To mark the launch of Claire Hennessy’s Like Other Girls, I thought I would do something a little different and so here we are.
I’m very excited for everyone to have a read of this interview that Claire Hennessy agreed to do for the blog! She gives a great insight into how she writes, researches and how many cups of tea she hopes to get a day.
The launch of Like Other Girls is on May 25th in Eason O’Connell St. You can read my review of this brilliant YA book here.
Enjoy, and thanks to Claire for the interview!
1) Like Other Girls is your second YA novel in a year. How long do you usually take to write a book, from the plotting stages to the finished article?
‘Second in a year’ sounds far more productive than ‘one a year’, which is what it really is. In terms of how long it takes – it really depends, and the process is different depending on whether it’s under contract or not. ‘Nothing Tastes As Good’ took about three years from idea/note-making (much more haphazard than doing a proper outline) to final draft, but it wasn’t the only project I was working on. With ‘Like Other Girls’ my editor wanted a clear synopsis quite early on, and there was back-and-forth about that before I started properly writing – so the timeline was a little shorter, closer to eighteen months, but the direction was a bit clearer. I’d love to be super-productive and write a couple of books a year. Maybe that will happen around the same time as I start loving things like kale smoothies.
2) Give us an insight into the character of Lauren, the main character in Like Other Girls. What makes her tick? What about her story made you want to write such a character?
She’s angry and sad and a bit snarky, which are the kinds of characters I like. Good to have a bit of humour alongside all the despair. I don’t think we see enough ‘difficult girls’ in YA fiction, but they’re the characters I’m drawn to.
3) What kind of research did you have to do for Like Other Girls?
I’m a fan of ‘passive research’, which is to say that I tend to write about things I’ve already read or learned something about (and then top up with extra reading if I know it’s definitely something I’m going to touch on in the book – whether that’s newspaper articles, blog posts, memoirs, essay collections, etc), rather than go out excitedly and learn lots about something I had no idea about. I also borrowed liberally from my own secondary school experiences, which is sometimes not wise but in this case I think was, because it was to convey the strangeness of the all-girls’ Catholic school. The meditation scenario in the first chapter is something so many early readers said ‘we had to do that too!’ about.
4) Was there one character that surprised you with where their arc was going as you wrote this book?
Not really, or else I don’t remember! There are always a few surprises when you’re writing, but that’s part of the fun of it. I don’t think particularly analytically when I’m writing, more so when I’m editing.
5) You’ve touched on a lot of issues in writing this book, including the role of social media. What are your thoughts on the role of social media in contemporary YA? Is it impossible to ignore it now?
It’s tricky to completely ignore it, because it is so pervasive – it’s part of all our lives, not just teenagers’. Even if you’re not on certain networks, you’re still aware of them – and what’s happening there gets reported in the ‘real’ media (I am worn out, as I know many of us are, by seeing the phrase ‘President Trump tweeted last night…’). But many writers don’t want to date the work too much, and that can happen if you’re referencing particular sites or apps (ah, Bebo, Myspace, Friendster). I try to include it without getting overly-specific – like saying there’s a ‘group message’ but not noting which app it’s in. It’d be weird to pretend that these teenagers are still living in an era where you’d ring someone’s landline.
6) How do you prepare for writing parts that you know are going to be difficult to write? Like Other Girls has particularly heartbreaking scenes.
Prepare! I should prepare, that’s a great idea. Fewer tears on the keyboard. I just throw myself at those scenes, really. But scenes that are emotionally or psychologically difficult aren’t necessarily the ones that are difficult craft-wise. They’re often the ones that pour out of you (and just leave you in a bit of a state).
7) Tell us something about your writing routines. I always find people’s routines fascinating…
Me too! I love reading about people’s writing routines. Now, my own. I don’t have one. I’d love to. I would love to wake early and be at one with the universe and hit word count x by lunch time and then devote myself to admin tasks or more being-at-one-with-the-universe. But my schedule is unpredictable on account of being a freelancer with multiple bits-and-pieces to do, so some days I might be working in an office all day with an editor hat on and others I’ll be doing admin and finance stuff for a creative writing school and others I’ll be delivering workshops or doing manuscript critiques. And some days it’ll be a combination of lots of different things.
When I am writing – and that’s not every day, though I try to write every weekday when I’m in first-draft mode – it depends on the stage a project is at. First draft is about getting words down, setting achievable targets (i.e. constantly checking the word count), and powering through – ideally that’s a ‘first thing in the morning then move onto everything else’ task. Ideally. Later drafts involve more staring at the pages and thinking more analytically about it all, so if possible I try to block off bigger chunks of time for that (e.g. I cut down on the number of workshops I was teaching for a couple of months).
8) You had your first books published when you were very young – if you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Oh god, I’ve no idea. I’d probably scare the poor creature. She thought adulthood (the wisdom, the mortgage, etc) hit at 22. The fool, the fool!
9) How many writing projects do you have on the go at any one time?
Projects that I’m seriously focusing on, usually just one, maybe two. There’s loads of things I want to write and have notes for but in terms of getting stuff finished, that focus is needed.
10) Do you hide any ‘easter eggs’ in your writing that only some people will find?
Not deliberately, but there are sometimes details that people feel are shoutouts or secret references. They’re not!
11) What are your thoughts on naming characters?
Characters definitely need names. I approve of naming them. I use the very unscientific process of ‘names I like’ combined with ‘ooh what’s a name I haven’t used yet’ and most crucially ‘what’s not a name of a close friend’.
12) What’s next for you after the release of Like Other Girls?
Another book. I hope!
Silly rapid-fire round…
1) Tea – how many cups a day?
2) Favourite Star Trek character?
This is impossible! Kira Nerys from DS9. But I love them all. Wait, Garak from DS9. Oh but also Damar (the Cardassians are great, aren’t they?)… okay, this is too hard. Odo. I also love Odo. I may need to step away from this question before I just start listing all the characters.
3) Favourite literary journal (not your own!)
Currently really loving issue #8 of Gorse, but I am also very fond of The Stinging Fly and The Penny Dreadful.
4) Favourite musical?
Wicked! (I thought I’d be decisive for a change.)
5) Best Malory Towers character?
Darrell Rivers, hands down.
6) Biggest grammar/spelling gripe?
You’re/your or it’s/its. But jaysus, life is short, let’s worry about more important things.
You can follow what Claire is up to at clairehennessy.com and @chennessybooks