Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Lizzy Barber Interview - A Girl Named Anna

Photo Credit: John Carey

Lizzy Barber studied English at Cambridge University. Having previously dabbled in acting and film development, she has spent the last ten years as head of marketing for a restaurant group. Her first novel, A Girl Named Anna, won the Daily Mail and Random House First Novel Prize 2017. She lives in London with her husband, a food writer. Visit Lizzy at lizzybarber.com

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I’ve always been creative, but it’s manifested in different ways. I acted my way through school and university (and danced and sang!) and wanted to be a professional actress but fudged my final audition for drama school and decided it wasn’t for me. I always wrote creatively, just little stories or ideas for books, and have always, always been a book nerd myself (my mum used to get terrified when we went to the children’s bookshop near my house, in case I’d read everything), and ended up studying English Literature at Cambridge University. But I never thought about writing properly until the summer my then-boyfriend-now-husband and best friend both moved (separately!) to the States. I felt like they were both doing exciting things with their lives, whilst I was staying in the same place, so decided to start a creative writing course. I fell in love with it and spent about five years writing a completely different book to A GIRL NAMED ANNA. I got frustrated with this initial book, and the idea for A GIRL NAMED ANNA had been percolating in my brain for a while, so I started to write it down just as a distraction. Little did I know where that distraction would lead me…

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
I wrote this book fairly quickly, in about five months from start to finish, but I had to work around a full-time job, which was a pretty big distraction! Coupled with that, I found out I was pregnant with my first child during the editorial process, which added another (fun!) distraction. I’m now just finishing my second book whilst working part-time and looking after my baby boy, Marlowe, and have realized that, when I thought A GIRL NAMED ANNA was tough to find time for, I had no idea!

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
This might sound a little cliché, but I keep coming back to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. I studied it at school, and it is one of the first books where I remember being entranced by the writing style, instilling in me a love of gothic horror. Further back, Northern Lights (The Golden Compass) is a book that has stuck with me since I first read it at the age of eleven – we even had a reading from it at my wedding, and, as a pretty theatrical kid, I used to read Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes on repeat. 

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Gosh, everything about it has been rewarding! I think the first time I went into my publisher’s offices was like a dream, and seeing the book in print for the first time, but I don’t think I’ll ever get over seeing it in print! 

In your new book; A GIRL NAMED ANNA, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
A Girl Named Anna is the story of not one, but two girls: Anna and Rosie: living on opposite sides of the worlds, seemingly unconnected, but whose stories start to knit together as they begin to delve into the secrets that have shaped their paths. Anna lives in Florida under the watchful eye of her strictly religious ‘Mamma,’ but sneaks away on her eighteenth birthday to a theme park she has been forbidden to visit, where she uncovers a memory that makes her start to doubt her identity. Meanwhile, in London, Rosie has grown up in the shadow of her older sister, who went missing fifteen years earlier in one of the biggest unsolved mysteries the world has known. When the money funding her search dries up, Rosie takes it upon herself to find out what really happened to her sister.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your Anna and Rosie?
I think that would have to be creating Rosie at all! I begin the story just writing Anna, but as I did, Rosie’s voice started to emerge rather powerfully. I really warmed to her feisty personality and resilience, whereas I did get a little frustrated with Anna’s sweet, trusting nature.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’d love to introduce Rosie to Lyra from Northern Lights – I can imagine they’d have a whale of a time!

Any new and exciting things that you would like to share?
I’m currently finishing the first draft of my second novel. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it also has a dual setting (and timeline), and is another thriller, although a completely different vein. Watch this space!

What was a time in your life when you were really scared?
My family always used to go to Disney when I was little. My big brother persuaded me to go on Space Mountain but didn’t tell me it went upside down. When I read the warnings in the queue mentioning that it did, he told me they were ‘just there to scare people.’ Suffice it to say, I exited the ride in hysterics and haven’t been back on it since…

Do you have any fun Halloween experiences you can tell us?
My go-to Halloween costume as a kid was a witch’s costume creating largely from a black bin bag. However, my mum was obsessed with me being too cold, so insisted on me wearing a long sleeved white thermal vest underneath it. Not sure how ‘witchy’ I looked with bright white arms peaking out of the black ‘dress’!

I absolutely love Halloween, and now I have a baby I’m throwing all my energy into planning his costumes. My husband and I already have a baby Patrick Bateman (American Pyscho) costume in the works with him wearing a full suit and see-through poncho, although this year we might go as the ‘tethered’ family from the film ‘Us’ in matching red jumpsuits...

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
I’ll never forget the phone call I received from Luigi, my agent, telling me that I had won the Daily Mail First Novel competition, meaning that my book would be published and that he would be representing me. It changed my life. 

Who has had the most influence in your life?
My mum. I barely buy a new outfit without asking her opinion, and it was she who developed my love of reading and encouraged my writing. And she was the one who told me about the Daily Mail competition, so it’s fair to say A GIRL NAMED ANNA wouldn’t exist without her. 

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
‘Dammit – the dress I wanted is downstairs.’ We live in a very tall townhouse (actually the inspiration for Rosie’s house in A GIRL NAMED ANNA) – our room is on the top floor and the kitchen (and washing machine) is in the basement, so we are constantly wandering around in our underwear if there’s something we need from the laundry. Gives the neighbours a good view! 

What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
Arachibutyrophobia is the fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth. 

Where can readers find you?
Online @bylizzybarber (Instagram, twitter and facebook) or www.lizzybarber.com
In person, wandering around Islington, preferably writing in a coffee shop
At home, dancing to showtunes with baby Marlowe

My brother is fifteen years older than me (same parents, with no siblings in between). Despite our big age gap, we are incredibly close, and I actually work with him, looking after the branding and marketing for our small group of restaurants in London

I speak Italian. I have grown up going to the same little town in Italy every year that my family still visit to this date. It inspired in me a long love affair with Italy, and I spent three months living in Florence learning Italian the year before I went to university. I loved the city so much I’ve been back every year since, and my husband and I got married in Fiesole, the surrounding hills, three years ago. 

I have performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon! When I was still thinking about acting, the theatre company I belonged to developed a show based on the Merchant Ivory film, Shakespeare Wallah. I played the lead, a young British girl who falls in love with an Indian man in 60’s India. The show won a competition run by the RSC and were invited to perform it there. It was the pinnacle of my acting career, and an opportunity I realized may not have been able to have even if I had gone on to act full time.

I’m only 5 foot 1. This is particularly odd when my brother is six foot two, but we’ve said at least it’s not the other way around! Both Anna and Rosie ended up being short – I’m sure it’s because I can’t imagine writing from a ‘tall’ perspective…

My family are obsessed with Disney! We used to go to Disney World in Florida every year when I was a child, and this was part of the inspiration for the ‘Astroland’ sections of A GIRL NAMED ANNA – my mum had a long-running fear of me going missing. 

I couldn’t keep a plant alive if you paid me. I love flowers and plants – and so enjoyed researching the flora and fauna for Mamma’s abundant garden in A GIRL NAMED ANNA, but I’m afraid I’m absolutely hopeless with them. I’m currently staring at the wilting corpses of the two house plants I’ve vainly attempted to keep alive, who are unfortunately destined for the trash heap. It’s earned me the nickname ‘Brown Fingers’.

My baby is named for the playwright Christopher Marlowe. My husband and I met on our first day at Corpus Christi College, where we were both studying English Literature, and started dating quite soon after. Christopher Marlowe is one of the college’s most famous alumni, and that, plus my love of theatre and both of our love of literature, made for pretty compelling reasons to choose the name Marlowe. 

Although I have given up acting, I still dance. I started ballet when I was tiny, and still go on a weekly basis – we have a very tight knit class (including our teacher!) who are all good friends - we tend to end up in the pub each week once class is over! 

I love monkeys! My husband and I actively seek out holidays where we’re likely to see them, particularly the dusky leaf monkey, my favourite species – they’re black with white rings around their eyes that make them look like they’re wearing glasses. I could watch them interacting and swinging through the trees for hours. Of course, the very first thing I bought for Marlowe was a monkey soft toy – we’ve named him Aloysius and he seems very fond of him, so hopefully he’ll share the family enthusiasm!

I wrote the first 25,000 word of A GIRL NAMED ANNA on my phone. Because I have a job outside of writing, I have to fit my writing around it (and now that I have baby Marlowe too, I have to be even more disciplined!). I started writing A GIRL NAMED ANNA on my commute, drafting chunks in the notes and then emailing them to myself for editing. You’d be surprised how many words you can get through on a short train journey!

A compulsive suspense debut for fans of Megan Miranda, Wendy Walker and Kimberly Belle, about two teens--one sheltered by her strict and reclusive mamma, one living in the shadow of the missing sister who was snatched from a theme park as a toddler--and their search for the truth about their families and each other.

If your whole life is a lie, who can you trust?

Raised in a quiet rural community, Anna has always been taught that her Mamma's rules are the only path to follow. But, on her eighteenth birthday, she defies her Mamma for the first time in her life, and goes to Astroland. She’s never been allowed to visit Florida’s biggest theme park, so why, when she arrives, does everything about it seem so familiar? And is there a connection to the mysterious letter she receives that same day—a letter addressing her by a different name?

Rosie has grown up in the shadow of the missing sister she barely remembers, her family fractured by years of searching without leads. Now, on the fifteenth anniversary of her sister’s disappearance, the media circus resumes as the funds dedicated to the search dry up, and Rosie vows to uncover the truth herself. But can she find the answer before it tears her family apart?

Winner of the Daily Mail First Novel Competition, A Girl Named Anna is a psychologically riveting read that introduces Lizzy Barber as an outstanding new voice in suspense fiction.

You can purchase A Girl Named Anna at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you LIZZY BARBER for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of A Girl Named Anna by Lizzy Barber.