We spoke to Anna Larner about her books and her writing plans for the future.
(A) TELL US SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT YOUR LAST PUBLISHED BOOK.
My debut lesbian romance Highland Fling had the working title How Does The Sun Know How To Shine?
Without giving too much of the plot away, early on in the book, Moira Burns (one of the main characters) is worried about her lack of sexual experience and she seeks reassurance from her first love. Her lover responds by saying “How does the sun know how to shine, Moira?” “How does the wind know how to blow?” “How does the rain know how to fall?” helping Moira to understand that her sexuality is as natural as nature itself and is something to be cherished and enjoyed.
It is one of the key messages that I hope readers will take from Highland Fling, along with living your life for today, looking forward, free from regret.
(B) WHAT GOT YOU INTO WRITING?
I attended the ‘States of Independence’ Book Festival held in Leicester’s De Montfort University, back in 2012. Bold Strokes Books hosted a panel on that day, encouraging people to consider writing for an LGBT press. It was a proper lightbulb moment for someone like me with an overactive imagination and a passion for all things LGBT.
(C) CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR WRITING STYLE? HOW DO YOU DECIDE ON PLOTS AND CHARACTERS? ARE YOU A PLANNER OR A PANTSER?
I’m a writer with a lyrical, descriptive style who cares about the detail of things. Bringing to life a setting is important to me, evoking a sense of place and the particular mood of the moment. I’m also keen to portray the uniqueness of each character, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry, and sharing this with the reader.
I’m not sure I decide upon plot and character, it’s more that a place, a person or an event sparks a creative response from which a story begins to form. For example, the idea for my latest work Love’s Portrait came from a creative writing workshop focusing on forgotten female abolitionists. Their passion and courage in the face of opposition was so inspiring that I began to wonder ‘what if’…and how to weave that ‘what if’ into a contemporary love story.
As to whether I’m a planner or a panster…I’m a bit of both. I work to an outline which gives me direction but ultimately the details, the heart of the story emerges from the act of writing, which for me is where the magic lies.
(D) IF YOU HAD TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, WOULD YOU DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY?
No, I wouldn’t change a thing. Going back and seeking to change the path of your life feels a bit like flattening out the mountains – with the breathtaking ride of the highs and lows lost in favour of a more plain and certain view.
(E) WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT PROJECT?
I’m currently working on my second novel Love’s Portrait, a contemporary romance infused with a tragic love story from the past. At the heart of the plot is the mystery of a watercolour of a beautiful woman painted in the 1830’s.
Again not trying to give too much of the plot away, it is a love story between Molly Goode (a sweet, quirky, and passionate museum curator) and Georgina Wright (a confident, stylish, but somewhat closed off investment banker) who has inherited the painting through the death of her father.
The theme of the book is about the strength, compassion, and ballsy-ness of women whether it be during the fight for the abolition of slavery or in the fight for LGBT voices to be heard in mainstream society.
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Why love stories as opposed to any other kind of story?
I write love stories because it’s simply in my heart to write stories about a woman falling in love with another woman.
I can still remember feeling very lonely and isolated by my sexuality, not seeing myself portrayed positively in literature, art or the media – so to now write stories about women falling in love means the world to me.
Also love is such a rich subject matter to write about. How a person reacts to love tells us so much about them. It draws out a person’s values, bringing out the best and the worst in all of us.
Why do you think romances get such flack from the other genre writers? Are they just jealous?
Some people argue that if a writer chooses to write lesbian romance, accepting that they are working within its formula, that their ambition as a writer is limited in both depth and scope by such a focus, and that the subject of romance is superficial.
I wholeheartedly disagree with this. There’s nothing superficial about attempting to capture the romantic essence of love. It is incredibly hard and takes tremendous skill.
A well-written lesbian romance which brings joy and consolation is a success and surely a book should be judged by the impact it has on its readers.
Like every other story romances can be boiled down to finding reasons why two attractive people cannot immediately have sex and ride off into the sunset together. What do you layer your stories with to make them unique while still hitting the must-have romance tropes?
I’ve been privileged to be part of a local Heritage Lottery funded project called ‘Untold Stories’ recording the oral histories of older LGBT people in the Leicestershire area. What I learnt from this experience is that our sexuality is so personal, our experiences are so varied, however there are certain common themes.
Lesbians throughout history and today have struggled with self-acceptance, family acceptance and society’s acceptance.
And I want to capture this on the page in an engaging and entertaining way.
So in Highland Fling I write an authentic representation for those lesbians who discovered their sexuality at a time when there was no such thing as ‘glad to be gay’ and how this defining experience colours their choices. But as with all hard subject matters there is great poignancy in the humour that can be found.
For my current work in progress Love’s Portrait, I write a contemporary love story highlighting the need for visibility of our LGBT history. This is set in the context of a museum when often the sexuality of the subject matter is omitted. I know we are not just our sexuality but it is a big part of how we experience life and it shouldn’t be airbrushed out or overlooked.
Have you ever tried to write a couple who just didn’t work? What did you end up doing with this story if so? If not, what is it that makes your couples always work in the end?
The main characters in Highland Fling, Moira and Eve, on paper shouldn’t work. They are very different women – different ages, different geographical background, different lifestyle, and have made different life choices. Highland Fling hinges on this very tension.
But when you find ‘the one’ you fight for love, you compromise, you see the other person’s perspective, and you want to make things better.
So how I make them work is that Eve simply gets Moira, she fundamentally understands her. Eve is wise beyond her years and has a way of simplifying and unpicking the complex.
“All we have is right now, and I want to spend all of my right nows with you.”
It is Eve’s compassion that builds the bridge between them and it’s her dogged determination to fight for their love that wins the day.
If you have multiple sex scenes in your works, how do you keep them from being monotonous? If you have any couples who have been together for a long time, how do you keep their relationship fresh and exciting?
Each sex scene is fused into the emotional journey of the characters. When they give in to their innermost needs these scenes are the critical turning points in the story.
Sex is not just sex it is the story itself.
Have you ever written a couple who got along so beautifully, you were a little jealous? Has another writer’s work every made you feel this way?
In my current work in progress Love’s Portrait museum curator Molly Goode and benefactor Georgina Wright are really lovely together.
Molly’s passion and determination to uncover hidden histories and champion diversity within the museum sector wins the respect of her bosses and the heart of the woman she loves.
Yes, many authors work. Here’s three examples – Quinn & Honor in Radclyffe’s Fated love; Poppy & Rosalyn in Clare Ashton’s Poppy Jenkins, and Liza & Annie in Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind.
Photos from the Bold Strokes Books Festival, May 2018…
Honestly, I’m not sure when I was last this excited as I am so looking forward to the upcoming BSB festival in Nottingham 5th & 6th May that I worry that my heart will surely burst.
These three words perhaps best explain why I am so excited: kinship, inspiration, and joy.
I’m thrilled by the thought that I will be spending time with people who might just say “Yeah you’re not the only one I feel that way too,” about writing, about reading, about life. The consolation I might feel when realising my writerly quirks are not quirky at all, and that I might not carry alone those worries I feel on dispirited days. The opportunity I might have to share an understanding of those moments of joy that keep us going, as we chat and laugh over a coffee or maybe a pint or I don’t know a bottle (or two) of wine.
I’m in awe with the thought that I will be spending time with people who are properly inspiring; those with the talent to combine blue sky thinking with a care and attention to the detail of things. To have the company of people who dare to dream and who have the courage to be open and to write from their hearts. To hang out with those who support writers to write, who understand that writing is a shared endeavour, a magical union of publisher, editor, author, and reader.
But most of all perhaps, I can’t wait to say a heartfelt thank you, to my colleagues, to readers, and for the opportunity to make history together as we participate in such a landmark event.
So see you in a couple of weeks and if you see me bursting with wonder and delight you’ll know why.
From the breath-taking Highlands of Scotland to the buzz of a Leicester gay bar, family and friendship are tested to breaking point as the narrative pressure builds in this wonderful engaging Lesbian romance by novelist Anna Larner….
Finding the way in is at the heart of everything isn’t it?
Be it finding the way in to a confusing car park or a poorly signposted building. Or indeed finding your way in to establishing the common ground of a friendship or perhaps most importantly to the heart of the one you love.
Finding the way in is not only at the heart of life, it is at the heart of writing. It is that moment when a writer’s creativity sparks, igniting an imagined scene or character or dialogue. It is where the story begins.
I remember reading an interview with author Nancy Garden explaining how she found her way in to writing Annie on My Mind with a single line of dialogue.
“One rainy day…the words ‘It’s raining, Annie’ popped into my head. I know it sounds weird, but something told me that at last this might be the beginning of the book, although I didn’t know who was saying ‘It’s raining’ or who Annie was. But nonetheless that was how Annie on My Mind was born.” 1
Nancy’s explanation resonated with me as my debut novel Highland Fling began as much with a line of dialogue as with the setting of the Scottish Highlands. I could hear my main character Eve saying tenderly to her lover Moira, “You can touch me if you want”. These few words began a paragraph of writing, which then became a page, which eventually developed into a novel.
In a similar way my short story “Hooper Street“ in the anthology Girls Next Door: Lesbian Romance became the destined home for a phrase that had loitered in my head, potent yet aimless: “It was a Tuesday when…” The line now continues “I first met Abbie.” “Hooper Street“ had already been loosely drafted before those homeless words gave the story the purpose and orientation it needed. It peculiarly felt like those five words were fated to belong in the story, but that at some point they had been separated from it, like a dream half forgotten and then suddenly fully remembered.
For sometimes ideas, words, and images conjured by the imagination are so fleeting, that the writer is left chasing the memory of something, constantly editing and refining, working to get as close as possible to the perfect creative form just out of reach.
Despite the writer’s efforts to capture their imagination onto a page and to craft the perfect story, the ultimate meaning of a work lies with the reader. After all, the words and images that connected the story to the writer will not be the same words and images that connect the story to the reader.
All a writer can do is guide the reader in the direction we hope they will travel. But in the end, as it should be, the joy is the discoveries you make for yourself, the satisfaction of finding your own way in.
You will find me, should you wish, reading from Highland Fling and “Hooper Street“ and chatting more about writing at Gay’s The Word Bookshop, London, on 13th July, and at L Fest, Loughborough on 22nd July.
I look forward to seeing you then.
p254, A Conversation with Nancy Garden, interview with Kathleen Horning, Annie on My Mind, 2007 Edition, FSG