I so loved reading Luana Lewis’s novel ‘Forget Me Not’, published by Corgi on 5th November 2015, that I was delighted to be able to ask her some questions about it. You can read my review here.
How long did it take to write ‘Forget Me Not’ and what were your routines when you were writing it?
From start to finish, it took me about two years to write Forget Me Not. For the first draft, I tended to push forwards and not look back on what I’d written too much, so that I didn’t lose momentum. Later, when the story was in place, I did several edits to polish the writing and finesse the plot and character development.
I write part time, because I still practice as a clinical psychologist. I don’t have a set routine, in that I’m happy to write wherever there’s a plentiful supply of coffee and at any time of day. Sometimes I find when I’m tired, late at night, ideas flow faster and easier than they do in the morning when I’m supposed to be sitting at my desk and working. I try to write six days a week, and I think the act of writing daily is really my routine, more so than the time or place.
Initially I assumed that the title ‘Forget Me Not’ referred only to Vivien, but as I read I felt the title could be applied to other characters, their actions and the premature babies. Was this your intention and how did you decide on the title?
The title Forget Me Not was really a joint effort between me and my editors at Transworld. I had given the book the working title of Cravings, which related to both the craving for food and the craving for comfort and love (which can sometimes be much the same thing). But I seemed to be the only person who thought this title worked, and friends, family and especially my publishers were keen to find something stronger. When Forget Me Not was suggested, it resonated with me straight away. I think it’s both moving and sinister, and the theme of flowers was already in place, running through the book.
For me, the title relates to Vivien, and her powerful presence in the novel, although she dies before the story begins. But I really like what you’ve seen here, that the theme resonates for the other characters too, as well as the premature babies that are there in the background. I think your response shows this was the right title after all.
(It certainly was!)
How did you plan the novel to keep the reader guessing so effectively, as I must have changed my mind about who was to blame every time I finished a chapter?
The truth is that I can’t really claim credit for having planned this, but I’m delighted to hear that this was your experience! Forget me Not has a small cast of characters who all have intense feelings for each other, both positive and negative. The complicated nature of these relationships fascinated me. What I tried to do was to stay close to the characters’ motivations: their wishes, their longings and their pain. I tried to resist making them act in certain ways just for the sake of making them seem suspicious (even though I was really tempted to do this at times). I wanted to create complex characters that couldn’t easily be pigeonholed as ‘good’ or ‘evil’, even though crimes are involved. Because Vivien was both compelling and disturbed, she formed troubled relationships with people close to her and this had potential to brew into a potent and explosive mix.
I found the first person, rather than the third, for Rose’s perspective, really effective. Why did you decide to write it that way?
In earlier drafts, I had written Rose in the third person. This is the point of view I’ve always been most comfortable with, and the one I used in my first book, Don’t Stand So Close. But when I came to work on later drafts of Forget Me Not, I felt I needed to get closer to Rose, to get under her skin and inside her head, and so I experimented with writing in the first person. I think at that point the story really began to take shape. I’m glad you think it worked, because it felt right to me.
There are many layers of guilt in ‘Forget Me Not’. Do you see guilt as a fundamental part of the human psyche?
Yes, definitely. Guilt is one of the core emotions, alongside pain, love, rage and grief. All of these feelings are hard-wired into us and we experience them for good reason. Guilt, although very painful and unpleasant, can be healthy when it leads us to repair the damage we’ve done to our fellow human beings. In the book, Rose’s relationship with her grand-daughter Alexandra is one way she tries to make up for her failings as a mother to Vivien.
You obviously drew on your background as a clinical psychologist. How did it feel to fictionalise your professional world?
The issues that fascinate me as a psychologist are the same ones that fascinate me as a writer, so I really enjoy being able to explore these through fictional characters. I’m interested in understanding why people behave the way they do, especially when under pressure or in crisis in extreme situations. My first job was in a Trauma Clinic for survivors of violence, and I’m particularly interested in understanding how people overcome trauma of different kinds – which lends itself to crime writing.
In my first novel Don’t Stand So Close, Stella is actually a clinical psychologist who works as an expert witness in the family courts. In this book, I drew directly on my own professional experiences and explored some of my own fears. I asked the question: what is the worst thing that could happen to me as a psychologist, both personally and professionally? Stella’s journey in the book begins there.
In Forget Me Not, although I’ve moved away from the direct link to my profession, the emotional difficulties that the characters experience, and the themes of attachment between parents and children, are influenced by my background and training as a psychologist. But Forget Me Not also reflects my personal experience of having a child on a special care ward, and the book is partly a tribute to the medical staff on these units and the incredible work they do.
Rose wonders how she may have affected Vivien. To what extent do you believe we’re the product of our upbringing?
This is such an interesting and complex question. I believe that nature does play a significant role and that to a large extent, our personalities are pretty much there from day one. Some people are more resilient while others are more fragile. Some people will experience terrible trauma and cope well, while others struggle far more when faced with the same event.
But in terms of nurture, I also believe that our earliest relationships, those with our primary caregivers, form a powerful template for the way in which we view ourselves and the world, and the kind of relationships we go on to form. For example, if a child is abused, neglected or deprived of love, there is a risk that he or she will go on to treat themselves in a harsh, cruel way and to repeat this original trauma in future relationships – because at the core there is a sense of being unloved and unlovable. These patterns of abuse and self neglect are the ones that as a clinical psychologist, I work hard to help people undo.
As the novel progresses, more information is revealed and characters come to understand one another more clearly. Do you think we ever really know ourselves, let alone another person?
Yes, I hope so! I think our views of ourselves and our views of others are intertwined. If we can see ourselves more clearly, then we have a clearer and more accurate view of other people too. Sometimes without being aware of it, we project images from the past onto people in our present life – so a person who has been maltreated by their caregivers might feel the whole world is ‘against them’ and behave in quite a paranoid way. What has been really interesting for me to learn while training in psychotherapy is that often what people complain others are doing to them (neglecting them, ignoring their opinions, harming them) is exactly what they are doing to themselves, unconsciously and automatically, without realizing it. Once we can learn to treat ourselves with care and compassion, many of the difficulties in our relationships with others are easier to resolve.
And finally, Isaac has had an unhappy experience with the Internet. What is your view of it and social media as a writer?
Ambivalent! Before I was published I thought of myself as a very private person. As a psychologist, it’s natural to have a more reticent, discreet profile and not to disclose much personal information in a work context so it’s been quite a change for me to engage with social media. I don’t think I’m a natural at it – some people are really funny or have a great ‘voice’ where you instantly get such a clear sense of their personality; whereas I agonise over a boring tweet and whether or not it should have an exclamation mark at the end of it (mine generally all do). But I’m glad I’ve ventured onto Twitter because I get to interact with other authors and an entire community of people interested in books and writing. I’m also very grateful and moved as a new author to have had support and enthusiasm from book bloggers. Writing novels can be a rather lonely pursuit, which doesn’t necessarily involve much human contact, and so Twitter can be a good bridge to the outside world. I haven’t yet ventured onto any of the other forums…
Thank you so much, Luana Lewis, for answering my questions about Forget Me Not. They have been fascinating responses.