Thursday, 13 February 2014

Debut Spotlight: Luana Lewis

In today's debut spotlight feature I'd like to introduce you to Luana Lewis whose debut novel Don't Stand So Close is published today.

What would you do if a young girl knocked on your door and asked for your help?

If it was snowing and she was freezing cold, but you were afraid and alone?

What would you do if you let her in, but couldn't make her leave? What if she told you terrible lies about someone you love, but the truth was even worse?

Stella has been cocooned in her home for three years. Severely agoraphobic, she knows she is safe in the stark, isolated house she shares with her husband, Max. The traumatic memories of her final case as a psychologist are that much easier to keep at a distance, too.

But the night that Blue arrives on her doorstep with her frightened eyes and sad stories, Stella's carefully controlled world begins to unravel around her. 

Luana Lewis is a clinical psychologist and author of two non-fiction books. As well as writing for several newspapers, magazines and journals, and contributing to various discussions on mental health, Luana has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.

Can you tell us a little bit about your debut book Don’t Stand So Close?
Don’t Stand So Close is a psychological suspense novel, with elements of crime fiction too. Agoraphobic Stella is still coping with traumatic memories of her final case as a psychologist when she opens the door on a freezing night to a teenage girl with a story that will tear Stella’s world apart. 

Where did the inspiration come from to write this story? 
I remember sitting in bed one night – the best ideas always seem to pop into my head just before I go to sleep – and I just saw this scene between these two people where a young girl was determined to seduce a much older man. I wrote the book around this idea, and played with the idea of the blurring the lines between fantasy and reality.

At the same, time I was working on writing reports for the courts as an expert witness, and other strands of the story are based around the question: “What if your worst fears about working on one of these medico-legal cases came true?”

The story is written in three different strands - it seemed to come naturally to write one chapter in Stella’s present day life where she is trapped in her home by symptoms of agoraphobia , one scene between therapist and patient and then a third which takes place a few years earlier when Stella was an ambitious professional I love reading books like that myself –trying to work out why someone could change so dramatically over time.

The main character Stella suffers with agrophobia, how much research did you have to do about agrophobia to enable you to write this book? 
I am a clinical psychologist, so an understanding of mental health difficulties has always been a part of my work. I did some reading but I also drew on experience of having worked with people with emotional difficulties including anxiety and post-traumatic stress. 

Are you currently working on a new book? If so, are you able to tell us anything about it?
Yes, I’m writing a second novel and this story involves a dark relationship between two emotionally disturbed women who first met as children. I’m just about to write the ending so I’m carrying round this sense of tension and excitement… 

Have you always been interested in writing crime fiction or are you tempted to try writing in a different genre at some stage?
I didn’t really know I was writing crime fiction but I can see why the book fits into that category! I’m mainly interested in the characters and in how traumatic experiences can trigger mental breakdown or extreme behaviours. I have come to realise that all of the stories I want to write about tend to involve some kind of dramatic event (death, serious assault, kidnapping), ie a crime. At the moment I don’t have plans to write any other genre, but I love Young Adult fiction so if a strong idea came to me I might give that a try.

How long did it take to get a publishing deal?
I started writing purely for enjoyment, in my spare time, about four years ago, but I became more and more addicted to the creative process and I ended up going on several short writing courses before eventually enrolling on the Bath Spa MA in creative writing. Don’t Stand So Close is my second attempt at a novel (the first manuscript was wisely abandoned). A few months after the MA finished, I sent the manuscript to a literary agent and she took me on as a client. From then it was about three or four months of editing and re-writing until it was ready to send out to publishers. It was taken on very quickly after submission.

Do you have a set daily writing routine?
I try to write around 1000 words a day, six days a week. Life sometimes intrudes. It isn’t always in the same time or at the same place and I have to fit writing around various parenting duties.

Are there any writers that have influenced you as a writer?
I read very widely and there are so many writers I admire, I hope I’m influenced in positive ways by all of them: Mordecai Richler, Antje Krog, Dalene Matthee, Marlene van Niekerk, Charles Bukowski, Robert Harris, John Le Carre, Stieg Larrsen, Johan Theorin, Peter Carey, Dennis Lehane…I could go on and on!

If you weren’t a writer, what career path would you have chosen to follow?
I was a psychologist long before I was a writer and that’s still an important part of my identity.

Are you going to treat yourself to anything as a reward for publishing your first book? 
I invested in a very small, very light laptop that I can carry with me anywhere so that I can write wherever and whenever I get the opportunity (usually on the tube, or in CafĂ© Nero or Harris and Hoole).

Thank you for having me!

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