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Interview With Laura Barnett

A photograph of Kathryn Williams and Laura Barnett

I’m delighted to welcome Laura Barnett to the blog today (she’s the one on the right – on the left is Kathryn Williams who Laura tells us about). Laura is the author of The Versions Of Us which I reviewed a few years ago – even if it really doesn’t feel that long ago! – and her latest novel is out this month. She’ll be at the Balham Literary Festival this Friday and more details are at the end of this post.

How did the move from journalist to novelist occur?

Slowly! Writing novels was always my primary ambition from about the age of five, and I wrote novellas and short stories throughout my teens. But after graduating from university, I didn’t feel ready to sit down and write that big first novel – I felt like I needed to get out and experience life a bit first. So I trained as a journalist, and spent the next few years working hard on staff at the Telegraph and the Guardian. I was still writing in my spare time, but that time was in short supply – until, in my late twenties, I took the opportunity to go freelance and dedicate myself more fully to writing fiction. It still took several years – and a lot of rejection – before I actually saw my first novel published, and could finally allow fiction to take precedence.

The ‘versions’ in The Versions of Us aren’t all that dissimilar to each other, there are no extreme differences, and each is a very regular life. Had you considered bigger differences? (I thought the lives as they were worked well.)

The Versions Of Us book cover

Yes, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to distinguish the three versions, but I knew I didn’t want them to be too different – to see Eva, say, become a zoo-keeper in Atlanta in one version, and a librarian in Burnley in another. I wanted the novel to consider the smaller permutations of our decisions: the ways in which life draws us down one path over another, changing certain aspects of our circumstances, relationships and personalities, while keeping others the same.

Do you have any ‘what if…’ moments of your own you could share with us?

Like everyone, I have many! Perhaps the most significant is the fact that I was very nearly not born at all… My mum had a fiancé when she was twenty-one who decided to move to America. She broke off the engagement as she couldn’t see a future for herself there; had she not done so, I’d never have existed. We can probably all look back and imagine versions of our parents’ lives in which we would not have figured. I find the thought both disconcerting and intriguing.

Where did the idea for Greatest Hits come from and can you tell us about the decision to bring real music into it?

Greatest Hits book cover

Of course. As so often with a novel, or any creative project, it was the coming together of several different ideas. After The Versions of Us, I knew I wanted my next book to be what we might call a ‘long-view novel’, centred on a character in later life, looking back over her experiences and trying to make sense of them. And I also knew that I wanted to somehow expand the reading experience beyond the page – to work with another artist, from another medium, to forge something really new and original.

From there, it was a short step to deciding that the character at the centre of this new book would be a musician – and that therefore the best way to expand the reading experience would be to work with a real-life singer-songwriter to bring the character’s songs to life.

Can you see yourself working with other medium in future?

Yes, absolutely – I’m really open to anything, and I’ve hugely enjoyed the process of collaborating with Kathryn Williams, not least because novel writing is usually a pretty lonely process! I’m very interested in the visual arts, and I have several ideas about combining fiction with photography and painting. I’m also really excited about the possibilities offered by the recent explosion of interest in podcasts and audiobooks. In fact, Kathryn and I are planning to launch our own podcast soon, so watch this space…

My thanks to Laura, and to Ashton of FMCM.

Laura Barnett is the author of Greatest Hits (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) and will be speaking at Balham Literary Festival on Friday 9th June. If you’re in London in two days time and would like a literary start to your weekend, I would say it’ll be a good evening, and tickets are still available. The festival as a whole runs from tomorrow until Sunday and it’s been created by Dulwich Books.


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