A Conversation with Louise Beech

Louise Beech remembers sitting in her father’s cross-legged lap while he tried to show her his guitar’s chords. He’s a musician. Her small fingers stumbled and gave up. She was three. His music sheets fascinated her – such strange language that translated into music. Her mother teaches languages, French and English, so her fluency with words fired Louise’s interest. She knew from being small that she wanted to write, to create, to make magic.

Louise loves all forms of writing. Her short stories have won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting twice for the Bridport Prize and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Her first play, Afloat, was performed at Hull Truck Theatre in 2012. She also wrote a ten-year newspaper column for the Hull Daily Mail about being a parent, garnering love/hate criticism. She is inspired by life, history, survival and love, and always has a story in her head. Her debut novel, How to be Brave, came from truth – when Louise’s daughter got Type 1 Diabetes she helped her cope by sharing her grandad’s real life sea survival story. It was a Guardian Readers’ pick for 2015.

Louise’s second novel, The Mountain in my Shoe, was inspired by her time working with children in the care system. It was longlisted for the Guardian Not The Booker Prize. Maria in the Moon was released in 2017, and was a Must Read in Prima, Red, and the Sunday Mirror, as well as being widely reviewed by the press. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was released in 2018. It was a Love Reading Star Book, longlisted for the Polari Prize 2019, and shortlisted for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year 2019. Her fifth novel, Call Me Star Girl, was released in April 2019, a psychological thriller. It won Best magazine’s Book of the year and longlisted for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize. I Am Dust came out during the lockdown of 2020 and was a Crime Monthly magazine pick. Louise also wrote her memoir, Daffodils, during the 2020 lockdown, and End of Story, a dystopian look at a future world where books are banned. This Is How We Are Human came out in 2021 and was a Clare Mackintosh August Book of the Month pick.

DAFFODILS: A Memoir

Louise has revealed the harrowing story in which she reflects on her life and the bridge incident that shook her family to the core.

Content warning: suicide.

“2019. Dawn. The River Humber. A misty February walk. Surprise early daffodils. A picture taken. Then forgotten. Because five hours later my world shattered.
My mother jumped off the Humber Bridge. Had those yellow flowers not delayed me, I might have been there. Could I have stopped her?
In the aftermath of this violent act, I turned to my writing, to my beloved siblings, to our only uncle. I was forced to look at events that led to this suicide attempt. At relationships wrecked by alcoholism. At chronic depression. At our care records. At my childhood. At my mother. At buried trauma never fully explored before. At myself …When I much later found the picture of those surprise daffodils, I knew it was time to write about that day. I began typing the story that inspired so many of my fictional characters, that shaped the testing things they endured.
My own story.”

The following conversation first appeared via Greenacre Writers in 2016:

Tell us of your journey as a writer

Oh wow, it has been long. Lifelong. Truly. But great, even with the lows. I’ve always written, ever since I could hold a pen. I told anyone at school who would listen that one day I was going to be a world famous novelist! I wrote little stories and full novels from being a child – I only wish I still had them. Being a very young single mum then occupied my time mostly. But when I was thirty I sent some articles I’d written on being a mum to a local newspaper editor, and he offered me my own weekly column, which I wrote for ten years. This gave me the confidence to start sending other work out. After my daughter was ill and I gave up my job to care for her, I had more time to write. To cope I wrote short story after short story, and they began winning prizes and being accepted by magazines. I took a brave leap and wrote my first full novel in 2008. It hooked me an agent, but not a deal. Book two didn’t get me one either. A third I never shared. Then I began How to be Brave in 2013 and knew (just knew) it was somehow going to be the one. My agent retired before she could send it out. I got rejection after rejection for the book. But I just carried on, and finally the wonderful Karen at Orenda Books said she loved it, and the rest, as they say, is book history.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

I see the role simply as storyteller. Telling and sharing stories, ones that might entertain, make someone feel, escape life for a while. Perhaps even heal. I know that writing some of my novels has been a very healing experience, and I hope that extends to readers. I absolutely love meeting readers. I’ve made some wonderful friends on this writing journey. So aside from the joy of the actual writing (it is and has always been pure joy to me) I love meeting new people because of it.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Oh, this is a hard one. I’ve create characters I disliked and didn’t ‘get’ at all. Quite a few of them. But one I found myself empathising with? Hmmmm. I’d have to say a young mum in The Mountain in my Shoe. She’s let most of her childiren go into care and has made some huge mistakes, but I truly felt for her, and was hoping she’d be redeemed in the end. And you’ll have to wait and see if she is…..

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

In my third novel – Maria in the Moon – there are a whole range of diverse characters since the novel is set in a flood crisis centre, where a young woman finds the courage to remember a forgotten tragedy from her childhood. The people who volunteer at this centre, and those who ring its helplines, probably represent just about every kind of person you’ll ever meet in life – rich, poor, old, young, happy, sad. It was a challenge but a joy to find their stories, their tragedies, their truth.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I’m still in love with New York. We went for a week in 2015 (for the second time) and I’m so happy on its gaudy, busy, vibrant streets. I’d love a high-up apartment there so I could write with a glorious view, and then be able to escape to the streets and people-watch for inspiration.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

One already out there? Probably The Book Thief. An all-time favourite. One of the few books where I literally forgot who I was and where I was while reading it.

What advice do you have for would be novelists?

Never give up. Read and write extensively. Never let the multiple rejections stop you if you absolutely believe in your work. Enjoy it. Love your writing, and enjoy doing it.

The Mountain in my Shoe features a care experienced character, where did the inspiration come from?

My second novel, The Mountain in my Shoe, was inspired by my time voluntering with children in the care system. Many of these kids have what is called a Lifebook, in which carers, social workers, and family members write up the young person’s childhood events so they have a history of it when they’ve left the care system. I always thought, wow, what an incredible way to tell a story. So a Lifebook is one of the narratives in The Mountain in my Shoe, alongside Bernadette who has just found the courage to leave an abusive husband, and ten-year-old Conor who is missing. I’m really excited. The book means a great deal to me.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

It has to be Katy from the What Katy Did series. I even named my daughter after her. I so admired her bravery after a childhood accident. She inspired courage in me when facing difficulties in my own young years. And bravery has become quite a theme in many of my own novels.

You can follow Louise on Twitter: @LouiseWriter

 

 

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