We sat down for a chat with Laura Barnett, author of The Versions of Us, to find out a bit more about her and how she came to write this summer’s hottest debut novel.
The Versions of Us is out now in paperback, eBook and audio. Start reading now.
Who is your favourite author?
Anne Tyler. So many authors inspire me – Elizabeth Jane Howard, Richard Yates, Elizabeth Strout and Tessa Hadley, to name just a few – but I come back to Tyler over and over again. I love her precision, her compassion, and the way she draws out the beauty and sadness in the everyday.
What book do you most often recommend to friends?
Tyler’s novel Breathing Lessons. It tells the story of a long marriage – one that might seem unremarkable on the surface, but Tyler manages to excavate so beautifully all the dreams and disappointments that underpin any long relationship.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Not really: just getting up early (I think most clearly in the morning), sitting down at my computer, and writing. But I do drink a lot of flat whites, and I like a tidy study.
If you weren’t a writer what job would you liked to have gone into?
It’s hard to say as, despite a short-lived desire to become a vet when I was about six, all I’ve ever wanted to do is write! But I do sometimes dream about an alternative life as an interior designer. I particularly enjoy picturing the homes my characters live in, right down to the décor.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
The wonderful, addictive feeling I get when my writing is going well, and I actually feel I’m in another time, and another place, observing the characters I’ve created.
I believe it’s known as the “flow state”, and applies to any creative process. I often have to go through several horrendous sessions – hours when nothing I write seems to hang together – to get to those moments. But it’s worth it.
What one item could you not live without?
My MacBook Pro. It’s a bit battered and doddery, but it’s the repository for all my ideas.
Tell us something that will shock your readers?
I’ve never read War and Peace.
What makes you happy?
Standing with my husband Andy on the beach in front of the little cottage we rent each year on the isle of Mull. I don’t know anywhere more peaceful.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
An author I admire once advised me to keep my ideas under wraps until they had properly taken root. I remembered this when I started The Versions of Us. Part of me was terrified about the scale of what I was attempting – writing three versions of the same story. I didn’t want anyone to put me off, so I kept the project to myself for several months.
The members of my dream book club would be . . .
My mum (she taught me everything I know about books); Stevie Nicks; and a selection of my book-loving friends. Oh, and if I’m allowed a fictional character, Elizabeth Bennet. She’d definitely be frank about what she thought.