Author of the The Guilty One
In July 2011, Lisa Ballantyne was overseas on business when her debut novel The Guilty One was submitted to publishers. She returned to Glasgow to hear that she had beenoffered a deal with Little, Brown. We caught up with her to find out a bit more about her debut phenomenon.
Haveyou always wanted to be a writer?
Yes, but not always a novelist. For many years I wrote poetry, which, as a pastime, is somewhat more sociable. I felt compelled to write long fiction because characters and their lives began to inhabit me.
Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to write The Guilty One and whether the writing process was an easy one?
I am always drawn to characters, and I was ‘visited’ by the characters of Minnie and Daniel. The other characters and the story of The Guilty One evolved as a result of trying to understand this fundamental relationship.
How did it feel to get a UK publisher for your debut novel?
I can’t describe it. Even now, months after the fact, I have trouble believing it has happened.
After your book deal in the UK, The Guilty One then sold around the world. How did you react to this?
Luckily I was very busy at work while all this was happening, and it helped me to distance myself from it. I still wonder if I somehow slipped into a parallel universe.
New writers are often advised to write about what they know. Do you know a lot about criminal law and foster care in order to have written about it so authentically?
I don’t write about what I know, but I do write about what interests me, and my commitment to the characters fuels my research. In wishing to make my characters believable, I want to make the worlds they inhabit believable too – however, I am still reticent to call my representations of these worlds authentic. At best I would hope they are believable. There are few things more fun than researching fictional characters. It is like stalking your own imagination.
Did your characters appear in your head fully formed or did they transform as the book evolved? Who is your favourite character?
Daniel and Minnie were very vivid – right down to the smell of them – from early on. Other characters, but also the adult Daniel, evolved as the story progressed. Daniel is the most intriguing, and I wonder what he is up to now, but I admire Minnie’s bravery.
Daniel has a very strong view about the ways in which society should deal with juvenile criminals. Do Daniel’s views mirror your own?
The character of Sebastian developed almost as a construct to elucidate Daniel’s struggle with nature and nurture. The story suggests that criminals are made not born but the adult Daniel also highlights how out-of step England and Wales is with much of Europe when it comes to children and criminal justice.
Do you think it was right for Minnie to lie to Daniel?
I think when we love people we often make choices that can be difficult to justify afterwards.
In your opinion, who is most guilty in the story?
Almost everyone in the story is guilty. They are all guilty in different and almost incomparable ways.
What are you working on now?
A story about obedience and rebellion.
The Guilty One is published 30 August.
Find out more about Lisa and the book on her website.
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