Sunday, 8 March 2015

UNCOVERED INTERVIEWS: Sarah Bannan

Sarah Bannan's new novel Weightless, which is published on 12th March, is a young adult tale focusing on the realities of cyber bullying. Weightless is gripping and emotional novel set in an American high school, and after hearing of this novel I just had to put the weekly questions to Sarah, who is Head of Literature at The Arts Council Ireland.

Tell us about your latest novel in 15 words or less.
15 year-old Carolyn Lessing moves to Adamsville, Alabama, unsettling the conservative and monotonous status quo.

What inspired you to write Weightless?
I moved a lot growing up and, when I was thirteen, my family relocated to a small town in Alabama. I was one of only a few kids who hadn’t grown up there and I stuck out, or at least I thought I did. I made great friends in high school, but the school and the town were conservative, with rigid social hierarchies.

In 2011 when I started a writing course, I was doing a lot of reading about the Phoebe Prince case on Slate. It struck me that teenage life had become more complex with the prevalence of social media. I started re-imagining my high school life but with access to iphones, Facebook, twitter and instagram.

I suppose I put these two areas of interest together when writing the book – which is, of course, completely fictional.

Where do you do most of your writing?
My husband, daughter and I live in a tiny house, so my options are pretty limited at home!

We have a tiny fold-out desk outside of our bathroom and I write there a lot. The good thing about it: I have to crawl in to work there, which means it’s a pain to get out. That keeps me working longer than I might otherwise.

Lately, I’ve been getting up before my daughter and husband, at around 4.30, and I’ll work in my daughter’s toddler bed. (She wakes most nights at 1 am and wants to get into ours, so we do a swap!) I find it comforting to be there and I love that time on my own before the world has started. I sometimes get so lost in my writing that I forget what time it is. (If I get up too early, though, all my characters do is talk about sleep deprivation.)

During the days, if I have a day off for writing, I usually go to a coffee shop and work there. I like the noise and I’m less likely to doss if I’m in public. Plus, you can’t get up and do other things cause you’d be worried someone would take your stuff! For me, it’s about finding a place that’s hard to get out of. Staying with the work is the hardest, and most important, thing for me.

What is your favourite book?
For me, that’s an impossible question! I’m always reading and pronouncing a new title as my favourite book ever. Apparently, this makes me unreliable. But here we go:

The last thing that I read and loved was Anne Enright’s new novel THE GREEN ROAD, which is out in May. Like all of Enright’s work, it’s sharp and wise and witty and beautifully written, sentence by sentence.

Curtis Sittenfeld is a real hero of mine and I think all of her books are remarkable. SISTERLAND was a joy to read, as was AMERICAN WIFE and, obviously, PREP. Paul Murray’s SKIPPY DIES is a masterpiece and I feel like I’m always pressing it into people’s hands with urgency. I loved Colum McCann’s LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN and TRANSATLANTIC. I think that Lorrie Moore is a genius, which is stating the blindingly obvious. Same goes for Alice Munro. I read Tom Perotta’s THE LEFTOVERS last summer and was totally blown away. Then I read LITTLE CHILDREN and was equally wowed. He’s terrific.

I loved Roddy Doyle's BARRYTOWN TRILOGY before I emigrated to Ireland (nay to Dublin!) and I am a big fan of everything he publishes. His children's writing is wonderful and his last collection of short stories BULLFIGHTING are magnificent.

Through my work at the Arts Council, I get to read lot of writers when they’re just starting out, so I was lucky enough to see work by writers like Colin Barrett and Mary Costello at a really early stage. I admire their work hugely, along with this whole new generation of Irish writers.

During college, I was obsessed with the 19th century Russian novelists and I reread ANNA KARENINA last year, along with THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV. I still loved them but found myself identifying with different characters than I had in college. There are so many amazing new books out every WEEK that it can be hard to get back to reading classics, or even the books that were big last year. But it’s so enjoyable and revelatory.

Which part of Weightless did you enjoy writing the most?
There’s a scene near the middle of the book that’s probably considered the mid-point, and it almost wrote itself. It’s chapter 17 and starts with ‘We knew that Carolyn and Shane had had sex.’ I guess because it felt easier to write, I enjoyed writing it!

Who is your favourite literary heroine?
I think, years ago, I would have said Jane Eyre. But now I’d say Tassie from THE GATE AT THE STAIRS by Lorrie Moore.

Do you have any tips for readers who are looking to become published writers?
Read lots.
Get back to the desk.
Write a little every day.
Even an hour at the desk is better than nothing.
If weighing up laundry versus writing: choose writing.

Are you working on anything else at the moment and if so, can you tell us?
I’m working on a new novel and I’m about 50,000 words in. This is a terrifying place to be, because there’s no going back now! As a new-ish mother, I was drawn to very different ideas when writing this book, but I'm a little superstitious about saying too much about it. And it's possible I could hit a problem (or idea!) and change things entirely... The main thing, though, is that  I’m really enjoying writing it at the moment. Hoping to finish this year.

Thanks, Sarah!

Weightless by Sarah Bannan
Adamsville wasn't a place that people came to. It was a place you were from, where you were born, where you were raised, where you stayed. Before Carolyn Lessing arrived, nothing much had ever happened in Adamsville, Alabama. Each week, at dinner tables and in the high school assembly, everyone would pray for the football team to win. Each year, the Adams High hotlist would be updated, and girls would rise and fall within its ranks. Each day, everyone lived by the unwritten rules that cheerleaders did not hang out with the swim team, seniors did not date freshmen and the blistering heat was something that should never be remarked upon. But then the new girl came. All Carolyn's social media could reveal was that she had moved from New Jersey, she had 1075 friends - and she didn't have a relationship status. In beach photos with boys who looked like Abercrombie models she seemed beautiful, but in real life she was so much more. She was perfect. This was all before the camera crews arrived, before it became impossible to see where rumour ended and truth began, and before the Annual Adamsville Balloon Festival, when someone swore they saw the captain of the football team with his arm around Carolyn, and cracks began to appear in the dry earth.

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