- Where did the inspiration for The Loneliest Girl in the Universe come from?
Funnily enough, it started with a question from some Physics coursework at university! The question was about special relativity, and went something like this:
An astronaut travels in a spaceship to a new planet. After a few years, a newer faster ship is developed and launched, which overtakes the first ship. How old are the two astronauts when they each arrive on the planet?
I started thinking about what it would be like to be that first astronaut, and dedicate years to travelling alone in space, only for your ship to be overtaken by a faster one before you even arrive! What would that feel like? What kind of relationship would you have with the person on the faster ship? From that, the story of Romy Silvers was born.
I’ve always loved stories of isolation – it’s a great way to really get to know a character. I knew that if I was writing a whole book where there was only really one person, I would need to create a character who would keep the reader’s attention and loyalty. It was a big challenge, but I fell totally in love with Romy while I was writing about her, and I hope everyone reading The Loneliest Girl in the Universe does too.
- Did you always dream of becoming a writer?
I started writing The Next Together when I was sixteen, and finished the first draft when I was nineteen. I never intended to get the story published – I was writing just for myself, for fun! The first draft was very self-indulgent, and included cameos from some of my professors, and lots of in-jokes. There was no pressure to write something good. I was just writing for myself, telling myself a bedtime story after classes. I never saw it as doing something scary or difficult.
I always loved the idea of being a writer, but I absolutely didn’t think it was possible. I thought people who became authors must have spent their whole life writing, and I was too interested in doing other things for that.
My second novel The Last Beginning, which I wrote after I’d got a book deal, was about twenty times harder because suddenly there was all of this pressure. I had to push past a lot of fear which had never been there before.
Being an author is quite similar to how I imagined it, though – spending a lot of time alone, staying up late at night to write, summoning the devil in exchange for book ideas..….wait, what?
- How did you feel when secured your first publishing deal at 21?
It was very exciting and scary, and I still feel very lucky! When The Next Together was finished I left it for a few months, and when I came back to it, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t as terrible as I remembered. It even made me laugh a few times. I decided to send it off to some literary agents, just to see if they could give me some useful feedback.
I had absolutely no idea how the publishing industry worked, and I think I read one How To article on query letters before writing one and blithely sending it off into the aether. I found an A to Z list of agents and started emailing with the Z’s, because I thought they’d have the least submissions. In the end, I found an agent on W, after I’d emailed only six agencies. It was a very naive way to apply, but I got very lucky – my agent is incredible, and last year she was shortlisted for the Bookseller’s Agent of the Year award.
We then submitted to publishers after a whole year of revisions (I was still at university so could only really work on it during the holidays) and within two weeks, two publishers had offered. Saying it now, that seems so easy and fast, but at the time it was the most stressful, delirious fortnight of my life. I’ve been through the submission process several times since then, and it does not get any easier.
- What is your favourite book?
I love Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, Radio Silence by Alice Oseman, Lirael by Garth Nix, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke and Far From You by Tess Sharpe.
- What authors have influenced your writing?
Neil Gaiman, Rainbow Rowell, Sarah Waters, P. G. Wodehouse, Audrey Niffeneger.…..I could go on all day, I think! In particular I’m always making notes when I read books by Douglas Adams – he’s the master of humorous sci fi. I’ve adored his work since I was young.
I read a wide range of genres, and because of that I try to make my books a little bit of every genre – The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is a bit fandom, a bit thriller, a bit romance and a bit sci fi.
I think if I didn’t write a variety of different genres, I’d probably get bored. My next books are a mix of different genres again – my latest book, which I’m still writing, is a paranormal supervillain origin story. So something completely different, again!
6. What issues do you like to explore in your writing?
I always try to include LGBT+ characters in my books. I was so frustrated as a teenager because, as a huge sci fi fan, I could never find diverse characters in the worlds I loved. Recently there’s been some amazing progress in this direction (like The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet) but at the time, it felt a completely barren wasteland. I wanted to write about a character who was gay, but the book wasn’t a coming out story. I wanted them to get to do things, while being gay.
7. What was it like to see your books translated into another language?
It’s huge. Seeing my words in another language is something I’ve always wanted to have – so it’s incredible that it’s actually happened! I can’t quite believe it still.
I’m especially proud of the Brazilian edition, as I studied in America for a year, and spent most of my time hanging out with Brazilian students who were also studying abroad for a year. So there was a LOT of excitement amongst my friends when the translated edition came out in Brazil. They keep sending me pictures of it, and trying to persuade everyone to buy it!
8. Would you go into space if you could?
I’m not sure. I think I’m probably not as brave as Romy. I might go after tourism space travel has been running for a few decades and it has been proven its safe, but definitely not yet!
Lauren is published in the UK by Walker Books, in the US by HarperCollins and in translation in five other countries around the world. She lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James, Tumblr at @laurenjames or her website http://www.laurenejames.co.uk, where you can subscribe to her newsletter to be kept up to date with her new releases and receive bonus content.