Authorgraph No.246

Alongside rendering invisible lives visible, Lisa’s characters and their authentically-portrayed lives and predicaments are remarkably relatable - her novels explore very specific situations while radiating universal resonance. Perhaps enhanced by skills honed during her acting career, Lisa’s work is also outstanding in its capacity to get under her characters’ skins, and the way their stories exude and stimulate empathy. She observes that ‘there’s a few actors turned novelists and I do think it’s a transition that works very well. For me it’s that experience of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.’

‘The best feedback I could get is enjoyment. Entertainment comes first.’

Together with empathy and authenticity, Lisa’s novels are

Lisa Williamson interviewed by Joanne Owen

‘Stories that make you feel seen’ – that’s how award-winning YA author Lisa Williamson describes the ethos that underpins her novels. ‘It’s something I instinctively do,’ she explains, and this instinct is brilliantly borne out by all her work, from Leo and David’s transgenderism in her 2016 debut The Art of Being Normal, to Jojo’s struggles with the tangled aftermath of becoming a teenage mum in the recently published First Day of My Life.

characterised by their capacity to entertain, and we’re talking genuine splutter-out-loud hilarity here, along with plenty of heart- pumping, gasp-inducing ‘don’t do-it!’ and ‘did that just happen?’ moments. Lisa’s fearless tackling of big subjects − among them gender identity, dysfunctional parents and teenage pregnancy − is resoundingly engaging. While she wants readers to ‘feel that they’re seen,’ it’s always ‘entertainment first. I want young people feel that the stories are authentic and not patronising’. Above all, she wants her readers to ‘want to read, and not feel that it’s a chore.’

Perhaps this harks back to Lisa’s childhood experience of reading. ‘I didn’t grow up with a lot of books in the house, and my parents aren’t readers,’ she shares, ‘but my mum always took me to the library, so I always had the maximum books out on my library card. I wasn’t a sophisticated reader − I read popular, fun books. I always read for entertainment.’

After writing ‘a bit of a rom-com about an out of work actor’ Lisa realised ‘that the thing I should be writing about was what I was doing every single day − communicating with young people and their families’ (she worked for the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock Centre). Desperate to finish the novel she’d started on a course run by the Curtis Brown agency, Lisa discovered the Golden Egg Academy and here met her future editor Bella Pearson (now of Guppy Books, then of David Fickling Books), who, says, ‘waved her magic wand and unlocked the rest of my book’.

Alongside voice and instinct, in- depth research plays a big part in Lisa’s writing. ‘I like to feel that I know what I’m talking about’, she explains, though in the case of The Art of Being Normal, ‘I’d done research by osmosis because of my job. I’d been researching for two years without even knowing it, and I wrote that book quite instinctively.’

While she finds research really enriching, Lisa’s favourite scenes to write are those that have big emotions – ‘I find them quite easy to get on the page initially’ − and her approach to writing isn’t driven by detailed planning. ‘I normally start with a character

and a set-up and that’s it. I often start writing and see what happens.’

Interestingly Lisa’s latest novel, First Day of My Life is ‘the book I’ve done the least research for’. This poignant page-turner about friendship, betrayal and surviving secrets follows Jojo, a teenage mother who’s driven to kidnap her own baby. Though gripping and moving, Lisa explains that ‘its genesis is a bit silly. I was away doing

10 Books for Keeps No.246 January 2021

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