E. Lockhart, We Were Liars (with Q&A)

Thrilling, beautiful, and blisteringly smart, ‘We Were Liars’ is utterly unforgettable.
— John Green, Author of 'The Fault In Our Stars'
RRP 17.99,   Allen and Unwin

RRP 17.99, Allen and Unwin

This is my first read of an E. Lockhart book and let me tell you we shall be looking at more from this talented writer. Pitched at the Young Adult, or New Adult market this book hit the sweet spot in the mainstream fiction market with the same gusto of The Fault in Our Stars. 

Make sure you scroll down and read the Q&A with the author as she has some great insights into writing. 

We Were Liars centres around the summer relationships of the three teenage cousins and a family friend: The Liars. There is an unexplained accident on the island which will change the lives of everyone. Just who are the real liars? 

The setting is a private island in New England, USA. A wealthy family governed by a controlling widower patriarch, three sisters who feel entitled sparring about inheritance and a group of their children gather to this enclave every summer. The book has threads of King Lear interwoven with classic fairytales.

We Were Liars captures the magic and transformative natures of summer holidays, the way people reinvent themselves and roles change when you remove yourself from your main life. The author is brilliant at capturing the spirit of teenagehood: the intense relationships, heightened emotions, true love, the magical first kiss and examines just how we invent our own stories and define truth. As the tensions and relationships build, so does the suspense?

What really happened last summer? If I told you ... I'd have to lie. 

Did this book idea start with the ending? Where did the idea come from and how did it unfold?

We Were Liars started from wanting to write about the intense bond that would form between a group of teenagers who spent all their summers together on a private island.  

 You have a PhD from Columbia – what in?

19th century British novel.  

 Does the academic rigor mean you are a planner of your fiction, does one process feed the other? Can you please talk readers through how you map out your books?

 I have mapped out some books, but not others. The  main way the academic training comes into play is that I read certain fiction very carefully and thoroughly. I make notes on techniques used by writers I admire, and employ those techniques in telling my own stories. My books are very referential.

 Why have you chosen the Young Adult/ New Adult genre? Is the intensity of emotions of teenagers a key point for you?

Coming of age is a fascinating time of life. People are becoming independent and taking jobs and becoming sexual for the first time. They are separating from their families of origin and identifying themselves anew, all the while usually still ensconced in an academic institution they are legally obligated to attend. 

 You’ve chosen a beach setting, and island on East Coast USA and yet the book resonates strongly with Australian readers, I imagine. Is the experience of the “summer holiday” a deliberate choice for you as it is so global? We all behave and transform ourselves a little on holidays don’t we? I remember as teenagers we always formed deep attachments –friendships, crushes – over summer that I’m sure we didn’t really pay much attention to the rest of the year!

Those holiday relationships were certainly on my mind – but I didn't think of that part as universal. I thought of the intergenerational conflict and the heartbreak as universal. Kids rebelling against the value systems of their parents, first love gone wrong.

 Has your writing process changed as you experienced success? How/Why?

It hasn't changed at all.  I just bleed onto the page and drink coffee and complain a lot. 

 Who are the writers that have inspired, or influenced your writing style?

It is an utter hodgepodge: the people who write for Marvel comics (especially Spider-man), Broadway musical team Kander & Ebb (especially Cabaret),  Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre), P.G. Wodehouse (Jeeves & Wooster), Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes), Alice Walker (The Color Purple). I could go on for many pages, but you get the idea. To me, everything I write is layered with a thousand influences.

 What key piece of advice would you give to first-time novelists?

Finish your book.  If you write 500 words every weekday it'll be done in less than a year, so stop whining and do it.  Then rewrite it at least 12 times. No, it isn't done yet. Keep going. 

Where do you seek inspiration for your writing? How do you nail that big idea, and tease it into a novel?

I often start from a small idea and layer elements on top. We Were Liars started with the setting, and with the relationships between the kids who summered every year on that private island. It became a lot more as I worked on it.

 What would you like to see more of published?

Comedies. Protagonists of color.

 What do you like reading?

Thrillers. Literary fiction. Cookbooks. Young Adult.  Travel writing.  Humor. Twitter.

 Describe your typical writing day.

Today I went to a coffee shop at 7:30 AM and knocked out a bunch of first draft words for about 75 minutes. Then I went swimming and sat in the steam room and while I swam I thought about what I would write later. Now I'm in a coffee shop with a big protein smoothie and an espresso and I'm writing.  Sometimes I take a break and answer email or do a Q&A like this one. I take a nap a lot of days to reset my brain.

 I see that from other interviews that you regularly meet and work with other writers. How much of your work do you discuss? Is it ideas, do you talk plot problems as well as feedback on the writing style?

There is never feedback on writing style. We don't very often read one another's manuscripts. Instead, we keep each other company and kvetch about business aspects of the writing life.

 Describe your workspace (or office)

I have a beautiful sunny office with  a couch and lots of piles of books. I write in it about 2x a week. The rest of the time I work in coffee shops.

 Without giving away any of your own secrets, what are you researching at the moment?

Today I researched herpatology collections at natural history museums (basically, snakes and amphibians in glass jars).

 Favourite bookshop/s. Why?

I love Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, St. Paul because they have chickens and bunnies wandering around the shop.  It creates a sense of the bookshop as a destination for young people, as fun place to visit for more than one reason. It is a little smelly sometimes, but I don't mind.

Wild Rumpus Bookshop. Looks like I could settle in here for the afternoon!

Wild Rumpus Bookshop. Looks like I could settle in here for the afternoon!

 Tablet or book?

I have a tablet but I almost never use it. Paper books.

 Book/s that changed your life?

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.  

 What are you reading now?

I am rereading some books related to my current project – there are three – and I am listening to the audio of a Finnish thriller called My First Murder, by Leena Lehtolainen.

 What do you plan to read next?

Lev Grossman's The Magician's Land – the third in his trilogy. The first book in the series, The Magicians, is like Harry Potter with sex and drugs and bad behavior and a lot of literary references. I adored it.

 What do you recommend for a cheeky holiday read?

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. So stylish, so clever. Very funny. 



E. Lockhart's own Book Club questions here

E. Lockhart answers an extensive list of FAQ on writing and pedagogy

Review: The Guardian

Review: The Telegraph, UK