An Interview With Julia Gray
Written by Kirsten Pett
A few weeks ago I read Little Liar by Julia Gray, and I feel like it really changed my perspective on what makes a book exceptional. Everything about it was thrilling – the characters, the plot, the style and vocabulary. This week I’m doing work experience with Andersen Press, Julia Gray’s publisher, and got given the pleasure of asking her some questions about her latest book and the EP that goes with it.
What was your writing process like? Was the EP a part of it or did the music come later?
I did four drafts of Little Liar. The first was in Scotland at an interdisciplinary artists’ retreat called Cove Park. I had just handed in some edits for The Otherlife, and so I turned up with just one very simple image in my head: a girl called Nora who tells lies. I couldn’t quite finish the draft, and then I had a baby, so it was a whole year before I was able to revisit Little Liar to try to complete it. I changed lots of things when I wrote the second draft, not all of which worked, so for the third draft I changed them back again and added the element of the film Jacaranda as a way to develop the relationship between Nora and Bel. The fourth draft involved making the overall narrative much leaner and more streamlined as the book was now very, very long! The text was complete by the time I decided to write an EP to go with it. It was something I’d wanted to do for a long time and Little Liar seemed to lend itself well to musical exploration.
All your characters are incredible, but Bel especially fascinated me because of how instantly likeable she was despite being so unpredictable and mildly terrifying at times. What’s your opinion of Bel as a character? Was it hard to write someone so inconsistent yet irresistible?
I love Bel – I’m always delighted by characters who don’t rein themselves in and do things with passion and commitment and style. Bel’s morals are questionable and she’s very self-serving, but she’s also affectionate and funny and charismatic and I think I’d like her if I met her in real life, though I might avoid lending her anything that might get broken! I wanted her to be believable, since there’s a larger-than-life quality to her antics, and I didn’t want readers to hate her, so there was sometimes a fine line to tread while writing.
One of the other main things I loved about Little Liar was your writing style. What influences do you think most affected the way you write?
I think music has been one of the biggest influences on the way I write: I hear each sentence in my head as though it were a piece of music and I choose words and syllables to fit the rhythms. I love choosing sensory details and letting them reveal the characters’ emotional states. For some reason I always think about how each scene is lit, whether by sun, moon, candle or light-bulb, and am seemingly incapable of not referring to the light source in any given situation.
Little Liar and your previous book, The Otherlife, are extraordinarily different, but did you notice any similarities between them while writing?
They are indeed different – I wanted to write from a girl’s perspective in Little Liar, having had two male protagonists in The Otherlife. But both books deal with death and grieving; good and bad teachers/tutors; encountering the supernatural/ the uncanny/ the realms of the subconscious mind; absent or inattentive parents; and the ways in which a friendship can develop.
Are there any aspects of truth or real life in Little Liar?
Nowadays, I think a lot about framing things in a positive way, but in the past, I used to think in much more negative terms, as Nora can often do. I adore the theatre and always wanted to act, but was never any good at it, so Little Liar was a way of exploring those old ambitions. I have been to Cannes several times so those scenes were mapped onto places that I’d visited before. The séance scene is based on a day that I spent doing research at the College of Psychic Studies. The Troubadour is one of my favourite gig venues as I used to play music there, so that’s why Nora and Jonah go there for coffee. In fact, both my books are full of places in London that I know and love.