The Platform speaks to Find Me author Laura van den Berg about her debut novel, what it means to be lonely and what it takes to break out of monotony
Laura van den Berg is the newest addition to Young Adult literature with her humorous debut novel Find Me, set to be released in the UK on 4th June. Find Me trails Joy Jones, a lonely woman on her journey after the breakout of a fatal pandemic. It is discovered that Joy is immune and is thus hospitalised with 74 other inmates – forgive me, I meant patients – in order to find a cure. Follow her as she breaks out of her monotonous life, makes new friends and finds out what it really takes to survive.
Being the amazing person that Laura van den Berg is, she agreed to catch up with us here at The Platform with an interview about her book.
How did this story come about?
It started with Joy, with her voice – she was always my north star, so to speak. And she is a character with such high and intricately built walls, it seemed like it would take a truly catastrophic event, something that would force Joy to land in a different world entirely, to begin to break those walls down.
Give us an insight into your main character. How would you describe her in one sentence?
Joy is a person who longs for a way to put herself back together.
Do you in any way relate to Joy?
Joy is lonely and I have often felt lonely myself, especially in my younger years – that’s very common in writers, I think, that loneliness or a sense of being on the outside that you don’t ever completely shake.
I love that her name is Joy, but she’s described as having no one and has this, sort of, bleak existence. Was that a paradox you made consciously?
You know, it wasn’t really – I mean, of course I see the irony, but I actually just like the sharp, clear sound of that name. Some people thought it was a nod to Joy Williams, a writer whose work I adore, but that wasn’t consciously on my mind either. It was really just about sound.
How much research did you do before writing this and what did this research entail?
I read two works of non-fiction, Killer Germs and Flu. Magazine pieces that illuminate the American dystopias that exists at present were important as well, most especially, ‘Apocalypse, New Jersey’, which appeared in the Rolling Stone, and the ‘Invisible Child’ series that appeared in the New York Times. Those two magazine pieces show, in heart-breaking detail, the ways in which America is currently very sick.
What was the easiest and the hardest thing about writing your book?
With short stories, I’m used to finishing things – even if I conclude the story is a failure and throw it away, there is still that satisfaction of having completed some kind of arc. With Find Me, I worked on the book on and off for about six years and existing in that state of unfinishedness for so long. The fatigue and the anxiety and the doubt that can accompany that state were a huge challenge.
What are your thoughts on the critics?
I read my reviews, and I believe someone taking the time to read your work, think about it and give review space to it is nearly always a fortunate thing. And if the review is good then it feels even more exciting and celebratory. Feeling like someone just totally got your book is so rewarding. But bad reviews come with the territory. All my heroes have gotten them! If you are lucky enough to publish for long enough, it’s only a matter of time. Sometimes you can see where the critic is coming from and sometimes it feels like the critic failed to engage with your project in an intelligent way, which is annoying but, again, it’s what we sign up for when we publish a book. I try and subscribe to the “a bad review could ruin breakfast but should not ruin lunch” school of thought.
If Find Me could be made into a movie, which actress would you like to see playing the lead character?
Oh wow! That is an amazing question and I have no idea really, except that I love Chloë Sevigny and would sort of like to see her cast in everything.
I know this is your debut novel, but is there anything else you have written that fans can access?
Why yes! Thank you for asking. I’m the author of two story collections, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us and The Isle of Youth. As luck would have it, Isle was released in the UK last month.
Did you always want to be a writer, and if yes, how do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I didn’t always know – I started writing seriously in college when I was around 19 or 20. Over time, I think my work has definitely gotten weirder (I started as more of a realist) and hopefully more fully-realised and complex.
Are you working on anything new?
I am! I’m working on a new novel project, set in Cuba, and also on new short stories.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Remember that it’s crucial to cultivate a reading practice alongside your writing practice. Be ruthless about time.
What is your favourite motivational phrase?
I like to watch the Honey Badger video when I need a shot of courage.
Not quite a phrase, but awesome nonetheless.
Find Me is due to be released in the UK on 4th June. You can pre-order at Random House or on Amazon. Laura van den Berg’s story collection, The Isle of Youth, has also been recently released in the UK by Daunt Books.
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