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East Riding-based author Louise Beech has set the literary world alight with her first two novels, “How to be Brave” and “The Mountain in My Shoe.” Here, in an interview with “Pulse” author Steve Rudd, Louise chats about the inspiration behind her books…

Hi Louise, how are things, and how has 2016 treated you so far?

Things are good… super-busy, but good. 2016 has been a mad whirlwind of wonderful things. I can’t wait to get a moment to sit down and truly appreciate the great things I’ve been doing, along with the incredible people I’ve met. Maybe in 2026?

How long have you been writing, and what do you most enjoy about it?

I’ve been writing since before time began. Seriously, it feels like that. I’ve been writing since I could physically hold a pen. Before that, I made stories up in my head. As a child, I used to fill exercise books with full-length novels, with contents, foreword and diagrams included. I told anyone who would listen that one day I was going to be a world-famous novelist. Ha! The huge dreams of small people, eh? I filled books with poetry as a teenager; God only knows how they would read now! What do I enjoy most about it? The actual writing. Many writers have said to me that they don’t actually like the writing part, but I do. It’s my safe place. My happy place. It’s where I escape to, where I go for adventure, find therapy and healing. The second thing I love is the readers that my writing attracts. I’ve had so many lovely messages, and I’ve met so many readers who say my words have touched or inspired or annoyed or lifted them in some way. It’s profound, and it makes all the work worth it. Even though I love it, it is work. Oh, it is. It’s the hardest thing to do. Which is why I think you have to love it.

Was it always your ambition / intention to become a published writer?

Yes, I’ve dreamed of it since I can remember. There has never been anything else. I briefly toyed with wanting to maybe act when I was a teenager, but I realised that I was utterly terrified of public speaking, so that was no good. I can’t do anything else but write. It’s the only thing I feel confident about, and love.

So what sequence of events led to you getting published with “Orenda”?

Oh, it was a long journey. It took me about eight years, four novels, four plays, fifty short stories, multiple newspaper columns, millions of rejections, the odd competition shortlist, and a few tears. When “How to be Brave” lost a big competition (I cried on the train all the way home from London!), I saw that Karen Sullivan was starting her own independent publishing company called “Orenda Books.” I followed her on Twitter, and cheekily asked if she would look at the novel. She did. After about ten weeks, she said, Yes. I will never forget that moment as long as I live.

“How to be Brave” was released in 2015. What is the story about, and what inspired you to write it?

In 2007, our seven-year-old daughter, Katy, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Our lives were turned upside down; life became an endless cycle of blood tests, injections, bruises, and strict food routine. When she began to refuse her life-saving injections, no amount of blackmail or begging or cajoling persuaded her to, and we had to force them on her, which was horrendous. In the end, the only thing that worked was stories. I suggested telling Katy them to distract her from the injection and blood test pain. She had always loved books, and the idea of hearing a variety of different tales every day piqued her interest. The deal was that she would do her injection in exchange for a story. As a writer, I hoped to be good at creating characters and scenes on the spot, but it was much harder than I’d anticipated. Katy soon got bored of my made-up tales. Then I had a curious dream about my grandfather, Colin Armitage, sitting on my bed, talking to me, just like I’d felt he had when I was small. He often haunted me then. I began to think about his amazing wartime sea-survival story, and I realised that it was better than any story I could ever think up. So I began to tell Katy the story each time we read her blood and did the required injection. We agreed on a short chapter with each procedure. We huddled on my bed, and – as I mimicked Grandad Colin’s voice – it turned into the lifeboat that he’d drifted on for fifty days. She was mesmerised. She barely noticed each needle or fingerprick. Months later, I realised what an incredible novel it would make. I fictionalised a mum and daughter, because Katy didn’t want to “be in my book,” but I tried to stick as closely as I could to my grandfather’s story. First of all, it was a short story (shortlisted for the Bridport Prize), and then a play. Finally, I had the courage to write the novel version. It was an intense, difficult, emotional, but rewarding experience.

It has received a huge amount of critical acclaim. It must be immensely gratifying to have received such positive feedback…

Oh, it blows my mind. It really does. I’ve had letters from people at the bedsides of loved ones who have read it aloud to comfort them as they died, from people with children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes who found strength in it, from people coping with their own ordeals who found that it helped them. That’s what it’s really all about. Touching others. Connecting. Making a bit of magic.

“The Mountain in My Shoe,” your second novel, came out earlier this year. Again, in a nutshell, what’s the story about, and what inspired you to write it?

It turns out that I accidentally wrote a psychological thriller with “The Mountain in My Shoe.” I never write with a genre in mind; I just sit down and set off, so it was quite a surprise. The book – much like my first – was inspired by something I experienced: my time spent volunteering with children in the care system, and my own time in care as a child. I learned while volunteering that some foster kids have what is called a lifebook, in which all their foster carers, adoptive parents and social workers record their childhood, so that when they reach adulthood, they have their history. It occurred to me what an incredible way this might be to tell a story, so a lifebook forms one of the narratives in the novel. I also had in my head a woman, Bernadette, who is trying to leave an abusive marriage. On the night she finally finds the courage to do so, a young fostered boy called Conor (who she has befriended as part of a voluntary organization) goes missing. So does his lifebook, and so does Bernadette’s husband, Richard. I can’t reveal much more without ruining it!

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When you’re not busy writing novels, you’re often hard at work on short stories. Do you discipline yourself differently when writing shorter pieces?

I’m really sad that I don’t have as much time to write short stories as it is indeed a form I love. I wrote dozens of them while I worked up the courage to start my first novel. I think the discipline needed is different, in that you have to give months to a novel, whereas a short story can take days or weeks. When a very strong idea comes for one, I’ve been known to write it in a few days. My ideas for short stories usually come as a whole thing, quite intensely. A novel might be inspired by a less tangible feeling: a word, a phrase, a feeling, a dream, a set of images. It then grows as I explore it.

Given the choice, do you prefer writing short stories or novels, and why?

Oooh, that’s like having to choose which child I prefer, haha! I love both. I suppose short stories were my first love, but novels are like my marriage: enduring, getting better as I go, needing more work, lifelong, and deep.

Are you working on anything new at present?

I’m editing a third novel, “Maria in the Moon,” and writing a fourth, “The Lion Tamer Who Lost.” I’ve also recently been editing the play version of “How to be Brave,” and scribbling notes for a possible fifth novel. I’m always writing something. Always.

For anybody new to writing, what advice would you give them?

Never give up. Let the many rejections fire you. I cried like a two-year-old on my bed when my first short story was harshly rejected. But that was the only time. I picked myself up and decided I just had to get better. So I did. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I read and read and read. Let the many criticisms teach you. When an agent told me that I didn’t know language, so I shouldn’t write, I knew she was wrong, and I wrote harder and longer. Never give up. That’s the absolute best advice I can give, because it is advice I’ve taken myself.

As well as being a writer, you work as an usher at Hull Truck Theatre. Furthermore, one of your plays – “Afloat” – was staged there in 2012. How does writing for the stage differ from writing for an audience that’s destined to engage with your writing in book-form?

Witnessing actors lift your words from a page and make them real – well, it’s just surreal! It’s a very different form. In novels, we can write internal thought at length. We can get inside a character’s head. On stage, it has to be shown. Dialogue is paramount. I find play-writing the hardest form. But hey, I love a challenge!

What do you think of the Arts scene in general in Hull?

I think it’s fantastic. There are so many events going on. In fact, it’s hard to get to them all, especially working evenings and weekends in a theatre. There are some beautiful poets, playwrights and artists in the area, all working away at their craft. I love “Women of Words” at Kardomah. The “Head in a Book” events at Hull Library are fantastic, too.

Finally, how can people find out more about you and your writing, and where can people pick up copies of your books?

I have my own website now. It was a scary thing to create, but I’m very proud of it. So, visit me at www.louisebeech.co.uk and read some of my work! Copies of “How to be Brave” and “The Mountain in My Shoe” can be purchased through Amazon.


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