How, What, Where and When? - Lisa Williamson, on 'Paper Avalanche'.

I can’t help but feel like the marvellous Lisa Williamson was an intro to the wonderful YA community for me. After seeing her at an event in the magnificent Piccadilly (my first; the New Day New Normal tour with the absolute babe that is Louise O’Neill, and the YA legend David Levithan) we met up for a coffee, and I realised that authors are the best kind of humans – they’re up there with neurosurgeons, parents, and baristas. 

After this I soon found out more about book blogging; the influence it can have on new readers, the value it has to publishers and how much an author will appreciate even the littlest positive review. We’re good humans too, we bloggers. 

I knew I’d love Lisa’s latest novel, because I’ve loved both of her previous books (and her contributions to the brilliant ‘Floored’, obvs) and I find her writing style so beautifully readable. I get fully absorbed immediately, and come to care about her characters significantly more than most I encounter in other novels. 

Now, you can find a brief review of 'Paper Avalanche' in THIS POST HERE, but in this one I'm so excited to have a little inside scoop to share with you readers... 

Hey, lovely Lisa! Thank you so much for being part of my new series. Let's kick this off with a big one... 

How did you create the gentle, loveable character of Ro? And the enormous, eccentric character of Bonnie?  

I'm so pleased you like Ro! She's a sweetheart who is dealing with A LOT so I'm delighted so many readers have warmed to her. I actually found her quite hard to write. Of all of the characters I've ever written, she's probably the closest to me as a teenager and weirdly, that made her tricky to get onto the page. She's quite closed off so it was often difficult to get inside her head. It took me a while to work out how to let her express her emotions to the reader, at the same time as letting her maintain her aloofness around the other characters, particularly her peers at school. 
   She softens a lot over the course of the book. In the early chapters, she is very short with anyone who tries to get close to her, but Tanvi (the new girl at school) is very persistent and Ro is forced to gradually let her guard down, at times without even realising it. Like Ro, I sang as a teenager. I wasn't anywhere near as good as Ro but finding my (singing) voice really helped me develop my confidence at a time when I was struggling to figure out who I was. A lot of the singing scenes felt very emotional to write for this reason. 

   Ro and Bonnie are opposites in many ways. I knew from the beginning that I didn't want Bonnie to fit the stereotypical idea of what a hoarder might look like. She's very glamorous and capable of immense charm, which in a way makes her all the more infuriating. Through my research, I discovered there is no such thing as a typical hoarder in terms of personality traits. One thing they do tend to share is the experience of trauma or abuse, and this is key to Bonnie's character. I wrote various versions of her backstory although, in the end, a very pared down version appears in the book. She is a woman of contradictions. E.g. on the one hand, she is very gregarious, but on the other, she is a loner; she throws tantrums one minute, then clams up the next etc. 
   Accordingly, Ro's relationship with her is similarly conflicted. I think it's fair to say that a lot of Ro's personality is a direct response to Bonnie. Her maturity and standoffishness are almost certainly traits she's had to develop in order to protect herself and her mother. In many ways, their mother/daughter relationship is totally reversed, something Ro regularly acknowledges over the course of the book.  

What was the biggest challenge in writing this novel? (And the best bit!?) 

I'm not going to lie, this novel was a bit of a slog! I got the initial idea for it way back in 2014 but that was all it was – an idea. I had no plot, just a situation (a teenage girl living with her hoarder mother) and a couple of characters. I spent a lot of time trying things out plot-wise. At one point, the story revolved around a TV crew descending on the house to film a documentary.  In another draft, Ro had a little brother, and a lot of her motivation was around protecting him. It took me a long time to figure out what the story was actually about (in fact I stopped writing it for a year and wrote my second novel ALL ABOUT MIA instead!). In the end, I stripped things right back and focussed on a few key relationships. I don't regret any of the wrong turns though, even though scrapping thousands of words at once felt painful at the time. It all helped me get to know and understand Ro and Bonnie and their all-important dynamic. 

The ending of this story was left quite open (and I loved that). Where do you see Ro in a year’s time? Or in the distant future? 

I was very mindful of not tying things up in a neat little bow. Hoarding is a disorder. It's not something that can be fixed with a clean-up and a couple of therapy sessions, and it was important to me to emphasise that Bonnie is at the very beginning of her recovery when the book ends. At the same time, I wanted to create a sense of hope, and reassure the reader that things had changed and would continue to change. 

   A year on, I like to think that Bonnie is still in therapy and the house is still habitable. I don't imagine things are perfect (far from it) but Ro and Bonnie's relationship is light years from where it was at the beginning of the book, where they could barely interact without one of them flying off the handle. I think they're probably both still adjusting to the new dynamic and almost learning to re-inhabit their roles and mother and daughter, and this will bring with it fresh challenges. I am hopeful on their behalf though. In terms of Ro's experience separate to Bonnie and the home, I like to think she's thriving. With everything out in the open, and Tanvi on her side, I suspect she'll be unstoppable! 

When did you feel this book was officially ‘done’? And how did it feel when it was released to your readers!? 

When my editor told me so! I'm not someone who had to hold the finished copy in my hand to consider it done. For me, the real hard work is over before we even hit the copy-editing stage (I really like copy edits). By this point, the story has been told and we're just changing small details to make it as good as it can possibly be, a process I find really satisfying. 
   Release day (3rd Jan) was actually very quiet which was rather nice and relaxed. The main emotional I experienced was relief! This book has been in my head for quite a while and it felt really good to finally release it out into the world. It's helped that the response has been so kind. I like to think it's a warmhearted story so I've been delighted with the equally warmhearted response.  

   Thanks again for having me on your blog! 

Lisa, thank you so much for answering my HWWW questions. You’re a superstar!

You can buy 'Paper Avalanche' (and Lisa's other novels) on The Book Depository, or order it in at The Big Green Bookshop.

(Obvs it's also available from those slightly bigger sellers, but let's support these guys, shall we?)

P.S., How is everyone feeling about this new interview format? Do we like it? I’m finding it so interesting having to fit my questions into certain shapes, tbh. And is there anyone you can think of for me to interview next? Let me know in comments below, or via tweet


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