Louise Beech remembers sitting in her father’s cross-legged lap while he tried to show her his guitar’s chords.
He’s a musician. Her small fingers stumbled and gave up. She was three. His music sheets fascinated her – such strange language that translated into music. Her mother teaches languages, French and English, so her fluency with words fired Louise’s interest. She knew from being small that she wanted to write, to create, to make magic.
She loves all forms of writing. Her short stories have won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting twice for the Bridport Prize and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Her first play, Afloat, was performed at Hull Truck Theatre in 2012. She also wrote a ten-year newspaper column for the Hull Daily Mail about being a parent, garnering love/hate criticism. Her debut novel was a Guardian Readers’ pick for 2015.
She is inspired by life, history, survival and love, and always has a story in her head. Her debut novel, How to be Brave, came from truth – when Louise’s daughter got Type 1 Diabetes she helped her cope by sharing her grandad’s real life sea survival story. Her second novel, The Mountain in my Shoe, will be released in September 2016 and was inspired by her time working with children in the care system.
When she was fifteen Louise bet her mother ten pounds she’d be published by the time she was thirty. She missed this self-set deadline by two months. Her mother is still waiting for the money. Link to her website – http://louisebeech.co.uk/
Congratulations on the incredible success of your debut book How To Be Brave and your second book The Mountain in My Shoe. For those readers who haven’t yet discovered your beautiful books, can you tell us about them please?
Thank you, lovely lady!
My debut, How to be Brave, was inspired by two true stories. In 2007, just after the UK floods, my seven-year-old daughter Katy was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. We lost our home, car and belongings, then our daughter’s health. Life was a roundabout of blood tests and injections and hospital visits and distressed child. Some time after, Katy went through a delayed reaction to the diabetes and refused her life-saving insulin injections. The only thing that persuaded her was storytelling – in exchange for fiction she accepted the needle. When fiction wasn’t enough we went for the truth and I told her the incredible story of my grandad, Colin Armitage, a merchant seaman who survived fifty days lost at sea during the war. His heroism inspired my daughter’s. And both inspired How to be Brave. The mum and daughter aspect of the book, I fictionalised. But I tried to stick very closely to the truth when telling Grandad Colin’s incredible tale.
The Mountain in my Shoe was inspired by my time doing voluntary work with children going through the care system. I was in care and on the ‘at risk’ register for four years as a youngster. I also had in my mind a woman, standing in a window, waiting for a husband who never comes home. I wanted to know who she was. She became Bernadette. At times, when writing The Mountain in my Shoe, I was overwhelmed. So many characters demanded my attention, needed me to make them fully real. The chapters alternate between three narratives – between Conor, Bernadette and the Lifebook – so it was a complicated and challenging thing to write, but I loved every bit.
You have a new book coming out next year with Orenda Publishing, what can you tell us about it now?
It’s always so exciting to talk about a new book! I’ve done as much editing as I can, for now. Though I keep going back and tweaking bits. I’ve also being trying to write a decent blurb, so here we go, sharing for the first time. Tell me what you think?
Maria in the Moon
Memories are our only truth; and even then, they lie.
Catherine can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. She can’t remember why her beloved Nanny Eve stopped singing. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped called her Catherine-Maria.
Now, while homeless during the devastating downpour of 2007, she volunteers at Flood Crisis to help others. The regular callers, and co-volunteer Christopher, become a part of Catherine’s life.
And then a devastating memory emerges…
It sounds like another winner to me… I personally can’t wait to read it.
What have been your highlights of 2016 and what are your plans for 2017?
Oh, wow! 2016 has been a ride! Where to even start? I did a talk about How to be Brave in a prison that left me very emotional. I had book launches in Hull, York and London. I went to two TBC events and met some of the most inspiring readers ever. Made new friends. Great friends. My daughter passed her exams and looked beautiful at her prom. My son got a job he loves. My husband and I celebrated 20 years of being together. I took part in loads of amazing Orenda events. Who on this great earth could ask for more?
Both your books are incredibly beautiful and moving, but in real life you have a rather twisted and naughty sense of humour and particularly love dark and disturbing books. Have you thought about writing a psychological thriller?
The Mountain in my Shoe has been called a psychological thriller, but I know exactly what you mean. You mean, will I write something deadly and dark and twisted? Maybe. I do have in my head the plot for a twisty novel with a sick reveal. I told my daughter it over tea once, and she was like, ‘Ooooh, Mum, you should write that!’ We shall see. At any one time, I have around five novel ideas, so it’s seeing which one sticks hardest. Which one won’t leave me. There is indeed a very dark side to me. Watch this space.
Can you describe an average day in your life?
Haha – no! Erm… there is ALWAYS silliness. That much I can say. I do laugh a lot; I find much joy in the humourous side of life. I do also try and write every single day. Even if it’s one line. Two words. One word. Something. The best days are when I get a few hours to really write. I love my job as theatre usher, and you never know what to expect when working shows. Some days there might be a book event, if I’m lucky. I love reading groups the most. I always tinker about on social media (TBC has been fatal, though I haven’t had as much time to cause trouble there recently!) I try also to make at least ten minutes to catch up with my husband as our differing work patterns can be disruptive. My 16-year-old daughter keeps me in check. Apparently, I’m embarrassing. Can you even imagine? No. Of course you can’t. My son has left home, so the best days are when I get to see him.
When we first were introduced on TBC (THE Book Club on Facebook) you were very nervous about your first public book reading and we suggested opening with a dirty joke and finishing with the splits, my question is what’s your party piece and have you managed to conquer your nerves for book launches yet?
My undercarriage has never quite recovered, you know. But I can now bite my toenails. My party piece? Stripping. No, seriously, probably silliness. I’m getting a tad better at readings and launches. I still get horrendous nerves, feel sick, and think everyone will just laugh. But the wonderful response from readers, and the warm kindness of people I’ve met is helping to dispel that. When I look out and see some of the bloggers I’ve got to know, or the TBC guys, or friends, I just want to cry with happiness. And then grab their bums. Which brings us to…
When we first met at your book launch in Waterstones, Piccadilly you grabbed my bum and then at the 2nd birthday party we had a mutual grab of each other’s boobs (photo above), do you often touch people inappropriately and have you had any restraining orders yet?
I’ve only had five restraining orders so far, but I don’t think you can count the one where I was paid to turn up in a fur coat and no knickers, because it was Christmas, and he smiled. But seriously, I’m quite affectionate with people I like. I know instinctively when someone wouldn’t like it. I had to have a sixth sense for things like that in my voluntary roles. I love my friends. PS – Tracy Fenton has a pretty perky bum for her *whispers* mid-forties.
I recently asked the authors on TBC to name their TOP 10 books… yours are…
Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
This novel is perfection; a sweeping epic in the truest and purest sense of the word. Every few years I read it again. I first read it in my teens and fell in love with selfish, passionate, and headstrong Scarlett. I like my characters flawed, and she certainly is, and yet the magic of this book is that you still want her to overcome, survive, and win. Everyone talks about the infamous final words of Rhett Butler, but for me it’s all about the opening line. It’s one of my all-time favourites. “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realised it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.”
The World According to Garp – John Irving
“In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.”
This book defies genre, defies synopsis, defies anything I can explain. It’s beautiful and ugly, it’s dark and yet comical, and is full of such description that it inspired me to write my first adult novel almost straight after reading it almost ten years ago. I’m so excited that it’s now long enough for me to go and discover it all over again. And so should you.
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
This book for me is about stories. In the deepest sense of the word. By the end the reader is asked to decide for themselves what the ‘true’ story is. Absolute genius.
In the Cut – Susanna Moore
Protagonist Frannie teaches her writing students language in all its rich nuance and unspoken meaning. She is fascinated also by street slang – such a phrase forms the title. When a brutal murder shocks the neighborhood, she begins a sexual relationship with the lead detective, one that tests the limits of her safety and desires, and begins a terrifying descent into the dark places deep within her. This book is explicitly sexual but also beautifully written. I like my fictional sex shocking, dark and unafraid, and this book is all those things.
Lamb – Bonnie Nadzem
Books that are difficult to read (because of the subject matter) while being also a joy to read (because of their gorgeous prose) are my favourites. And this was one of those. The main character repulsed me, yet his story drew me in. I pitied the little girl so much, wanted to rescue her all along. I read it in days, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Haunted I am by it.
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
This is one of the only books where I’ve quite literally been transported. During one scene, I looked up, my face stained with tears, and forgot not only where I was, but who I was. It took me a moment or two to look around and think, I’m me, I live here, this is my real world. Absolutely an all-time favourite, with the genius idea of having Death as the main narrator.
My Sister Marilyn – Berniece Baker Miracle
As a lifelong lover of Marilyn, and the owner of at least forty books about her, this is my favourite because it’s written by her only sister. It’s a beautiful, intimate and tender portray of the girl who became the biggest Hollywood icon in history. I wrote to Marilyn’s sister and she signed a gorgeous bookplate for me to put inside the cover. So the book is all the more precious for that.
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
Just exquisite. Took me four attempts to read it initially and then I couldn’t put it down. Most of it was read through tears. One of the all-time great novels about war.
Tampa – Alissa Nutting
This one is really not for the faint-hearted. Shocking, dark and sordid, with graphic sex scenes between a female teacher and her 14-year-old student, I was compelled because of the divine writing, and my loathing of the main character.
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
I don’t think any other book was quite so ahead of its time as this one. Jane is another heroine of mine, one who could not be more different to Scarlett O’Hara but one who is just as compelling.
If you were granted 3 superpowers what would they be, and why?
Ooooh, invisibility, and then I wouldn’t have got half my restraining orders, or been in prison for six months. In a serious world, I’d love the power of a healing touch. Then I could cure my daughter. (Actually, I think quite a few pairs of buttocks might actually say that I already have a healing touch.) I’d also love to be able to turn water into wine. Or gin. I’m easy.
Finally, have you got any New Year’s resolutions and what are they?
I make wishes all year around. I have a silver wish box. I put little notes in it scrawled with things I hope for. But I’ll probably write an extra special one at new year. And this one is big as Hull is the City of Culture in 2017. I’m dead excited. Come up here and see us. We will have loads going on. I might even do the splits. Naked. That’s my resolution. To recover from naked splits….