This month, Anne Miller‘s all about All About Mia author Lisa Williamson.
A few years ago, Lisa Williamson took a temp job between acting roles at the Tavistock Centre’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS). Her experiences there led to her debut Young Adult novel The Art of Being Normal, which was published to critical acclaim in 2015.
It was the bestselling hardback YA debut that year and won Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for Older Readers in 2016. Her second YA novel All About Mia was published last week and is about the middle sister of three and her attempts to fit into (and her fallings out with) family life.
The Art of Being Normal was narrated by David, a trans teenager, and was a phenomenal debut both in terms of the recognition it received and the ground that it broke. I wondered how its success affected the writing of the ‘difficult’ second novel.
Williamson worked through several ideas before she wrote Mia’s story. “With the first book I never wavered, I knew I wanted to write this story and I never thought about anything else,” she says. “[With book two] I started loads of different stories and then I would suddenly lose confidence because I thought, ‘Oh God, I’m just not sure,’ and because I was always sure on my first book I thought, ‘Well, therefore it’s not right.’ And I’m realising that actually it doesn’t always work that way.”
One of the constants throughout Williamson’s other ideas was a character called Mia. “She kept following me as I kept changing my mind, and I was like, oh Mia’s back. And then eventually I thought, why don’t I just give her her own story?”
Mia’s two sisters appear to have their lives neatly mapped out – her older sister Grace did very well at school and is on a gap year archaeology trip with her new boyfriend, while younger sister Audrey is a champion swimmer and could be destined for the Olympics.
Mia has neither one set talent nor the same personality as her siblings – she can’t understand why Grace would be spending time looking at old ruins when she could be at a Full Moon party in Thailand, and comments that she would throw herself off a bridge if anybody was to describe her as “nice”.
One of the most intriguing things about Mia is that she is the sort of character you often encounter as the noisier sibling to a main character rather than as the hero in her own story. This tends to be how Mia feels about her own life, being unsure where she fits in or what her future holds, although she does cherish her close-knit group of friends, especially when they’re out hitting the town.
As the novel progresses Mia learns to take some responsibility but won’t be tamed entirely. “I didn’t want to write a morality tale,” says Williamson. “One where at the end she learns, ‘I’ve been very, very bad and I won’t drink any more’ – that won’t happen! She’s going to keep making mistakes. I think she’s learned from these ones in a way but she’s 16 and a handful. She’s a work in progress.”
As a child Williamson loved stories and realised she wanted to be an actor when she was nine. She was a quiet child with “that painful shyness where, if an adult spoke to you, you would freeze and not know what to say,” and didn’t tell anyone she wanted to act in case they thought she was being silly. Instead she would tell people she wanted to be a camera operator despite having no real interest in cameras.
Things changed when she joined some out-of-school theatre groups and found both a new group of friends and a new confidence and later went on to drama school. I wonder if acting helps with writing and creating characters.
Williamson says, “I think it really does come in handy. I visualise everything as a scene – I can see a lot of detail like exactly how they’re moving. I think it helps with dialogue as well, because often when I read out my work aloud, immediately I can tell how dialogue sounds when you read it out loud. I do it like a script and sort of act all the parts.”
There’s a scene in the book where Mia tries to seduce the father of the boy she babysits for. Williamson recruited her boyfriend to help her block out how the sequence should go.
At one stage in the book Mia wears a top that says “All About Mia” and remarks that it’s ironic “because it never is”.
The opposite holds true with the book and it is a funny and lively read about a character whose thoughts, feelings and views on life are finally allowed to take centre stage.
All About Mia by Lisa Williamson is published by David Fickling Books and is out now.
Catch up on Anne’s previous Fully Booked columns here.
Anne is a QI Elf. She has two Blue Peter badges, reached the semi-finals of Only Connect and really likes puffins. @miller_anne