Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Q&A with Debbie Johnson




Debbie Johnson is the author of the new novel The Moment I Met You. Her other books include the novel Maybe One Day. She lives in Liverpool, UK.


Q: What inspired you to write The Moment I Met You, and how did you create your character Elena?


A: The process of creating a book and a character is a complicated one, and I’d love to say I have a magic formula – the truth is it’s been different for me with every book I’ve written!


The seeds for this idea actually came from watching the news – you know how it is, sometimes a constant stream of death and disaster? Keeping up with current affairs can be quite upsetting – but it made me wonder about what happens to people after the “story” is over, when the cameras have left and the people affected are supposed to go on with their lives – about how much they would be changed by such an experience.


Elena is a deeply kind, deeply compassionate woman who was caught up in an event that changed her forever, and I wanted to examine how those changes revealed themselves. In her case, that kindness and compassion led to her making, as it says in the book, the wrong choices for all the right reasons. I was also desperate to find her happy ending, because she SO deserved it!


Q: The novel is set in the UK and in Mexico--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: Hugely important – people have said in the past that the settings of my books are like extra characters! I take a lot of inspiration from a sense of place, and like most writers I’m a bit of a magpie and soak everything in. I literally can’t go anywhere without wondering what it would be like to set a book there!


I also like to travel via my books and by reading other people’s books – especially over the last few years when many of us have been stuck at home, it’s been a joy to escape through words. I’ve set books in all kinds of places – beautiful areas of the UK like Cornwall and Dorset, Ireland, Chicago, New York, Oxford, and the city where I actually live, Liverpool.


Q: Did you need to do any research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I did a lot of research into some aspects of it – the earthquake, and also the physical injuries suffered by one of the characters. Some of that was very moving, very upsetting, but also very inspiring.


I think what I took away from it really was how amazing us human beings are – the resilience, the determination, the way that seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome.


I also spoke at length with a friend of mine who is disabled, and getting insight into his life and the challenges he faces was so interesting and really made me think a lot more about the subject.

Q: The author Catherine Isaac said of the book, "There’s humour, tears and above all, hope." What do you think of that description, and as you were writing the book, what did you see as the best blend of those three elements?


A: I loved that description – it captures it perfectly! I think I am incapable of writing a book without all three of those elements – to me they are the essential ingredients. The books might be very different, about very different people and set in very different places, but humour, tears and hope will always be present in a Debbie Johnson book.


I think they’re emotions we all understand, aren’t they? We’ve all cried, we all need to laugh, and ultimately we all have to cling on to our hope – that’s one of the reasons people love reading, I think, to feel all of the feels and know they will safely emerge at the other end!


I think the tears in this book come from many places – but maybe not where you’d expect. For me, the tragedy of Elena’s life wasn’t what happened to her in Mexico, but the way she quietly closed herself down afterwards. She had found love, and she turned her back on it, for honourable reasons – and that to me was deeply emotional.


Seeing her unfold with the story, seeing her emerge again, seeing her find the courage to reach out and take a chance on her own future – that is the hope. The hope that we can all continue to grow, to evolve, to become better and happier versions of ourselves.


As for the laughter, I like to think that’s threaded all the way through – I am a big fan of dialogue, of banter, of capturing the way that real people talk to each other. Humour doesn’t have to come in the form of a joke – it’s in the way we communicate with people we love and feel comfortable with.


There is also a teenager – Elena’s sister Olivia. I do have a tendency to have teenagers in my books, because I have three children, and find teenagers the funniest creatures on earth (and admittedly sometimes the most frustrating!). Young people say things that older people shy away from, and I love playing with that!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have just put the finishing touches to a new book, Forever Yours, which I’m really excited to share with the world, and am at the very beginning of my next one.


At the moment it’s just an outline, and a set of characters, but this is a really great stage in the process where those characters are starting to speak to me – I have to keep a notepad about me at all times, because snippets of conversation and plot will spring into my head at the most unlikely of times – often while I’m lying in bed!


I have pages and pages of notes I’ve scrawled in the dark, and it’s wonderful to feel those people coming to life and getting ready to tell their story.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’d just like to say a quick thank you to anyone who reads my books, and also to the reviewers and bloggers who help to bring them to a bigger audience. Also to other writers – I don’t think I’d have come through the last couple of years without the sheer escapism that losing yourself in a good book can provide!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment