I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Laura Barnett, the author of the wonderful The Versions of Us, to the blog today.
As part of a book tour to celebrate the publication of her novel, Laura has kindly agreed to a Q & A for us. Everyone comfy? Great stuff, then here we go…
Hi, Laura. Thank you so much for joining us today!
Your incredible debut novel, The Versions of Us, was released into the wild on 28th May. How would you describe the story to someone who has not been fortunate to come across it yet?
Well, firstly thank you for that very kind and generous description! So, for those who’ve not come across The Versions of Us, it is the story of the relationship between one couple – Eva and Jim – told from beginning to end, in three different ways. It starts with one key moment in 1958, and moves right up to 2014. It’s about fate, and the decisions – some small, significant – with which we shape our lives. And, of course, it’s about love, and the pressures exerted by work, family life, and just the passage of time.
It’s so exquisitely written. As a professional ditherer I can’t settle on which ‘version’ out of the three I preferred! Do you have a personal favorite?
I don’t, I’m afraid! I definitely found version one the easiest to get to grips with initially, perhaps because – without giving too much away – it starts out following the most traditional “love story” framework. But as I progressed with the writing, I found myself becoming deeply involved with each version, and with the different permutations of the characters, and their lives, expressed in each one.
With three separate stories running side by side, how did you manage to keep track of your characters’ lives whilst writing about them?
Strangely, I didn’t find it too difficult at all to keep track of the different lives. I did compile a list of key dates, and the names of children / friends / colleagues, so that I could be sure I was always in the right place in each version. But otherwise the stories just evolved quite naturally as I wrote – though during the editing process, I did plot out a spreadsheet for the events in each version, to ensure that they were absolutely watertight.
I loved the way you breathed life into every character you created, which is a testament to your skill as a writer. How much of the book is realistic? Are any of their experiences based on people you know, or events in your own life? (Don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone.)
Thank you! Ah, well, the realism question is an interesting one. I was listening to Hanif Kureishi on Radio 4 just the other day, and he said that nobody who shares their life with a writer is safe – even a writer’s children! Hopefully it’s not quite as bad as that for my own friends and family – I don’t write about my own life in any direct sense – but I’m sure they recognse certain events, ideas and conversations. And Eva’s family, the Edelsteins, are very much inspired by my late step-grandmother, Anita, who, like them, made the journey from Vienna to London as a refugee in the 1930s.
I’m impressed that in addition to writing The Versions of Us, you are also a journalist and have written several short stories – writing seems to be your passion, has is always been part of your life?
It has – I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing, or thinking about writing. My mum was a librarian, and our little flat was filled with books. I think I was seven when I first entered a writing competition, with a poem about a cat. I won, too – though so did about twenty other children, so I suspect they just published everyone who entered!
Being a journalist and a successful author, do you prefer writing facts or fiction?
Oh, fiction, definitely! Though of course it’s very important not to confuse the two.
Now, I must mention that striking cover – it’s absolutely gorgeous and among one of the loveliest I’ve seen! Did you have any say or input in the design? And how did you feel when you saw it for the first time?
Thanks – I’m so glad you like it! I did indeed have a good deal of input – I’ve been very lucky, I think, as my publisher, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, involved me in conversations about the design from the beginning. We were all clear about wanting the cover to have a cool, midcentury graphic feel, and to reflect some of the places and events depicted in the book. I was just so happy when I saw the final design.
Is it true that ‘Trademark Films’ have already optioned the television rights for The Versions of Us saying it would make a ‘compelling TV drama’? Where were you when you heard the news?
It is indeed true! I can’t say I “heard the news”, as such, as the whole process of optioning the rights for a novel is quite lengthy and complex, and I was involved in it from the beginning. But I can certainly say that when I first heard that Trademark were interested in optioning the book, I was over the moon – they’ve made some fantastic TV and film adaptations, and have some very exciting ideas about how to bring The Versions of Us to the screen.
What’s been the most memorable experience of your book’s journey for you so far?
What an interesting question! Well, the moment that sticks in my mind most clearly is the day we got all the final offers in from the publishers who’d been involved in the auction for the book. I was on my way to Bangor, north Wales, to review a play that was taking place halfway up Mount Snowdon. Early the next morning, I woke up really early, walked out along Bangor Pier to watch the sun rise over Anglesey, and thought, “I just can’t believe this is happening: my book really is going to be published!”
Is there any message you hoped to convey to readers through your book?
I’m sure each reader will, naturally, have their own reaction, but I’d love to convey the idea that there are many ways to live a good life; that there isn’t just one perfect version of that life, but many ways to be happy, and to love and be loved.
So we can see the versions of you, could you tell us your favourite book from when you were 1) a child 2) a teen 3) as an adult ?
Ooh, what a fun idea.
1) Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I was obsessed with horse riding for many years – quite a strange obsession, really, for a girl from south London, not an area known for its green fields and herds of horses!
2) The Millstone by Margaret Drabble. I read this amazing novel – Drabble’s third – when I was about sixteen, and it had a huge impact on me. It’s about an unmarried young woman who falls pregnant in London the mid sixties. It crystallised a lot of my early feelings about feminism.
3) Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler. I don’t know another writer better able to express everyday life as it is actually lived, with all its layers of memory and experience. This particular novel is set over just one day, as a middle-aged couple travel to a funeral. It touches on mortality, love, family, marriage, failure, success: everything that matters, basically.
You seem to be a very busy lady! When you’re not writing, what would be the most perfect ‘time-out’ for you?
I run about 5km around my local park several times a week. I’m not planning on running a marathon any time soon, but I find it really calming, and it’s good for solving tricky problems posed by writing! And I do love a good TV drama: recent favourites include Bloodline on Netflix – an amazing family saga set in Florida – and The Affair on Sky Atlantic, which, interestingly enough, tells the same events from two different points of view…
What’s next on the agenda? Can we look forward to another book, perhaps?
Well, I do have another novel under way. It’s called Greatest Hits, and it’s about a female singer-songwriter, looking back over her life and her music. I’m also working on some short stories, and keeping busy with events and publicity for The Versions of Us! It’s so thrilling to actually see it in bookshops.
Finally, I’d say this book is a beaut just as it is. But let’s say you were given the opportunity to approach it all over again – would you change anything? (This is your #whatif moment!)
Ah, I’m not sure I can think about changing the book now, as I’m so emotionally invested in it as it is! But if I could change anything about my writing career, I’d go back to my 21-year-old self and say, “Write what you really want to write – not what you think others might like to read.” But perhaps it’s good that it took me a decade or so to figure that out for myself.
Any parting thoughts / comments for readers?
Just a big thank you – to you, Wendy, for having me on your blog, and for asking such great questions; and to anyone who has bought, or is thinking of buying, The Versions of Us. I really hope you enjoy it.
Thank you so much for your time, Laura, and for providing us with such interesting answers!
Here’s wishing you every success x
Twitter: You can follow Laura Barnett on Twitter @laura_jbarnett
Website: If you’d like to keep up to date with Laura Barnett’s work, including reading some of her short stories, you can visit her website here: http://www.laura-barnett.co.uk/the-versions-of-us/
Would you like to buy the book?: Amazon UK
And finally, you can read my review here: The Versions of Us
~ Huge thanks to everyone for visiting today. ~