Thursday, September 7, 2023

Q&A with Fran Littlewood

Photo by Lucia Littlewood Begg



Fran Littlewood is the author of the new novel Amazing Grace Adams. She also has worked as a journalist. She lives in London.


Q: You’ve said that your novel was inspired by the 1993 film Falling Down. What intrigued you about that film, and how did you create your character Grace?


A: Something about the film had stuck with me over decades. I think because we’ve all had those days when everything that could go wrong, does go wrong. Those “hell is other people” days! Show me the woman who hasn’t been this close to losing it, at one point or another…


We have a saying in our house (and I thought this expression was quite widely used, although I’m not so sure), that we’ve had a “Falling Down moment.” These days, we say we’re having a Grace moment!


I think one of the things that intrigued me about the film is the fact we’re rooting for an antihero. Cheering him on. I’d say that Grace is more midlife heroine, than antihero, but the narrative certainly raises interesting questions of “likeability,” especially when it comes to female protagonists and the double standards they’re held to.


Writing Grace felt subversive. I loved the dark humour in this unlikely idea of taking a midlife woman and turning her into an action hero. The idea sprung from the fact I was so sick of lazy representations of women at this stage of their lives - the notion they’re downtrodden and past it. It wasn’t how I felt, and it wasn’t what I saw in the women around me.


I wanted Grace to have her main character moment! Tapping into that feeling that we’re all the protagonists in our own lives.


In terms of creating the character of Grace beyond that, I was keen for her to be an everywoman, but at the same time I wanted to give her something that made her extraordinary. It’s the reason I chose to make her a polyglot, an exceptional linguist, who speaks five languages. In this, and many other ways, Grace is my fantasy self!


Q: The present-day action in the novel takes place over the course of one day - how did this affect your writing process as you worked on the book’s pacing?


A: The narrative is split into three timelines. The single long, hot day, which is the present moment in the book, when Grace has hit the wall, and rises up, finally. A past section, in which we first meet Grace when she’s 28, and move forward over nearly two decades from that point. And a third timeline, that begins four months earlier than the present day.

The narrative strands converge at the end of the book, as we piece together what’s happened to Grace to bring her to this moment she’s in.


The single day strand - the quest element - was challenging to write, as I was concerned about it being too one note. It’s the reason I kept the chapters short and punchy, and also introduced some compassion among the chaos - some “kindness of strangers” moments, to give the section emotional dynamics, and to offset Grace’s fury!


Having two additional timelines helped to keep the settings and characters fresh and varied.


People have asked, did I spend a long time figuring out the structure since it’s quite complicated. The truth is, it came to me pretty organically, as it’s the only way I could see to write it, because of the secrets in the narrative and where the reveals fall.


I started writing the book in the first lockdown, and wrote it in quite a frenzy. The unique circumstances at the time meant that everything felt very acute, and I’d finished a pretty polished first draft in just under nine months, which I’m certain will never happen again!


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Grace and her daughter Lotte?


A: Grace and her teenage daughter Lotte are estranged in the present day strand of the book. Over the course of her journey, Grace comes to understand the irony of the fact that, although she speaks five languages, she hasn’t been able to find the words to articulate what she needs to say to her daughter. She’s been unable to communicate her heartsickness at what’s happened to her family.


Theirs is a love that’s fallen through the gaps in language, which I think is something that happens in so many relationships - too often we say all the things we shouldn’t, and not the things that we should.


Grace is demonstrating some fierce mother love, but Lotte doesn’t see it that way - as teenagers don’t. She sees it as intrusive and stifling. They’re growing apart, and it’s a necessary shift, Lotte needs to start gaining independence, Grace knows this. But there’s a real sense of loss.


It’s something I felt with my three daughters - the ambush of this moment that, for me, happened a lot sooner than I’d expected. Too soon. The moment when, caught between childhood and adulthood, your teenager starts to push back. It’s brutal.


But, for Grace, there are in-between moments too. Beautiful, funny, wild minutes, or hours, days even, of togetherness, flashes of the way things were between her and her daughter, something she’s determined to reclaim.


On top of all this, there’s the near-comedic clash of hormones, the bloody awful timing of it! The fact that just as Lotte is hitting adolescence, Grace is entering the perimenopause. It’s a real “kick a woman when she’s down” situation, that struck me, and that I wanted to explore in the book.


Q: The writer Adriana Trigiani said of the book, “Amazing Grace Adams is a fully realized story of catastrophe and joy, grief and love, and the hidden chambers of the human heart that carry the best and worst of our experience.” What do you think of that description?


A: I was stunned when this quote from Adriana came through. How incredibly generous of her! I mean, it’s everything you would aim to achieve in a novel - a true excavation of the human condition - and it probably made me cry, to be honest (it definitely made me cry!).


One of the joys of reading for me are those moments that chime, the moments that make you look away from the page and examine something similar that’s happened in your own life. The moments when you feel understood. So it’s just brilliant for me to think that my writing might make someone else feel that way.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on the difficult second novel, and happy to say I’ve broken the back of it, hoping for a sprint finish! It’s about three sisters, a story of sibling rivalry, and specifically about the taboo of a father who inadvertently reveals that he has a favourite child. So… lots to unpack there!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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