Your debut novel ‘The Art of Being Normal’ has just been published, how does it feel to be a published author?
It’s very exciting and very, very surreal! I’ve had a really quick journey to publication (I only signed with David Fickling Books in April) so I think that makes it extra surreal. This time last year The Art of Being Normal had no end, and a very mushy middle, so to be holding an actual book in my hands (I should probably stress it has an end now, and the middle is no longer mushy!) is very special indeed. A few people have commented on how calm I seem which makes me suspect I may still be in slight shock!
You studied drama at Middlesex University and have been working as an actor on stage and TV since graduating. What made you start writing?
I loved stories as a child. Drawing and writing were actually my first loves and I didn’t really get seriously into acting until I was a teenager. Because acting is traditionally so competitive, I think I ended up pushing aside all my other interests to focus on it and for a while totally forgot about my original ambitions to draw and write. Once I started my acting career, I found I was craving an extra creative outlet I could have a bit more control over. Acting is great fun but it’s not something you can do independently and I often found I was working towards someone else’s vision, rather than my own. One of things I love about writing is that you as the author are totally in charge. I started writing bits and bobs (mostly the beginnings of chapters featuring heroines that rather closely resembled me!) but never really got stuck into a project until about four years ago when I completed a novel for adults, loosely inspired by my experiences as an actor. It had lots of flaws but crucially it proved I could actually finish something. I then started to scout about for inspiration for my next novel, unaware the subject material was sitting right under my nose...
What was the inspiration for The Art of Being Normal?
Between acting jobs I’ve always done office work and in 2010 I started working as an administrator at The Gender Identity Development Service, an NHS service for under-18s struggling with their gender identity. One of my tasks was to type up therapy session notes. Although I’ve never questioned by own gender identity, the stories I heard and the adversity these young people were facing really resonated with me with an intensity I didn’t anticipate. I realised there was very little fiction, particular aimed at young adults, which dealt with gender identity issues or featured a transgender protagonist. It quickly came very obvious that this should be the starting point for my next project!
Could you tell us a little bit about the story in The Art of Being Normal and who you think the book appeals to?
The Art of Being Normal is about two teenage boys called David and Leo. They have zero in common apart from the fact they both have a secret. David’s parents assume he’s gay and he is bullied at school. Only his two best friends know the real truth – he wants to be a girl. Leo is the new boy at school, having transferred from a school on the notoriously rough Cloverdale estate under mysterious circumstances. His only plan of action is to keep his head down so attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is not ideal! When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms but things soon get messy and secrets start to unravel…
Although gender identity is a core theme, the book is about a whole range of things – friendship, family, first love, social class, fitting in – issues that touch all of us in some way. Feeling that you’re a stranger in your own body is quite an extreme way of feeling you don’t fit in with what is judged as conventionally ‘normal’, but I think the broader theme of identity is something that speaks to us all. I’ve definitely experienced times where I’ve struggled to work out where I fit in (especially when I was at school) and I’m pretty certain I wasn’t alone. I’d like to think anyone picking up a copy of The Art of Being Normal will find something to relate to and someone to root for.
Have you started to write a second book yet? If so can we have a sneak peek into what it is about?
I have! It’s about a 17 year-old boy called Frazer looking for love during his last week on earth.
Growing up what would you say was your top three books you could read over and over without ever getting bored?
Ooooh, that’s a tough question but here is my top three (after much deliberation):
If you could give a young budding author one writing tip what would that be?
It sounds really obvious, but my main tip is to write. Writing is a skill that takes practice. You wouldn’t expect to make first violin in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra without practicing, and the same goes for writing (or anything creative for that matter). Write every day if you can, even if it’s just a few lines, I promise every word will be helping you to hone your craft! Keep a diary (I keep one via email); it’s a great way of getting used to expressing yourself on the page. It’s also a good idea to carry a notebook round with you (or use your phone) to jot down ideas (they often strike at the most unexpected moments!). A lot of people talk about writing, but what makes you an actual writer, is the sitting down and doing it!
You can find out more about Lisa and her new title at www.lisawilliamsonauthor.com