Some Interviews are Louder than Words! Eight Questions With… Laura Jarratt

Hi Laura, welcome to Eight Questions with… for Teen Librarian.

louder-than-words-laura-jarrattFor those readers that may not have encountered you or your books before can you please introduce yourself?
Sure – I’m a YA writer who writes books about characters I find interesting. Those books happen to include aspects of romance/thriller/mystery because that’s where the characters take me. I live in the North West of England and I’m of Irish heritage, which is pretty obvious if you stand me in the sun for more than five minutes on a summer’s day. I’ve got a daughter and a stepson, both of whom are way too young to read my books, and a husband who doesn’t read them either, although he does say he’ll read Louder Than Words on the beach this year as his friend gave me the technical support for the book. I am a lover of large skinny lattes and irreverent humour.

Louder than Words is your latest novel for readers of YA, how would you describe it to hook a potential reader?
It’s a thriller about hacktivism seen through the eyes of an elective mute girl whose brother gets embroiled with an anarchist collective when he falls in love for the first time. There’s some modern feminism in there that the characters are getting to grips with but mostly this book is about love in all its different forms.

Are any of your works based on personal experiences?
Only in that I slip in little things that have happened or have some significance in helping me form a plot. The riot scenes in Louder Than Words are based on events I saw happening on the ground and in the news afterwards when I was on a protest march in London a couple of years ago about public sector cuts. It was all very well-behaved where I was but you could see things beginning to kick off in the distance and later after we left it got bad. But none of my characters are ever based on people I know and I don’t have any personal experience of the issues in the books such as Rafi’s mutism or Jenna’s facial disfigurement.

Did you do any research into elective mutism when writing Louder than Words?
Some. I work in education and have done for nearly twenty years so I’ve some across kids with Rafi’s condition before. This meant I already knew a fair amount and also that I knew where to look to get more in depth information about treatment of the condition. What I found really useful was reading blogs by people who are or have been mute and they describe exactly how it feels when they want to speak – that really did help me to get Rafi’s experience right.

Have you had any brushes with Anonymous or hacktivism in general and what is your opinion of cybervigilantism?
I first heard of Anonymous a few years ago on a writer’s forum that was being trolled and the level of fear that seemed to be associated with getting attention from Anonymous seemed bizarre to someone who knew nothing about them. I have absolutely no time for trolling at all. The concept of spending your time trying to upset people on the internet is completely alien to me – I just do not get it. And yes, get a proper life is what springs to mind. However I began to see Anonymous on the news doing things I couldn’t be so condemnatory about like standing up to the Westboro Baptist Church in their abuse of homosexuals and the way they were picketing dead soldiers’ funerals and I realised something about Anonymous was changing. I watched a documentary on how this change came about and there were some people speaking in that documentary I found I had some time for. Spiteful trolling had shifted to hacktivism. This really interested me. I grew up in a time when environmental activism was relatively big so I do have a connection with that mindset.

What do I think of cybervigilantism? I have some cautious sympathy when it’s done to assist a worthwhile cause but like all vigilantism, it risks stepping over the line into the unacceptable. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards themselves? Or in other words, how do you know when you have gone too far? Once you break the law and descend into vigilantism then you walk a tightrope. I think you can see my opinion of it by watching what happens to ActionX and especially Dillon in the book. But on the other hand there is a lot of Lara that I love.

What is your favourite part of the writing process?
Editing! I detest first drafts. It’s like finding your way through a pea-souper fog. I never have any idea where I’m going and it’s just stressful with the odd moment of pleasure when you hit a sweet spot. Editing though is lovely because you really get to craft the raw material into something worth reading. However writing for me is all about making the characters and that’s the part I love – creating people. That’s why I keep doing it.

Were you a reader as a teen and do you read the works of other YA writers and can you recommend any authors or titles that you think may appeal to fans of your work?
As a teen I was a prolific and sadly pretentious reader. I spent far too much time reading books I thought I should enjoy. Then I grew up and now I only read books I will enjoy. I read a lot of YA, both the type of thing I write myself and lots of other sub-genres too. I highly recommend Jenny Downham’s Before I Die, Kevin Brooks’s Lucas and in a very different way James Dawson’s Hollow Pike to any of my fans. For historical YA, I love Marie Louise Jenson.

Have you had any feedback from teen readers? If yes what did they think of your work?
I probably get more teen feedback than the average writer because I work in a school so they’ll stop me in the corridors to tell me. I also get some lovely fan mail and fans tweet to me when they’ve read a new book. My favourite feedback is when someone tells me that something I’ve written helps them in some way. There is really no feeling like that. I also get told a lot that my teen characters feel real, which is very important to me as a writer. I was at the Portsmouth Book Award last week and By Any Other Name won, voted for by teen readers. Kids had done pieces of artwork and made fan videos about the book – to generate that level of enthusiasm feels amazing and not in the sense of bigging yourself up about how great you are (which isn’t my thing) but that you gave kids pleasure. I love getting so much into a book myself so it’s the moat awesome thing if I’ve managed to create that for someone else.

Thank you so much for participating in this interview!

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