Award-winning writer Louise Doughty is a woman of many talents; author, Radio 4 presenter, creative writing tutor, associate producer and literary prize panel member. For Louise, however, she prefers to refer to herself as, first and foremost, a novelist. Writing novels – and she has written several bestsellers, including the TV-adapted Apple Tree Yard – is her first love. Her ninth novel, Platform Seven, delves into the psyche as it explores the darker side of relationships.
Janie Smith, Culture Editor at Lady Wimbledon, spoke to Louise as she prepares to appear at Wimbledon BookFest.
JS: What excites you most about appearing at the Wimbledon Bookfest?
LD: Writing can be incredibly isolating. There are days when you begin to think you are only doing it for yourself, your agent and your publisher. Meeting actual readers is what makes the whole experience worthwhile. The fact that they want to give up their own personal time to meet me, and with such enthusiasm, is heartening and cheering.
JS: When you wrote Whatever You Love, you said that it took several rewrites. Was writing your latest novel, Platform Seven, any easier?
LD: No! It was really hard work. In Platform Seven, the main character is narrating after she has died. The complexities of writing a first-person narrative as well narrating the other characters demanded a lot from me as a writer. I forced myself to get through the first draft so that I had a building block to work from.
JS: Platform Seven is based around gaslighting which is a very hot topic right now. How did you get into the heads of your characters?
LD: That is the six-million-dollar question! I think it defies analysis. It is all about the voice. I hear their voice and go with it. It is instinctive, inexplicable and can be very emotional.
JS: Given the sensitive nature of the plot you must have had to research the topic extensively. Can you tell me about it?
LD. Yes, research was extensive! I spent many a cold dark night sat on Peterborough’s railway station platform and in the nearby Great Northern Hotel absorbing the atmosphere, thinking and feeling. I read a wealth of academic papers, worked with the Chief Executive of Refuge, read memoirs and books such as The Charming Man Syndrome. It was incredibly disturbing but essential that I told the story authentically.
JS: Lisa Evans, the narrator, is involved in a coercive relationship. Is it your hope that women will see her plight and become emboldened to escape if they are in the same situation?
LD; Yes, it would be fabulous if Lisa Evans became the poster girl for women in this situation. I can already see that it’s broadening the conversation and illuminating people to the fact that abuse is not just physical. Mental abuse is the thin end of the wedge and I hope my story conveys this. I have received letters from strangers sharing their experiences of toxic masculinity and how their own judgement has been undermined. Often the perpetrator is incredibly charming and has others outside of the relationship eating out of their hands. The most disturbing part is that there are such blurred lines. The behaviours are on a definite spectrum and it is my sincere hope that my story will enlighten the reader as to when normal becomes extreme.
JS: Your novel Apple Tree Yard was adapted for TV. How was that experience?
LD: It was a great experience! They kept to the story and I was included throughout the entire process as Associate Producer. Emily Watson played the lead role so what was not to love?!
JS: Finally, as a novelist and creative writing tutor, what top three tips would you give any of our readers who are budding novelists?
LD: 1. Read as much contemporary fiction as possible. It is the best way to learn the language of novel writing.
2. Accept that it takes many, many hours of your time. Decide what you are willing to sacrifice to become a writer.
3. Try and ignore the negative voices in your head. All writers experience it but you have to learn to quieten them.
An extract from Platform Seven by Louise Doughty:
“Platform Seven at 4am: Peterborough Railway Station is deserted. The man crossing the covered walkway on this freezing November morning is confident he’s alone. As he sits on the metal bench at the far end of the platform it is clear his choice is strategic – he’s as far away from the night staff as he can get.
What the man doesn’t realise is that he has company. Lisa Evans knows what he has decided. She knows what he is about to do as she tries and fails to stop him walking to the platform edge.
Two deaths on Platform Seven. Two fatalities in eighteen months – surely, they’re connected.
No one is more desperate to understand what connects them than Lisa Evans herself. After all, she was the first of the two to die.”
Louise Doughty is appearing at the Wimbledon BookFest on October 7th, and will be discussing her brand-new novel Platform Seven. Book tickets on the Wimbledon BookFest website here. To learn more about Louise Doughty, visit her website here.
Written By: Janie Smith | Arts & Culture Editor