Q&A with Alison Layland

Today is my turn on the blog tour for Riverflow and to celebrate, I have a Q&A with author Alison Layland. My post is written with thanks to Emma Welton of damppebbles Blog Tours for inviting me on the tour and of course, to Alison Layland for answering my questions!

Have you always wanted to write?

I’ve always told myself stories – through my childhood and teens I had my own personal “soap operas” in my head – but I never thought I’d come up with anything other people would want to hear or read (or indeed that I’d want to share). When I became a translator, I therefore thought I’d satisfy my love of words by translating other people’s, but as I got older, my creativity got the better of me and I began writing, first short stories then novels.

What were your previous jobs? Have they helped you with your writing process?

Following a brief spell as a taxi driver after graduating, I was a chartered surveyor for a while. I have been a freelance translator since the mid-1990s, initially mainly commercial texts, but more recently concentrating on literary translation. My early jobs have provided snippets of life experience that appear in my novels, but it’s my career as a translator that has been the most helpful to my writing. Like any other craft, writing benefits from regular practice, and translation, whatever the subject-matter, involves writing and creative wordsmithing. I have the added advantage that my translation work has always been freelance, so in some ways that has made it easier to juggle time-wise with my writing career.

What was your inspiration for Riverflow

I’m passionate about the environment and have always tried to live as green a life as possible. I wanted to write a novel that’s engaging and character-driven but also, through the characters’ stories and conflicts, makes people think about environmental issues and protest.

How do you construct your characters? Do they have traits of people you know?

I like to think my characters are purely products of my imagination, but it’s inevitable that certain traits of people I know – not to mention myself – will creep in. If there are resemblances to people I know, they’re purely chance and it’s impossible to distinguish fact from fiction – even if I could, I wouldn’t say! My characters grow as I write, and often a chance action or remark in a piece of dialogue can lead to a substantial aspect in their life story.

What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m very definitely a pantser. I usually have a strong sense of the setting and main characters but only a vague notion of the story, before I plunge in (literally, in the case of Riverflow, which begins with a flood). I write roughly chronologically, but may rearrange sections and chapters when I’m revising. My first draft is actually part of my planning process; characters, stories and backstories emerge and change as I write. I have two wonderful, patient writer friends with whom I exchange works-in-progress for valuable feedback – sometimes more than once. It may seem chaotic on the face of it, but I’m prepared to go through several drafts and I self-edit rigorously.

How did you research Riverflow? Did you enjoy it?

After my debut, Someone Else’s Conflict, which featured the 1990s conflict in Croatia, it was a relief to come “home” to Shropshire and the Welsh border. Although much about my setting and Bede and Elin’s lifestyle was familiar, I nevertheless did plenty of research – from reading widely, talking to a neighbour who’s a flood defence officer for the Environment Agency, to spending time at the Preston New Road anti-fracking protests in Lancashire. I also took myself off on a couple of writing retreats in lovely AirBnB places, on a permaculture farm and an off-grid smallholding. I always enjoy research, and the learning it involves; in the case of Riverflow, it also encouraged me to get more involved in climate protests – I’m now actively involved with Extinction Rebellion, which emerged after I had finished writing the novel.

Who are your favourite writers? Are you influenced by them?

There are just so many – can I give you a shelfie instead? 😉 I don’t think I’m directly influenced by my favourites, other than admiring good writing and hoping that feeds in to my work; however, I like eclectic authors whose works aren’t readily categorised from one book to the next, and I like to think that’s the case with my own writing.

If you could invite three people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be and why?

It would be interesting to hear the views of authors who looked into the future in their writing – George Orwell with1984 and Margaret Atwood with the MaddAddam trilogy – and to discuss what they think about the way the world is now, compared to their visions. On a completely different note, my third guest would probably be Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who could prepare some of his brilliant River Cottage recipes for us, while adding to the dinner-table conversation with discussions of his environmental campaigns.

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with and why?

Anyone who suffers from claustrophobia.

Who would play you in a film of your life?

Frances McDormand – whoever she’s playing, I feel like I know her when I watch her, so I hope it would be mutual and she could get into my character.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m currently spending a lot of time with my local Extinction Rebellion group, planning and staging actions to raise awareness of the climate crisis, and persuade councils and the government to act. At home, I love reading, gardening, going for walks, listening to music. I’ve always regretted not learning to play the guitar better than I do, so am practising to try and put that right.

What is next for you?

I’ve always wanted to write a dystopia, and I’m currently writing a novel set 30 years in the future, which involves one or two of the characters from Riverflow, plus some new ones. It’s quite dark, but the working title is Hope.

Favourites:

Book? Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

Film? Koyaanisqatsi, with wonderful music by Philip Glass

Band/Singer? Peter Gabriel

TV show? The League of Gentlemen

Colour? Purple and green, especially both together.

Place? Somewhere wild and remote, by the sea

Biscuit? My husband David’s home-made flapjack

***

Riverflow is available from Amazon. 

You can follow the rest of the blog tour here:

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