A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Ebooks Fortnight on Vulpes Libris.
Interview with Lisa Glass by former Book Fox, Emily Gale.
I met Lisa Glass on a forum for aspiring and published writers several years ago. I was drawn to her brilliant sense of humour and her boldness – easy enough to be bold online, you could say, but that courage was also very much present in her first published work, Prince Rupert’s Teardrop (Two Ravens Press; 2007). I vividly remember sitting on the edge of my sofa as I read one particularly brutal chapter. She’s a writer with guts as well as striking, elegant prose.
So when I was given the chance to read her first YA novel, Snake Beach, I had high hopes. It didn’t disappoint. Here is a story with grit, originality, romance without schmaltz and a main character you want to champion all the way.
My opinions on self-publishing have really changed over the last few years and writers like Lisa Glass are a huge part of that process of coming around to the idea. Snake Beach should be out there, it’s a great YA title. So please enjoy this interview with Lisa and add Snake Beach to your TBR pile.
“It was before the birds fell out of the sky. Before them girls went missing . . . ”
Life is good for Jenny Grand, living in a beachside chalet on the Cornish coast, chilling out and body-boarding, until one day her ex-boyfriend Han returns to her home town of Hayle. Shortly afterwards, the town is invaded by TV modelling talent show Britain’s Next Catwalk Queen, and everything begins to go wrong.
Part romance, part mystery, and part coming-of-age story.
Lisa, tell us about your move from writing adult fiction to YA…
This is going to sound corny but I started writing YA after having a baby. About six weeks after having a baby, to be precise. I had this mad urge to do something creative (creating a life had obviously gone to my head) and so I dusted off ten chapters of an adult novel I’d been writing before I got pregnant, which happened to have a young protagonist, and I thought I’d try to rewrite the manuscript into a teen book. In the hormone-soaked highs of new motherhood, I just couldn’t write the extremely dark literary fiction I’d happily written before. Call it love, emotions, chemicals, whatever, but as a new mum I was experiencing the most profound euphoria of my life, and I wanted to write something unapologetically upbeat and fun. Having said all that, Snake Beach is still a bit weird and dark around the edges, because so is its author.
Snake Beach has been called “original” by just about everyone who has read it (me included). How did plot and characters evolve?
I went on a holiday to one of my favourite places in the world, and the dunes that year were overrun with adders. It was like an invasion, I remember thinking, and it felt quite ominous. I’m not anti-snake and I think adders are beautiful, but I was terrified that my dog (a collie-cross-springer mutt called Digger) would get bitten. I knew that none of the local vets had any anti-venom as the barman of the local pub had told me as much, and several dogs had died.
When I came back home I started writing about those snake-infested dunes, and then I discovered that a girl I knew, who worked in my local supermarket, had been accepted onto Britain’s Next Top Model. She was a really talkative, positive and confident young woman and I was interested to see how she would fare on the show. She and the other contestants were sent to a model bootcamp at an army barracks out in the countryside, where they were given all sorts of daunting challenges. This seemed like a great place to start a novel, so I took the model bootcamp and moved it to Cornwall. At this point, I still thought the book would be an adult novel. Although, even now Snake Beach is probably a bit “crossover”, as plenty of adults seem to find something they can connect with in the book.
As for my acquaintance, she was eliminated pretty early in the competition after some harsh criticism of her strut by that legend of America’s Next Top Model, J. Alexander, who was a visiting judge, but she managed to find a lot of work post-Britain’s Next Top Model, so the show was a good move for her. I met up with her after the show had aired and we went for a few drinks in a beer garden with me clutching my notepad and Dictaphone, and then the next weekend we went for cocktails at a nightclub. She was so interesting and gave me lots of behind the scenes information about Britain’s Next Top Model, which was invaluable when writing the book. The next month I discovered I was up the duff, and I spent the rest of my pregnancy not writing, except the odd sentence typed into Google about all the terrifying things that could go wrong in pregnancy and childbirth.
Setting is crucial to Snake Beach – can you tell us more about that? Is the setting very personal to you?
Yes, it is. The book is set in Hayle Towans in Cornwall, which I’ve been visiting since I was six. My family owned chalets there – not my immediate family, we were far too skint for that – but my aunties and cousins, who would kindly let us stay in their chalets for one week, normally during the autumn. All year I’d look forward to those holidays and I thought about them a lot afterwards. The beach at Hayle is spectacular but it also has these massive dunes that are always really quiet. Walking through those dunes in blazing sunshine without a soul around is a special kind of freedom that I try to hold on to wherever I go.
In addition to all of that sunny childhood stuff, I should also mention that eleven years ago I fell in love with my now husband in Hayle Towans and we had our honeymoon there.
How are you finding self-publishing so far?
I love it. It is so exciting and empowering. It is also really nice for family and friends to be able to read a book that would otherwise be stuck on my hard drive. My literary agent has been really supportive of the endeavour, even though he initially had mixed feelings and has since had some negative reactions from editors, who thought such a move by an author seemed headstrong and knee-jerk or whatever. I don’t know. I just wanted my book to get a bit of oxygen. And as another writer said to me recently, “Self-publishing is probably the future for most authors, so why delay learning how to do it and building an audience?”
What’s next for you?
Apart from reviewing as many books as I can for Vulpes Libris, I am writing another YA surf novel. So why all the surf stuff?? Well, firstly I live in Newquay, the self-proclaimed surf capital of the U.K, so I am surrounded by surfers. Literally. My next door neighbours on both sides are surfers, and I wake every day in summer at 6:00a.m to the sounds of their car engines as they race off to the famous Fistral Beach to catch some waves before work. But the surfing fascination has come about mostly because last year I experienced the most exhilarating summer of my life. I had been with my daughter almost every minute since she was born and I wanted to test myself to see if I could manage to be without her for an hour or two. How silly and melodramatic that seems, when written down. Still, I forced myself to go out to a local arts event. My friend had to cancel at the last minute, so I put on my new tie-dyed dress (EBay, three quid), my best bovver boots, and I went to this event on my own.
It was a pre-party for a film premiere called “Minds in the Water,” which was a documentary made by a very inspiring group called “Surfers for Cetaceans”, who are concerned with protecting whales and dolphins currently under threat from pollution and hunting. (I wrote about it for Vulpes Libris here). At the pre-party, just as I was stuffing my face at the awesome vegan buffet table, I met a lovely young woman called Laura who had also come to the party on her own, after her friend cancelled. Basically, she changed a lot for me. She got me out of my house on a regular basis, into the ocean and she taught me to surf. I should emphasise that I surf really badly. Embarrassingly badly. But I love it. It’s such an amazing high. Better than any drugs (she says, never having done any drugs in her life). A few months later, I was also lucky enough to meet young pro-surfer Bethany Hamilton, who spoke so eloquently of her return to surfing after losing an arm to a tiger shark back in 2003.
I went back to Snake Beach and added some more surfing scenes, and later on after a suggestion by an editor, I had my main character Jenny experience the intense rollercoaster of learning to surf, and actually mastering it.
At the end of the summer, my new friend Laura went back to uni, but I continued to surf, and in a new novel I continued to write about surfing and the strength, fun and opportunities that can come about as a result of female friendship out there in the waves.
Interview first appeared on Emily Gale’s blog, here:
Monday: Hilary discovers a literary crossroads in a tiny, lost Norfolk village.
Wednesday: Kate babbles about Ladybird books nostalgia at the Museum of English Rural life.
Friday: Kirsty returns to the Judaean Desert with The Very Short Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls.