This weeks author Q&A features author of ‘The two lives of Louis and Louise’ Julie Cohen
I have previously written a blog post about this book (Check it out here) and if you have read you will know I absolutely loved this book.
I reached out to Julie to see if she could possibly answer a few questions for this blog and she said YES! (thank you again !). I loved reading all her answers and I hope you do to.
- What made you want to become a writer, and have you always wanted to be an author?
I’ve always been a reader, and reading great books make me want to write them. It was my dream as a little girl to write a book that would have a place on the shelves of the Rumford Public Library, where I grew up.
- Did you have any specific inspiration, or influence to start writing in general, or specific to Louis and Louise ?
The idea for this particular book seemed to come out of the blue, but as a matter of fact I think it was a response to the #MeToo movement, and associated conversations about gender and power. I wondered, ‘What would it be like to write a book with one protagonist but in two separate realities—one where they were born male and one where they were born female?’ It gave me the opportunity to examine how gender and personality is shaped by how other people treat you, even before birth.
- What research or process did you follow in order to write ‘Louis and Louise’?
I did some research on gender theory, specifically around the concept that gender, a social construction, is distinct from sex, which is biological. I was aided very much in this by the sensitivity reader I hired, who helped me with various ways of avoiding falling into the binary gender trap. I also did a lot of reading about toxic masculinity. Because the paper mill strike was based on a real life event, I spoke to several people who were involved in the strike.
- This book is written from two different viewpoints of the same life, as Louis and Louise, as well as in two different timelines. Did you find this difficult when writing the novel and do you have any tips of anyone writing with multiple timelines and viewpoints?
I planned the two timelines separately, though I knew that some events had to happen in both stories. First I worked out what was the same in both realities, and then worked out how they would be different just because of Lou’s gender. I started with the Louise timeline, because as a woman I felt more sure of her actions and feelings and voice, but by the time I got to the midpoint of the book I was writing both Lous alternately. When I plan something difficult like this, I generally use different colour Post-its to help me keep track—I’ve got a course online to show you how to do it! https://novel-gazing-with-julie-cohen.teachable.com/p/using-post-its-to-transform-your-writing
- I found this book beautiful, moving and at times dramatic. It also features the themes of gender, sexuality and stereotyping and how this affects people’s lives. Were you always planning on writing a book with these themes?
Thank you! Yes, I think once I’d come up with the concept of a book exploring how other people’s conceptions of our gender affects our entire lives, all of those topics became inevitable. They’re themes that I’m really interested in anyway and which crop up again and again in my novels.
- The book features some tough topics, including loss, did you find this difficult to write about?
There are a few scenes that I found incredibly difficult to write and in fact I have trouble now reading both scenes with Lou and Benny in the basement because I find them both upsetting.
- You have previously said that the hometown of Lou was based off of your own hometown in Maine, was this a conscious decision~? and do you think that this aided or hindered you when writing this book?
Casablanca was very deliberately based on my home town in Maine. It’s almost identical in a lot of ways, including history and geography, and I based several incidents on things that really happened in or near the town—for example, the strike and what happens to Benny in Louis’s timeline. When I was growing up, my town was very homophobic (fortunately that has improved over the years) and that is an important part of the book, too.
- Do you plan to write any more novels and if so, do you think they will feature some of the themes that Louis and Louise did?
My latest novel, SPIRITED, is a historical novel about ghost photography, and although the story is completely different, it also looks at gender roles, sexuality, sexual assault, loss, guilt, violent death, class, and the nature of love. These are things that interest me so they tend to keep cropping up. SPIRITED is out now in hardback, ebook and audio.
- Do you have any advice for aspiring authors and writers?
Read a lot, and write a lot, and never give up.
I hope you enjoyed reading those and if you haven’t already read the book (GO READ IT) I hope it inspires you to do so.
Many thanks, Caitlin x
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