!