To celebrate the release of You Wish, Australian author Lia Weston’s third published novel, I have a fascinating Q & A with Lia to share with you all. It is true pleasure to welcome Lia to Mrs B’s Book Reviews for a Q & A session. This Q & A will follow a review to be published later this week of Lia’s latest novel, You Wish, on the blog.
About the author…
Lia Weston is a fiction writer.
Her debut novel, The Fortunes of Ruby White, was published by Simon & Schuster Australia in 2010.
Those Pleasant Girls, Lia’s second novel, was published with Pan Macmillan in April 2017, with You Wish, her third book, to follow in April 2018.
In between wrestling with plot points and procrastinating instead of writing her synopsis, Lia runs a bicycle shop with her husband Pete and also works as a freelance copyeditor.
Hello Lia. I warmly welcome you to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews. I greatly appreciate the time you have provided to answer a few questions. To begin, You Wish, your latest work of fiction is to be released in March. Can you give us an outline of what we can expect?
A. Tom Lash has an unusual job. His company, Ignis Fatuus, creates photographic composites. Divorcees can have their wedding albums redone (who hasn’t occasionally wanted to replace their spouse with Chris Hemsworth?), aspiring actors can win Oscars, and bereaved parents can have photos of their deceased children’s theoretical lives. Tom is unusually skilled at knowing what people want. But when his work and his real life start bleeding together, Tom starts to question where to draw the line. You Wish is a black comedy about illusions, delusions, hope, obsession, and all the strange places they lead us.
Q. How did the main idea for You Wish come about?
A. Daydreaming, pure and simple. Most people have fantasised about being in their favourite movie or show, or wondered what their life would have looked like if they’d married someone else or picked a different career. I thought it would be interesting if there was a company which created proof of those imagined lives—customised photos so good they could fool anyone. (Not that you’d probably show them to other people, though. These are secret photos. Especially if you’ve had your wedding portraits altered so you’re now married to your wife’s best friend.)
Q. What research did you need to undertake to bring You Wish to life? Is there anything really interesting you learnt from the research process?
A. Interesting fact one: a certain brand of aerosol paint smells like vanilla but will make you go blind for several hours if you get it in your eyes.
My main character is an artist who dabbles in stencil graffiti by night. Visual art is not one of my talents, so I spent some time with street artist Jack Franceschini while he was working on a mural. He was hugely helpful on painting techniques as well as the etiquette of the scene, which is still largely underground. I also spoke to my best friend Georgia Cheesman, a linoprint artist, about the way she visually processes her environment. It was fascinating; I had no idea people viewed the world that way. Which is probably why I can’t draw.
Interesting fact two: the Melbourne CBD has a large fox population.
You Wish is set in Melbourne. I’ve spent quite a bit of time there but returned during the writing process to find the locations I wanted to use in the book. I originally based the Ignis Fatuus headquarters on a particular pub but the real-life building kept intruding on the page; the scenes set there never felt authentic, and they all ended up in the bin. (I also got food poisoning from that pub, which I’m taking as a sign.) I also discovered there are a lot of urban foxes in Melbourne, which I incorporated into the book, and I found a brilliant yet unsettling YouTube clip of a woman walking her dog in the city while being stalked by a very hungry one.
Interesting fact three: rent-a-spouse is a real thing.
(It’s kind of cheating to include this as I only discovered it after You Wish was finished, but it’s relevant and I couldn’t resist.) Did you know that in Japan there’s a booming industry where you can pay actors to pose as your spouse, boyfriend, employee, etc.? I read a fascinating interview with one very successful gentleman who’s married to several women he hasn’t seen since their wedding day, plus has been acting as one little girl’s dad for several years. She has no idea he’s not actually her father. The mind boggles.
Q. Thomas Lash your main character, has an unusual gift. Where did the inspiration for this character come from?
A. I studied psychology during my uni degree, and have always been fascinated with deception—the lies we tell ourselves as much as the ones we tell others. Part of my day job also includes working out what people actually want, which is often not what they say they want, so the disconnection between people’s words and actions has long been a source of interest. I stumbled across a Derren Brown program a few years ago and became obsessed with his ability to apparently read people’s minds. His books explain how he does it; there’s nothing psychic about it—it’s a well-honed skill in recognising facial micromovements that we all unconsciously make. (Albeit, recognising those micromovements through hours and hours and hours of study. Mr Brown is nothing if not studiously focused.) With that in mind, I wondered: what would it be like to know things by simply looking at someone? If it was an innate talent, how could you use it to your advantage… and, moreover, would you? On a secondary note, I also liked the idea of creating a business out of a desire to help people and then watch it take on a life of its own that you didn’t anticipate or want. What do you do when your pet project becomes Frankenstein’s monster, lumbering off into the distance?
Q. Your latest novel is about the process of granting secret wishes on screen, by a photoshopping expert. Can you tell us about an image that you personally would like photoshopped and why?
A. I have very few photographs of me and my brother together, so an album of those would be wonderful. On a completely frivolous note, can someone please photoshop me into Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility so Alan Rickman can carry me across some rolling fields in the rain? Excellent. Thank you.
Q. What were the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing this novel?
A. Time was the most challenging aspect, as it is for most writers, I suspect. There was a tight deadline on this book, so writing it while also editing Those Pleasant Girls plus working full-time was a baptism of fire and coffee.
The most rewarding aspect was being surprised by the characters. I loved writing in Tom’s voice; it leant an easy fluency to a lot of the scenes. Gen (Tom’s little sister) snuck her way into the book and became a much bigger feature than anticipated. She was a lot of fun to spend time with, a little like Mary from Those Pleasant Girls, though they’re poles apart as characters. Teenage girls keep surfacing in my work even though I never intend to put them in there. Clearly it’s some kind of arrested development issue.
Q. You Wish is your third published book. How has your writing evolved?
A. Since The Fortunes of Ruby White, which is the first novel I wrote, I’ve focused on stripping back my language and working on sentence structure. I tend to under-write anyway (unless I’m doing Q&As!) so I’ve made a conscious decision to pare my prose down as much as possible. I’ve also learned to let go of jokes even if I think they’re very funny. It’s easy for humour to tip into self-indulgence, which is always loathsome to read. Deleting things is not a problem for me—I love slash-and-burn editing. Every deleted redundancy is a thrill. I’ve also pushed myself to develop areas that I’ve previously shied away from. You Wish is a first-person point of view, which I had never attempted before, and when it started coming out in Tom’s voice, I was initially concerned about writing in a different gender. It flowed so well, though, that I stopped worrying and just wrote it anyway. There, we can put that on a t-shirt: Stop worrying. Just write.
Q. I believe you run a bicycle shop with your husband. Can you tell us how you balance a business with writing?
A. With difficulty! We both work a minimum of sixty hours a week, so writing gets squeezed into all the nooks and crannies. I try to get around 7-8 hours done on Sundays, which is my day off, and I write whenever I can in the evening, plus find myself scribbling in a lot of weird places like the car wash or blood bank. When deadlines are looming, there’s no choice—you just have to cull your life down to get the time you need. The down side means I missed every movie, play and art exhibition I wanted to see while getting You Wish written. I’ve got a bit of breathing room now so I can go and frolic in the arts.
Q. What is next on the horizon for Lia Weston? Do you any writing projects you would like to share?
A. I have some ideas, but I’m keeping them secret, sorry. I keep things pretty close to my chest during the process. You Wish is a perfect example of this; when I signed off on it, no-one had read it besides my publisher. Even my close friends didn’t really know what it was about. But I can say that I’m probably going to write a whole bunch of poetry this year as I feel a need to switch formats.
Q. Finally, what book is on your bedside table?
A. I’ve got about nineteen on there at the moment, which is the by-product of having no reading time during my writing hibernation, but I’m delighted to finally be making a dent in the pile. My current reads are Victoria Purman’s The Three Miss Allens and Kim Lock’s The Three of Us, and I’m loving them. (Plus I’ve just realised they both have ‘three’ in the title. And You Wish is my third book. Weird.) We have so many talented writers in this country—Charlotte Wood, Kylie Ladd, Natasha Lester, Favel Parrett, just to name a few—so I’m having a great time exploring all their stories. My to-be-read pile is growing exponentially! Soon I shall be drowning in books. (It’s not a bad way to go.)
Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews Lia and congratulations on the publication of You Wish!
Thanks so much for having me!
Connect with Lia here:
If this Q & A enticed you to read You Wish, here is the blurb:
Sometimes imagination is not enough.
Thomas Lash grants secret wishes . . . on-screen, that is.
White wedding gone horribly wrong and need to swap the groom? Never went to university but must have a graduation photo? Need to create a fake family for that job interview? Problem solved with expert Photoshopping and Tom’s peculiar ability to know exactly what you desire. Tom never says no, even when giving grieving parents the chance to see what the lives of their lost children may have looked like.
But where do you draw the line . . . and what happens when the fantasy Tom sees on-screen starts to bleed into his real life?
You Wish by Lia Weston is published on 27th March 2018 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.