Wednesday 24 June 2015

Q&A with Laura Barnett, Author of The Versions of Us.

Hi Laura – thanks for joining us! Please could you tell us a bit about your debut novel, The Versions of Us?

Thanks for having me! And yes of course… So The Versions of Us tells the story of the relationship between one couple, Eva and Jim, from beginning to end, in three different ways. We start with one key moment in Cambridge in 1958, and then move through the three iterations all the way up to 2014, taking in marriage, children, careers, friendships, and many other things besides.

The concept to your debut felt so inspired and I loved the Anne Tyler quote at the beginning of the book – it was the perfect set-up for the stories to come. How did the idea for The Versions of Us come to you?

Thank you so much, that’s really kind. I got so excited when I found that Anne Tyler quote; I was re-reading The Amateur Marriage while writing the first draft of The Versions of Us, and it just seemed to absolutely fit with my intentions for the book. As for the idea - it came to me quite suddenly, one morning. I woke up knowing that I wanted to write about three different versions of the same relationship, and the gossamer threads that tie us to one kind of life, rather than another. I got started pretty much right away.

How long did the process of writing those first few words to having the novel complete and ready for publication take you?

About two years. I had that idea in the spring of 2013. The first draft took about nine months; I spent the next six months or so editing, refining, seeking the critical opinion of friends and colleagues I trust. About six months after that, I signed with an agent, and then we found a publisher, and now here we are with the finished book.

The timespan of this novel is long so we get to see the main characters grow and develop and I felt like I knew more about them than I do some people I know personally! Did you have a favourite character to write?

Ah, it’s interesting you say that - that’s definitely true for me, too! I probably know Eva and Jim better than I know myself. Aside from the two of them, both of whom I love equally - I had to, in order to write from each of their points of view - I particularly enjoyed writing about Eva’s mother, Miriam Edelstein. I suspect that might be because her family history is inspired, in part, by that of my own late stepgrandmother, Anita Bild - who, like Miriam, made the journey from Vienna to London as a Jewish immigrant in the 1930s.

I loved how, though we’re taken through three separate ways Eva’s life could have gone, she always remains the same person. Life changes around her but her character and personality realistically don’t alter that much. Was her character profile planned out a lot before writing the book?

Thank you - I’m so glad you enjoyed that aspect of the book, as that was very much what I wanted for both Eva and Jim from the beginning. Before sitting down to write, I spent a good while thinking about each of them, and wrote character sketches describing their backgrounds, their personalities, their ambitions. But they did change as I wrote. The best moments, I find, come when your characters surprise you - and both Eva and Jim did that to me a lot. I was sometimes very frustrated with things they did, and the bad choices they made!

The Versions of Us has been optioned for a TV adaptation by Trademark Films. How excited were you to hear that?

Very excited indeed! I’ve seen a lot of the adaptations they’ve done for TV and film - Parade’s End, I Capture The Castle, My Week with Marilyn - and I couldn’t be more thrilled about working with them.

The Versions of Us is the ultimate thought-provoking novel – everybody has that what if moment in life. Could you share yours?

Ah, well, thank you, that is very kind of you to say! So, my own what if moment… Well, I met my husband Andy at a party at the Edinburgh festival in the summer of 2008 - so I often wonder, what if I hadn’t gone? Might we still have met at some other time, in some other place? And if so, how might things have turned out between us?

What has been the highlight of your writing journey so far?

First seeing a finished copy of The Versions of Us. All my life, I’d wanted to publish a novel - but to actually see it there, and hold the book in my hands as a physical object, was more exciting than I’d ever really been able to imagine.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the moment?

Absolutely. My next novel, Greatest Hits, is set in the world of music. It’s about a female singer-songwriter in her sixties, reflecting on her life, her songs, and her career, and the difficulty of being a successful artist, wife and mother.

What have been some of your favourite recent reads?

Hmm, so many! I loved Patrick Gale’s A Place Called Winter - it’s a beautifully evocative tale about an unlikely pioneer settler in nineteenth-century Canada. And I recently read The Easter Parade by Richard Yates, and was absolutely blown away - I’ve rarely read anything more insightful and senstitive about what it is to be a woman, particularly in the restrictive atmosphere of mid-century America. The fact it was written by a man makes the book even more remarkable.

If you woke up one day, Freaky Friday style, and found yourself living the life of one other author – who would you want that author to be and why?

Ooh, what a brilliant question! Anne Tyler, for sure. Just imagine having written all those phenomenal novels. I could get up in the morning in Baltimore, make myself a coffee, and start planning what to write next. That way, I wouldn't have to wait and see.


Buy your copy of The Versions of Us on Amazon here or add it to your Goodreads TBR

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