'Colour Me In', by Lydia Ruffles ; a mini review and Q&A!

The wonderful Lydia Ruffles is the author of two excellent YA novels that are both so beautifully written, with the most creative plots and lovable, fascinating characters. I was delighted to have the opportunity to throw some Qs at Lydia in preparation for the publication of her latest book, Colour Me In’; the story of Arlo, an actor whose world is turned upside down after a tragedy which then sends him fleeing to the other side of the world – where he meets and befriends a fellow traveller. 

I loved this book – surprise, surprise! I adored her debut, 'The Taste of Blue Light', but if possible I found this one even more exciting and fun to read. Arlo as a character was so gorgeous and the way he felt things was so true and pure, it hurt at times to read. I will be shouting about this book and its author for a while yet, so jump on my Lydia Love Train, will you? Thx. 

Diving in deep right away – your health is a big part of your life and writing. Tell us a bit about that, please, and how does it affect your daily life and work? 
I have something called vestibular migraine, which means I get violent dizziness, severe head pain, sensory disturbances, and cognitive problems. The symptoms fluctuate so some days I’m absolutely fine and other times I can’t stand up or follow a conversation.
I also have a couple of mental illness diagnoses and the impact of those varies a lot too. For example, if I’m in a very high mood, I might feel I’ve got ideas shooting out of my eyeballs but the chances of executing them are slim.
I wrote my first book in bed and in hospital waiting rooms, and before I got treatment there were big chunks of time when I was too sick to think straight let alone work. Being freelance and in control of my own schedule help a lot. 

Do you feel your health helps or hinders your creativity? What does creativity mean to you?
I think about these questions all the time and both my books muse on these topics too.
Lots of my ideas come from my health experiences and being unwell has definitely improved my empathy which is critical to creativity. Migraine and mania both make my mind feel stretchy and capable of new things but at the end of the day being sick isn’t a superpower, it’s generally just really hard work and there’s nothing aspirational or romantic about it in my experience.
Creativity is just being inventive and imaginative, which everyone is capable of, even if they might feel self-conscious or second guess themselves. To me specifically, it means trying to make something that’s honest and expresses a specific feeling or experience. Sometimes it’s also about building a bridge between my thoughts or feelings and someone else’s, and sometimes it’s something very quiet that no one but me will see. 

Why do you think stories about mental health, or health in general, make such good reading? Why do we need more of that kind of writing? 
Stories about health reminds us we’re human – they’re a way of facing our mortality indirectly. With mental illness specifically, my impression is these stories make some people feel less alone and give others access to something they wouldn’t otherwise have.
We need more variety in the types of narratives we have about illness. The story that we see reflected most often in culture is of someone overcoming ill health and everything being wrapped up in a bow at the end. I like stories that show recovery is possible but that it doesn’t always mean going back to how things were before and that it’s not always linear – and that some people, like me, live with whatever conditions they have. 

There are lots of stereotypes attached to mental and physical illness in culture – do you feel a responsibility to address them in your work? 
I mostly focus on trying to tell an interesting and honest story about a person, albeit a fictional one. My new book Colour Me In is about mental health but it’s also about art, adventure, first love and friendship - because people are more than their illnesses and it’s important to show that.
Because I use a lot of my experience I know that what I’m writing is a realistic representation even if it’s not a universal one.
One stereotype that I find particularly gross and damaging is the idea that you have to suffer to make great art - both of my books show how hard it is to make anything when you’re in a very dark place but also that making things can be healing.
I’m also super careful about the language I use to make sure it’s not stigmatising.

How do you stay well while you’re writing? What's your best self-care tip? 
I’m not sure I’ve got this totally licked, to be honest. I know that my body and mind respond well to structure but I like spontaneity so fight against any kind of routine. I’m also at my most creative late at night so keep quite strange hours.
My self-care philosophy basically boils down to ‘baths are nice, boundaries are better.’ One thing I’m good about is protecting time to spend by myself because I know that’s one of the best ways for me to recharge – more extroverted people might find the opposite works for them. I also go to therapy because I think way too much and need to decant some of those thoughts from my head or I’d never get anything done.

Every author advises others to not read reviews. But...do you? And do they have any impact on your mental health and/or creative work? 
Ha! I do all the things people tell authors not to do – I edit as I go along, I get caught up in ridiculous twitter chats, and, yep, I read reviews. I’ve even been known to google myself around publication time. Shameful behaviour.
All the press reviews have been positive beyond my wildest expectations so far and I’ve read some very thoughtful reviews from bloggers. I felt a bit tossed around by reviews at first, especially my first 1 star goodreads review (a rite of passage for any author) but now I just think I’ve had a whole book to have my say so I’m not going to begrudge anyone a few hundred words to have theirs.
I tend to steer clear of Goodreads and places like that because those reviews are for readers not authors. If I’m feeling resilient I sometimes sneak a peek but always on my laptop rather than my phone because it creates some distance.

Have your readers taught you anything? 
With people’s reactions to my first book The Taste of Blue Light, it’s been fascinating to see people’s different preferences for foreshadowing and twists. It’s also shown me that some people are capable of the most incredible empathy (and others not so much!). I’m excited to see what I learn from reactions to 'Colour Me In'.
And whenever I get a message from someone telling me how much something I’ve written means to them I’m always impressed by their vulnerability and honesty. 

Apart from art and brains, what else are you into at the moment?
Oh gawd, I’m interested in almost everything, which means my attention is constantly spraying all over the place. I love theatre and science especially.
I was also thinking the other day that I’ve been learning a lot from younger women recently – particularly about body positivity, body confidence, feminism and activism – so I’m trying to tune into those voices and listen. 

Can you share any recommendations for books, films, blogs etc. that tie in with your creative work or give you inspo? 
I loved Akemi Dawn Bowman’s ‘Starfish’, which is a YA story about mental health, cultural identity and art. I also adored Maggy Van Eijk’s ‘Remember This When You’re Sad’ and Daisy Buchanan’s ‘How to Be a Grown Up’ – very different books in some ways but both are brave, funny, generous memoirs.
I’m watching a lot of stand-up comedy which I’m pretty new to. I’m into analysing how the jokes work and how they fit within the structure of the whole piece. I’ve watched Bo Burnham’s brilliant ‘Make Happy’ special about 20 times in the last fortnight. It’s very on-brand for me to get completely obsessed with trying to figure out what makes something so effective.
I’m also a sucker for any podcast or behind the scenes content about how creative things get made – the new A24 film podcast is so listenable. 

Random Q here: I love the cover art on your two novels (proofs and final copies). How much input do you have when that’s being done by the publisher? And is there anything you’d want to do, appearance-wise, for your future books? 
Oh, thank you! One of the most exciting things about writing is seeing how it’s interpreted visually and I love what the art director and designer came up with. I didn’t have much input but the Colour Me In hardback cover is actually very close to the aesthetic I put together when I started the project.
If I imagine a cover for the novel I’m working on at the moment, I see a simple digital illustration or maybe a line drawing but I’m open-minded and happy to leave it to the experts.

Finally...what’s next for you?

I’m working on a third novel, which isn’t YA, and starting to simmer the fourth in the back of my brain somewhere. I’m writing a one-woman play which I’d love to perform and starting a MSc in Creative Arts & Mental Health next month. I’m also hoping to go back to Japan where I went to research Colour Me In and maybe travel over to Korea. More immediately, I’ll probably watch Make Happy again and eat some hummus.

Thanks for having me, Grace! 

You can get this brilliant book on A Great Read for just £12! (aff link)


posts you've really liked.