Hey, look at me being all official and stuff! Today I have the uncharacteristic coup of conducting an interview with one of my favourite new writers, who also happens to be a brilliant human being - the lovely Lotte Worth, author of The Perfect Suicide.
I met Lotte because we share an agent (the awesome Caroline Hardman of Hardman & Swainson), and it's lovely to have a friend to talk to about writing (as well as cats and stuff). I seriously adore Lotte's book, and I love grilling my friends - so the result is below.
If you would like to find out more or read The Perfect Suicide (which I highly recommend that you do), all the details are over at Lotte's website here.
In the book, Emma is a music student – what music (if any) influenced you as you were writing? Do you have specific playlists, or listen to music at all, while you are writing?
I don’t like to listen to music when I’m writing particularly, as if there are lyrics involved, I end up singing along, which doesn’t really help get the words out… So I would usually listen to the music mentioned in various chapters as I wrote it – but just before or after.
I wanted to make Emma a music student as there is so much classical music I love and admire and I wanted to somehow use this to add depth and texture to the writing, and to help show the world through Emma’s eyes. For example, when she plays the third movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight, it’s the first time she really loses it, and it’s the perfect piece for someone who’s too pathetic to lose her temper in real life. I remember playing it a lot as an angsty teenager!
I do have this really embarrassing ritual whereby at the end of every significant chapter/scene/the whole ruddy book, I like to listen to Tchaikovsky’s Apotheosis from Sleeping Beauty. Which is the most triumphant piece of music ever written and makes you feel like you’ve achieved true greatness. It’s like a nice pat on the back after hours of toil at the keyboard. I highly recommend it.
Weirdly, we’ve both written about going to small schools. What are your thoughts on the subject – as, whether good or bad, it seems to produce a slightly different experience to that of most people?
I personally loved my school. But it did mean I grew up really sheltered and a bit naïve – so university was such a huge shock to me. Emma isn’t that similar to me, but like her, I went to university in Leeds and I felt massively overwhelmed by the size of the place, and my classes in particular. So I did feel a bit out of depth with my peers, which was a shame. But at the same time, I still have some really great friends from school, and I know my education was second-to-none, because of the close care and attention we received.
I think if anything it would have been nice to have gone to a mixed sixth form, as boys really were an alien race to me at school, and I still don’t have many male friends. I don’t have any brothers and I’m much more comfortable around women. That’s probably the only thing I’d change if I could.
I was struck when reading the book that it seemed, in some ways, a direct argument against the old saying about school/uni days being the best of your life – what are your thoughts on this?
This is definitely something I wanted to get across. In my second year at university I hit a real low – I was in a pretty unhealthy relationship and I didn’t really know anyone on my course (I changed courses midway through my degree), and although my flatmates were good friends, they were all a lot more outgoing and adventurous than me. I felt very isolated, and considered dropping out of university altogether. Strangely though I think this was all down to a lack of confidence at the time. I now think if I went to university I’d love it! So I guess I was just a bit shy and socially awkward, and I felt a long way from home. Perhaps this is linked in to the fact I went to such a small school and had such a close-knit group of friends before I went to Leeds. I don’t know. It was a learning experience and I feel tougher for it, but I definitely don’t think it’s always ‘the best time of your life’ and it’s a bit short-sighted of people to market it that way.
Alongside the religious theme in the novel, there is the theme of fanaticism itself. Do you agree that, if not religion, some characters would become obsessive about something/anything else instead?
Oh definitely. I think most people can get pretty obsessive about something, if they want to… whether it’s a certain type of music, the way they dress, drugs, alcohol, whatever… Religion – well devout Christianity - is an interesting one though, because it’s so ‘untrendy’. And yet, it’s the oldest type of obsession out there. And it makes you bigoted and uncompromising and rigid, morally. Which is a pretty dangerous combination. Dangerous yet IMO, interesting for fiction!
In one scene, when talking to Joe, Emma reflects that she finds herself acting like ‘this confident, sarcastic person who was almost like my old self’. Even before the book begins, Emma has been through a lot – do you think this kind of trauma can change people’s characters irreparably?
I think Emma is intrinsically quite pathetic (sorry Emma). I understand and sympathise with her, but she’s got quite a ‘woe is me’ attitude going on, which I think definitely stems from her experience with her father. She needs therapy, man! I think she feels totally alone and like the one person she most looked up to has let her down in two very serious ways – and it’s completely shaken her faith and foundation in everything.
But I hope that by the end of the book, she emerges much tougher than before. Without wanting to sound like Oprah, I really do believe that overcoming difficulties in life is the key to building your inner strength. The thing is, up until she was about 14 – or whenever her father lost all his money – she had this charmed life. And then suddenly she has to wise up and realize that life’s a bitch and then you die. But afterwards, she’s better for it. She’s tough and she knows who she is and what she wants. So hopefully she’s changed irreparably, but for the better. I think I like the Emma at the end of the book much more than Emma at the beginning.
Both Pete and Lucy refer to their home town as ‘like nowhere else on earth’. I loved the ambiguity of this, which became slightly sinister. Where in your world is ‘like nowhere else on earth’?
Ahhh. Well, Cresswell is like nowhere else on earth. But for me, there’s one place that springs to mind: Dartmouth in Devon. My parents used to have a little holiday cottage in Dartmouth, so I was lucky to go there quite a bit. They’ve sold it now but I still love it there – it’s a proper English holiday town, with proper English ice cream and fudge and lots of lovely teashops. And the view from the other side of the river Dart and across the estuary is just magnificent. It takes my breath away – I do genuinely believe the UK has the most beautiful landscapes on earth.
A standard question, but I’m always interested: can you please tell me a little bit about your usual writing routine?
I wish I had a writing routine. I’m ashamed to say I don’t though. I’ve always had quite busy day jobs, so writing has had to be shoehorned around it, and I’m terrible at sticking to a routine. I tend to work in fits and starts, as and when I feel motivated and enthused. Consequently it takes me on average two years to write a book… *weeps *
Did you really set out to write something so unique, or did the story just develop on its own?
No, I really didn’t think about it at all when I sat down to write. It was the first book I ever finished, and I think when you are so new to writing, you just go with it, unencumbered. I’ve never had any writing training. When I wrote this I didn’t have an agent, I didn’t have a clue about the publishing industry’s obsession with what genre is ‘in’ at the moment, I didn’t know what I was doing really – so it was quite liberating, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I just knew I wanted to talk about university, and being lonely there, and also about religion. And somehow The Perfect Suicide was the result. I am proud of it now though, for being so original. There’s a lot about it I’m not proud of, but the fact it’s an unusual story is probably the one thing that pleases me!
What are your favourite books and writers? Any that were a direct influence on The Perfect Suicide?
I love psychological thrillers; it’s definitely my favourite genre. Anything page-turny, that keeps you guessing about people’s motivations is My Kind of Book. But Daphne du Maurier is one of my absolute writer heroines, and Rebecca was definitely an influence – I feel like everything I ever write is terribly derivative of it. Like a really poor imitation! I first read it when I was around 13, and I have probably read it at least a dozen times since. It’s a masterpiece.
I also think Graham Greene’s characters’ ambivalence towards religion has had some influence on me; I find the way he explores feelings about it throughout his books very interesting. It’s usually quite subtle but it’s always thought-provoking. If in some small way I’ve managed to emulate that ability to make people think about religion, and a religious person’s belief that they have a right to try to influence another, then I’ll die proud.
I’m particularly interested because I know you have also studied screenwriting – do you have any specific ideas (casting/setting/director/influences) for a dream adaptation of The Perfect Suicide?
It would DEFINITELY have to be set in Leeds and Cresswell. The two places are so intrinsic to the story, for me at least. I always weirdly begin writing with a ‘place’ in mind, rather than a character or a story particularly. Places are so evocative for me.
I’ve actually never thought about who would play my various characters. Is that weird? Eeek… I’m also super rubbish at remembering actor’s names and faces. I’d have Carey Mulligan for Emma, I think, as I reckon she could pull her off pretty well. Lucy is harder… Pete… Pete would be someone like Jesse Eisenberg. Maybe not him. I don’t know. Someone slightly nerdy but with a strong sense of prepossession.
And please tell me who would play Joe, because I love him!
Wow, this is so hard! I love Joe too. He’d be someone like Ryan Gosling I think. Who’s the British equivalent?! Babyfaced but with a cheeky glint in his eye – that’s how I picture Joe.
What future projects do you have planned?
I finished a big mess of a book last year, which I’m currently editing. It’s about a 30-year-old widow who starts receiving love letters addressed to her dead husband, from someone who very definitely thinks he’s still alive… It’s the most complicated book I’ve ever written, very firmly in the ‘thriller’ genre – much more so than The Perfect Suicide. But because it’s so complicated it also has quite a few plot issues, so I’m trying to resolve them at the moment!
There are always other ideas bubbling away in the corners of my messy mind too, but I just need more hours in the day to get them out on paper.
Finally, just to keep it dark and in keeping with the book’s title, what would you do on your perfect last day on earth?
Oh that’s easy! I’d be in Dartmouth, staying in my parents’ old cottage. I’d wake late, trundle down to the bakers for fresh croissants, then eat them with heaps of strawberry jam in the garden. Then I’d take a wander down to the harbour and look in all my favourite shops, before going back to the garden to read all afternoon. And I’d finish up watching the sun set while eating a massive fillet steak and chips.