Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Author Interview: Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison! (Lobsters)

Sam and Hannah only have the holidays to find 'The One'. Their lobster. But instead of being epic, their summer is looking awkward. They must navigate social misunderstandings, the plotting of well-meaning friends, and their own fears of being virgins for ever to find happiness. But fate is at work to bring them together. And in the end, it all boils down to love.

Lobsters is published by Chicken House this Thursday the 5th June in the UK, and it's one of my favourite YA contemporaries of the year. It's funny, honest and true-to-life: everything I want from this kind of book!

I'm excited to have both Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison here for a Q and A today, and I hope their excellent answers will make you guys want to read the book. Thanks to both these lovely authors for their time!


Wondrous Reads: Hey guys! So how did you end up writing a book together?

Tom Ellen: I’ve known Lucy since I was 16 – we were at school together for Sixth Form – and we went out from about the ages of 17 to 19. After we split up, we stayed friends, and then – a couple of years ago – we had a bash at writing some stuff together. We got about ¼ way through a fairly dreadful sitcom script (which was basically a rip-off of ‘Spaced’), and then Lucy suggested the idea of a dual narrative book. It seemed fun, so we gave it a go, and that’s how ‘Lobsters’ happened.

Lucy Ivison: I was working in a school where I was teaching a lot of seventeen /eighteen year olds. There lives always seemed to filled with drama. Sometimes hilarious, with lots of shrieking and hugging it out, but also a lot of confusion, and tears and set-backs. I think that time of your life is really intense and I began to really want to write a book about it. I knew I wanted it to have a boy’s voice and I knew Tom would do that amazingly.

WR: I've always wondered how a co-authored book is written. What was your writing process like? How did you seamlessly fit it together? 

TE: Most of the writing was done separately – and then we’d email chapters back and forth. At first, we sat down together and planned out the basic structure of the book – we settled on a few key things that happened to us during that summer between A levels and A level results (end of exams party, holiday, music festival, work experience, results party), and then we basically went off and took it in turns to continue the story. It was a nice way to write because half the time, I’d be totally surprised by what had happened in Lucy’s latest section. It was almost like overhearing gossip, rather than collaborating on a book. You’d open the Word document and be like, ‘What?? She got off with Pax?!’ And then I’d have to take that new info into account when I was writing my next section.

LI: I think that co-authoring means you can really play to your strengths. I am a good cheer leader and all the way through the first draft when we never thought it would get published I was saying ‘Come on, we’re half way through, we can’t give up now.’ But then when it came to the editing process I found it really hard to go over things again and again, but Tom was really great at it. Most of the dialogue ended up being written by both of us, to make sure it worked from Hannah and Sam’s points of view. I think writing it with someone you know backwards and can be completely honest with really helps the process too.

WR: I'm dying to know if Sam and Hannah were based on you or, if not you, any of your friends?

TE: Sam is based loosely on me, in that he’s a bit scruffy and moody and not particularly socially competent. Many of the other characters are based on people we were friends with, or people we knew back when we were teenagers. Robin, Sam’s best mate, is based loosely on my real-life friend Robin. Although, I should point out in the event that Robin reads this that the real Robin is nowhere near as much of an idiot as the fictional one.

LI: Hannah is partly me and partly a girl I used to teach called Roz. Hannah’s mates have elements of people I taught and friends of mine. Grace for example is based on my friend Kate. How Hannah and Sam feel about each other, and their experience of the intensity of first love is definitely something we went through together and drew on when we writing the book.

WR: You got the voices of Sam and Hannah just right and alternated chapters between them. Did you ever have to rewrite chapters to make each character more distinguished? 

TE: We definitely re-wrote dialogue in each other’s sections in order to make them more realistic. Whenever I wrote dialogue between girls in a ‘Sam’ section, I’d always get an email back from Lucy saying ‘No girl would EVER say that’, or something similar – and vice versa, when she wrote boys’ dialogue. I also wrote the first, very rough draft of the scene where Sam and Hannah first meet in the toilet - despite the fact it was supposed to be a ‘Hannah’ section – and then Lucy edited and tweaked it to fit Hannah’s voice.

LI: I don’t think we ever had to re-write it to make the characters more distinguished. Hannah was always Hannah and Sam was always Sam. There were times we had to re-write scenes to make it more clear what they were thinking or why they were doing something. We wanted the book to be a bit chaotic and random at times, but we had to make sure the reader kept up with what was going on.

WR: What's your personal favourite scene from the book? 

TE: I really like the scene between Hannah and Casper, where they’re lying in bed in the dark, and Casper debunks the whole ‘lobsters mate for life’ myth. I think that’s pretty funny – and it’s sort of based on me and Lucy having that same conversation when we decided to name the book ‘Lobsters’. When we first settled on the name, we were under the impression that lobsters did indeed mate for life. Then, when we found out they didn’t, I spent about three days Googling ‘animals that mate for life’ in order to find another title, but none were particularly suitable. It was mainly nightmarish parasitic creatures like the ‘Schistosoma Mansoni worm’, which don’t exactly scream ‘Light-hearted romantic comedy’. But in the end, we thought the whole idea of debunking the lobsters mating myth would be a funny inclusion in the book itself. I also like the scene where Sam gets caught nearly losing his virginity in a stationary cupboard at an office party, as that is based on one of my friends, who did actually lose his virginity in a stationary cupboard at an office party.

LI: I love the bit where Sam’s Mum thinks Cambridge have texted him. It always makes me laugh, even the 100th time in. It’s a throw away line but I love it. I also really like the scene at the festival where they lose their inhibitions and just dance and have fun together. For a moment they forget to over analyze everything and just roll with the moment.  

WR: There are a fair few embarrassing moments in Lobsters, which is a run-of-the-mill occurrence for any teenager. Do you have any embarrassing teenage stories you can share? 

TE: When we were about 18, me and Lucy went on holiday to San Francisco. I spent the first couple of days eating far too much food, and subsequently spent the third day ill in bed while Lucy went out exploring the city. For some reason that I can’t quite remember, I got out of bed in just my boxers and left the room, assuming the door was unlocked and I could get back straight in. It turned out, much to my despair, that the door was in fact locked. I spent the next couple of hours, still very ill, hiding from passers-by in the corridor wearing only my boxer shorts until, eventually, I could take it no longer, and I approached a slightly disturbed-looking maid and asked her to let me back into my room. That was quite embarrassing.

LI: I had to take an hour out of writing this to look over the pictures of us in San Francisco. I completely forgot about that happening and now I can’t stop laughing about it. Tom and me went out once on the hottest day of the year. We went to see the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. I was desperate for the toilet and rushed out ahead of everyone else to get the loo. And then when I got there I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realized I had my period all over the back of my skirt. Very socially awkward indeed.  

WR: Do you have plans to write more books together? If yes, can you reveal any early info? 

TE: We’re working on another book at the moment, about a school ski trip that goes horribly wrong. It’s another dual narrative book – with me writing boy’s voice and Lucy writing girl’s – and we want it to combine the comedy and romance elements of ‘Lobsters’ with a bit of adventure and mystery.

LI: I’m really excited about writing together again. It feels like a long time since the initial creative stage of Lobsters so I am raring to go!


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