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It was a pleasure to talk with Laura Parish, who hosts the fiction readers and writers blog, Novel Kicks. Thank you so much for having me. My first interview of 2019 and my first in the UK!
Hi Gila, thank you for joining me today. Your novel is called Passport Control. Can you tell me about it and what inspired the story?
Passport Control is a coming of age novel about a twenty year old Canadian girl who feels forced to leave the home she shares with her father and, in her desire for revenge, goes to the one place he's kept a secret all of his life, his home country Israel. Other than odds and ends, she doesn't know anything about his past life there.
She finds herself in a dormitory with a range of Israelis from Jewish to Arab and struggles to navigate her way through the politics and culture around her. Along the road she falls in love, encounters murder, and discovers a shocking family secret.
The story was originally a short story written in a creative writing class with author Steve Stern. It was inspired by my own experience coming to Haifa University around the same age as my heroine, Miriam Gil and similarly struggling to navigate my various roommates, who all came from different cultures and backgrounds. At least that was the initial kernel behind my twelve-page short story. It evolved over time into a father-daughter story, and a family betrayal story with a side order of romance.
What's your typical writing day like? Do you need coffee? Silence? Do you have a certain place you like to write?
I have five children between the ages of 11 and 20. So my writing day has evolved over time with the ages of my children.
In the early days, I used to type a lot one-handed while nursing and later had to be done by 1 p.m. when nursery school closed.
Now, I have a lot more quiet during the day–which is vital for me to write–and yes, rivers of coffee. I write in my converted bomb shelter adjacent to the front door, so my writing is punctuated all day with, "Mom, is there any food?" as the kids come and go and the snoring of my dog.
What's your writing process like from planning to editing?
My writing process has changed a lot over the years. I am much more of a planner these days.
I try to write at least two sentences for each chapter that explain the point of each one. At a certain point, I just write and usually the first three or four chapters are the first to go later on as I "write myself into the story." But not always. Each novel is its own journey.
I don't wait for perfection if that's what you mean. You just have to dive in.
What's your favourite word and why?
My favorite word is balagan. That's a Hebrew word with no single English translation.
It means mess, disorder, confusion but also problem and difficulty.
So, you could say, "today was a balagan," or "my thoughts are a balagan" or "your room is a balagan!"
Try it! It's a fun word to say.
Which song best describes you?
"Shout" by Tears for Fears.
What elements do you think make up a good novel?
Great novels are written by authors who excel at location in time and space.
If you feel as if you are really in Elizabethan England or in South Africa during Apartheid, or in downtown Toronto…you've got the elements of a great novel. I can't think of a time when someone told me they loved a short story or novel and couldn't tell me exactly where and when it was taking place.
Full disclosure: I teach an online Setting & Description course and I can't believe how many new writers send me first drafts that take place Anywhere / Anytime. It's not as intuitive as you might think.
How do you pick the names of your characters? How important is it to pick the right one?
Very often I choose any name to 'get going' and it becomes a placeholder that I change at the end.
It is important to pick the right one. There are the technical reasons such as, it's confusing for the reader if everyone's name begins with the same letter or has the same sound and there are reasons related to time and place as mentioned above. If the story takes place in the 1950s I definitely look up popular names at that time.
It adds to authenticity, that's very important.
Do you have some advice for anyone going through writer's block?
Yes. If you believe you have writer's block, think about something that makes you feel a very strong feeling.
So imagine being bullied or rejected or elated or dazzled, tap into that feeling and once you feel something strongly enough, you should be able to spill it out onto the page. If not, you don't feel strongly enough about it. Think of something else.
Any other advice for new writers?
Turn off social media. I have learned to leave my phone upstairs when I write, off, in a drawer.
True, my kids sometimes complain but it's just not possible to write seriously and to be reachable 24/7.
If you can write on a computer without internet connection, that's heaven.
Otherwise, turn it all off somehow, close it, tell yourself you have to pay a fine of some sort if you click on your gmail or any other social media.