What did you do before you were a writer?

I was a children’s mental health nurse for ten years. I gave it up to allow myself more psychological energy to write, and worked as a PA/nanny during the time I wrote my novel.

When did you know you wanted to write?

It was less about ‘wanting to’ for me, but more about needing to. I had nowhere else to go. My mind was full to bursting of the things that worried me, of the young people I’d looked after, and this burning desire to provoke discussion around how to care for children who had been damaged by their pasts. Reading had always given me a huge amount of comfort and I hoped writing would do the same, which it has. Almost as soon as I put pen to paper, I felt a palpable sense of relief, as if somehow I’d arrived home.

Where do you live now?

I live in west London, a minute’s walk away from the vibrant Portobello road. I love that every day during the week the market traders are there selling fruit and veg come rain or shine, and that at the weekends it turns into a vintage mecca with buskers and people spilling out of the pubs onto the streets. It has a very bohemian energy and community feel, and for an avid people-watcher like myself it’s heaven. A very stylish and laid-back heaven!

Who is your favourite fictional character and why?

Merricat from We Have Always Lived in the Castle – she’s a heady mix of magic, insanity and suspense. I imagine if I saw her she’d be surrounded by this irresistible light, that she’d almost vibrate but I’d never quite be able to touch her. Never quite be able to know her true essence, but feel compelled enough to keep on trying to.

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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