Ali Land on writing: ‘An opportunity to provoke, move, disturb and comfort’

Ali Land is the author of Good Me, Bad Me  - the tense, gripping story of Milly, a young girl who struggles to break free of her dark family history after turning her mother - a serial killer - in to the police. We talked to Ali about writing, reading, and fantasy dinner parties...

What are you reading at the moment?

I tend to dual read, and at the moment I’m reading Soldier Spy by Tom Marcus and a proof of the novel Mad by Chloe Esposito.

What would be your desert island…

Song: With One Look performed by Glenn Close
Book: The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton
Film: Girl, Interrupted

Ali Land

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party and what would you serve?

Hannibal Lecter, liver, fava beans and a fine Chianti. Joking! If only I was that brave.

I’d invite Roald Dahl (for his magical thinking); Joni Mitchell (for her beautiful energy and voice); Sitting Bull (a legendary Native American warrior and medicine man, for his stories and his visions); Lizzie Borden (there’s so much I want to ask her); Adele (to get Lizzie drunk so she might tell me some of the things I’d like to know) and Derren Brown (to keep us all on our toes).

I’d serve tapas on a revolving table.

Not many people know this, but I’m very good at…

Vintage-hunting. I have the eye of a magpie and collect pieces of jewellery and clothes from all over the world. If I hadn’t become a writer, I was going to open a vintage shop somewhere warm by a beach and call it Velvet Magpie.

Where do you write?

I usually write at home. I like to move around the room, disrupt my creativity, wake it up. I also like to roll ideas around by talking them through out loud - one long, slightly bonkers conversation with myself, which would be super annoying for everybody else if I did it in a café. My creative space is really important to me. I get inspiration and ideas by being surrounded by artefacts and items I’ve gathered over the years, and I like that I can pick up a book at any point and read a chapter or a poem, which of course is an important part of the writing process.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I always have a candle burning when I write. A writer’s desk can be a lonely place and for me, the warmth and light a candle gives, is comforting and encourages my creativity. I like to refer to candles as deliciously scented and silent friends! I use music too, always through my headphones so any external noise is eliminated. I like to break up the periods of writing by listening to certain songs that mirror the emotional landscape of the writing I’m doing. The music takes me further and deeper into the psyche of the characters and helps me harness voices and images.

How would you define the role of the writer?

I would define it as a privilege. An opportunity to provoke, to move, to both disturb and comfort. A masseuse for the readers mind.

Ali Land

What’s the most useful piece of advice about writing you’ve been given?

‘Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power.’ This quote by the American author Joan Didion is the reason I began to read my work out loud. I recognised very early on in writing Good Me Bad Me that my natural style is staccato in nature and beats to an unusual rhythm. I had to learn how to make the prose more accessible to readers, and by reading it aloud I was able to clean up the rhythm yet still retain its uniqueness.

And finally, what’s the question (and answer to the question) no one has ever asked you but you wish they would?

Q: What worried you the most about writing your novel?
A: My biggest fear when writing Good Me Bad Me was that readers wouldn’t feel compassion for my main character Milly, that they would write her off as a child that couldn’t be helped. Of course, that risk remains very real, but by making a conscious decision to place her in a foster family that was, in its own way, toxic, I hope that I’ve managed to buffer the thought that there’s no hope for Milly and instead prompt readers to ask questions such as: But what if she’d been placed in a more appropriate setting? Where should children like Milly go? How can we look after them?

Good Me, Bad Me is Ali Land's first novel, and will be published in January 2017. Read an extract.  

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