By Sara Aslagson-Sahar
Reading The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson was such a good adventure. The characters were very real and so were their struggles. The Art of Being Normal follows David, a character who is worried about coming out as Transgender to his family, and Leo, a new kid a David’s school. After doing a book review, asking Lisa Williamson to do an interview was too good of an opportunity to pass up. She said yes and this is the interview that followed.
I have to say that: I absolutely loved your book. It is fantastic. My Big Brother and several other people in my life are Transgender, and the story felt very real. I really appreciate that you wrote a book about this topic because it is not one that often gets written about. Thank you.
I’m so pleased you enjoyed TAOBN so much and that it felt real. As I was writing it, that was my main goal so it’s always lovely to hear you got it right!
Leo is so brilliant at maths. Is this something you enjoy as well? Did you have a particular reason for why Leo is so good at it?
No! I’m more like David when it comes to maths. I did well at school but always struggled with maths and would get frustrated when it didn’t come naturally to me. I liked the idea of Leo being good at maths because there is always a right answer and I thought that fit his character.
Do you have a favorite character?
Leo (don’t tell David!). I love his gruffness, his vulnerability, his relationship with his sisters, everything really. I love it when I get messages from readers who say they really fancy him (one tweet said ‘Please let Leo Denton be my boyfriend!’). It was never my intention to make him traditionally ‘hot’ so it’s always really lovely when his appeal comes across. I love David too of course, but there’s something about Leo’s journey that breaks my heart a bit. Having said all this, one of my favourite things about being a writer is creating the minor characters. For example I had great fun writing Becky (the girl who throws the ‘spin the bottle’ party) and her mum and dad.
Which character do you identify with the most?
Probably David. He leads a sort of double life – the happy-go-lucky kid who gets on with it, and the one who worries and cries alone. As a teenager I felt constantly torn between the image I wanted to project to my friends and family, and expressing the sadness I was feeling underneath. I found it very hard to open up and admit I was hurting or needed help. David is much better at this than I was actually!
Which part of the story was the most fun for you to write and why?
The party scene was excellent fun! I looked really young for my age when I was fourteen/fifteen, so parties and drinking we’re really on the agenda. I suppose you could say I’m living vicariously through my characters and letting them have experiences I didn’t necessarily have (both good and bad). I also really enjoyed writing some of the more painful scenes e.g. the scene in the canteen, and the flashback scene to what happened to Leo in the woods. I found those two chapters really flowed. There was something about the pain that felt very real and allowed me to write very freely. I also adored writing the ball scene. It was one of the last scenes I wrote and felt quite whimsical compared to the rest of the book. I felt it was what my characters deserved so it was lovely making it special for them.
What was your writing process for this novel?
Very disjointed! I started with David and started writing scenes and vignettes from his point of view, most of which did not end up in the book. They did however help me to get to know him. Very quickly I realised I wanted to juxtapose David with another character who is an outsider in a slightly different way, and Leo was born. I knew I wanted their lives to collide but didn’t know how and took months making them meet in all sorts of bizarre and often convoluted ways before deciding Leo would be the new boy at school. From there the storyline with Leo’s Dad was beefed out, and all the swimming pool stuff, but I still had lots of holes and things to tie up. Pivotal scenes like the Christmas ball were added in quite late in the process. It was like a jigsaw puzzle!
Do you think your acting experience has influenced your writing? If so, how?
I do. Both acting and writing are forms are storytelling, so I think they have more in common than even I realise. It definitely helps with dialogue. Acting dialogue out is often the only way to know whether a line works or not. I think it also helps me visualise chapters as if they’re scenes in a play or film. I know all the scenes in the book inside out and can visualise them perfectly, right down to tiny ridiculous details.
Is there a message you want the readers to take away? If so, what is it?
That nothing and no one is ‘normal’. Tolerance. Kindness.
Do you plan on writing another book?
Yes, I’m writing it now. It’s taking far longer than I thought it would but I want it to be really good so I’m trying not to rush it! Hopefully readers will be patient!
This debut novel was inspired while Williamson worked as an office temp at The Gender Identity Development Service between her acting roles. If you would like to find out more about her, you can do so by checking out her website.