I am incredibly excited to welcome author Laura Barnett to the blog today. Her debut novel The Versions of Us is out now. If you missed it, you can find my review here. For me, this is one of the MUST-READS for 2015… and I don’t say that lightly.
If you aren’t yet familiar with the novel here’s the synopsis to whet your appetite.
The Versions of Us is a love story told three ways. A young man is walking down a country lane. A woman, cycling towards him, swerves to avoid a dog. On that moment, their future hinges. There are three possible outcomes, three small decisions that could determine the rest of their lives.
Eva and Jim are nineteen and students at Cambridge when their paths first cross in 1958. There is also David, Eva’s lover, an ambitious actor who loves Eva deeply but cares more for his own talent. The Versions of Us follows the three different courses their lives could take following this first chance meeting. Lives filled with love, betrayal and ambition, but through it all is a deep connection that endures, whatever fate might throw at them.
The Versions of Us explores the idea that there are moments when our lives might have turned out differently, the tiny factors or decisions that could determine our fate, and the precarious nature of the foundations upon which we build our lives. It is also a story about the nature of love and how it grows, changes and evolves as we travel through life.
Laura kindly allowed me to ask her some questions for today’s stop on the blog tour. So let’s get into it…
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did you always intend to be a writer?
Yes! I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember; it seems to just be an instinct I was born with. As a child, I’d ask my mum to sew pieces of paper together to make little books, then write really grandiose titles on the covers. One, as I recall, was “Further Adventures in Narnia, by Laura Jessica Barnett, aged six and three-quarters.” I think my mum might still have it somewhere!
You’re a successful journalist and published author of non-fiction; what made you want to write a novel?
Well, the desire to write a novel actually came before journalism and non-fiction. As I say, I had this ambition to write novels from a really young age – I grew up loving fiction, so I suppose it was natural to me to try to replicate the form. But after I graduated from university, I still didn’t feel confident enough to sit down and write a novel; I felt I needed to go out and experience life before working out what I wanted to say. So first journalism, and later writing my non-fiction book Advice from the Players, seemed the natural way to earn a living in the meantime.
Where/how did you get the idea for The Versions of Us?
It appeared in my mind quite suddenly one morning, almost fully formed. I’d been wondering for a while about what to write next – I had written two books in my twenties that I’d decided to set aside – and then one morning, there was an idea: the story of a couple’s relationship, told from beginning to end, in three different ways. Of course, a lot of hard work came later, but that initial kernel of an idea seemed to appear from nowhere.
Do you have a favourite Version?
I don’t, I’m afraid! I wavered between all three while I was writing. At the planning stage, I definitely favoured version one, perhaps because it was the most conventional “boy meets girl” narrative. I found version two hardest to write initially, and but I started to really enjoy it as I went along. So now, saying which I prefer would feel a bit like choosing a favourite child (or in my case, as yet, nephew or niece!).
Where do you do your writing?
In a small attic room. It’s painted white, and it’s filled with books, prints, and postcards. Oh, and my cat Eno’s usually asleep somewhere nearby.
What is your least favourite part of the writing process?
Planning. I’m much happier when I can just dive right in, but decent planning is important; it acts like a firm foundation on which to build the story.
How do you like to relax?
I go running round my local park in Crystal Palace several times a week – we have plaster dinosaurs there, left over from the Great Exhibition of 1851! I’m also pretty partial to a nice cold glass of white wine.
Which is your favourite genre to read? Who are your favourite authors and how have they inspired you?
An interesting question. I’m not sure I usually think in terms of genre, but I suppose I mainly read literary fiction, and within that, I’m keenest on realism – on books that reflect life as it is actually lived, and make us see it in a new or intriguing way. I find a lot of inspiration in the authors who achieve this – including Elizabeth Jane Howard, Penelope Lively, Anne Tyler and Joyce Carol Oates.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Set aside a particular time of day to write, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes, and try to stick to that, at least five days a week. Eventually, you’ll find the sentences will turn into paragraphs, and the paragraphs into pages.
You’re working on your second novel, Greatest Hits. Can you tell us anything about it yet?
Absolutely. It’s about music, this time – well, music, life and love. My main character is a British female singer-songwriter, somewhere between Kate Bush and Sandy Denny, looking back over her life and career, and trying to make sense of it all.
Could you please share with us one of your favourite quotes?
Sure. I have one from Truman Capote on a poster hanging above my desk: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” An editor said that to me years ago when I was boasting about having written 2,000 words in two hours. It’s a very useful reminder that it’s the quality of the words that matter, not the quantity (though when you have a deadline, the latter does tend to come into focus too!).
You’re hosting a dinner party with 6 seats still free. Whom (past or present) would you invite?
Ooh, what a lovely dilemma! Could I please have Stevie Nicks, Jane Austen, Julie Walters, Barack Obama, Arthur Miller and my mum, Jan?
If something happened and you had to flee your home with just one book – which book would you take and why?
Easy – Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler. Her writing embodies everything I think is important and wonderful and transporting about fiction. This book is set over just one day, when a couple is travelling to a funeral. They seem like such ordinary people on the surface – the sort you might see in an American diner, and just walk past without a second glance. But Tyler shows just how much joy and pain and disappointment lies beneath that ordinary surface.
Do you have a favourite place in the world / where would you most like to travel to?
I do. It’s a tiny beach on the westernmost tip of the Isle of Mull in the Hebrides. I rent a cottage there every year with my family to remember my late grandmother Eunice, who loved the Western Isles. I can’t get through the year without seeing the sun set over the Atlantic from that beach; it just settles me, somehow.
Thank you so much Laura, for taking the time to answer my questions. I found your answers fascinating – your dinner party sounds awesome! Also, blown away that a beach on Mull is your favourite place in the world (note – I was brought up on the Isle of Mull, my family still lives there). I truly can’t wait to read Greatest Hits.