Interview with Olivia Levez

Today on the blog I’m delighted to have Olivia Levez, whose debut YA novel The Island came out on 03/03/16 – check out my review here. Thakns for joining me today Olivia!

Where did your idea for The Island come from?

It came from looking through my school library for a new idea, after my dystopian fantasy was rejected. I was looking for what didn’t seem to be on the shelves, and for some reason desert islands and castaways came into mind.

But I think at the back of my mind I was yearning to escape to my caravan by the sea, too, where I am pretty much a castaway when I’m doing a serious ‘binge-writing’ session.

I have stayed on a real desert island called Tobacco Caye in Belize with my family, and also spent many happy childhood holidays on Sark, a tiny Channel island. My sister also lives in Ibiza, so I think island settings have a strong family connection!

Frances is a complex character and some of her actions mean she’s not always likeable – how did you get the balance right so you still end up rooting for her?

I think using first person present tense means that it is quite an intense experience, and the reader can’t help but feel empathy, being so close and in the character’s head. Lots of bad characters in fiction speak in first person, and we still root for them – in particular, I am a fan of Patricia Highsmith’s Mr Ripley, although Frances isn’t a sociopath! It is also written in stream-of-consciousness at times, where I’ve attempted to mirror exactly Fran’s thought processes as she gets to grips with her isolation on the island.

The flashback/memory scenes hopefully begin to unravel why Fran is so prickly and finds it difficult to connect with people. Mostly, though, it’s the relationship with her little brother and the pilot’s dog which show Fran’s softer side.

my real dog My real dog, who inspired Fran’s companion on The Island

How much research did you do into survival techniques?

I read books about real-life survivors, in particular Lucy Irvine, who famously answered an advert to be the wife of a man she had never even met, in order to spend a year as his companion on a desert island between New Guinea and Australia. I read her true-life, gritty account when on an island myself, the tiny island of Sark in the Channel Islands.

Lucy Irvine

Lucy Irvine, Castaway

I also read Ed Stafford’s book of his experience spending sixty days alone with only a video camera for company for his Naked and Marooned series on Discovery Channel. I learnt all about surviving on raw fish on an inflatable liferaft in the book, Adrift by Steve Callahan, where he recounts his experience spending seventy-six days lost at sea.

I am really interested in how survivalists have creative uses for ordinary objects, and loved how the writers of Cast Away, the 2000 film starring Tom Hanks, came up with ideas for the random objects which the main character, Chuck Nolan, finds inside Fed Ex packages cast up on the shore of his desert island. The story goes that they pooled ideas about what could be in the parcels, and then gave the list to survival experts, who told them how Chuck could use them on the island. So, an ice skate becomes an axe, a taffeta prom dress, a fishing net, and a volleyball his only companion.

Of course, I learnt a great deal from watching Youtube survival clips, everything from making a water filter out of a tampon to using a thorn to make a fish hook!

Joanna Lumley

Finally, I must mention the actor, Joanna Lumley, who in her TV reality show, Girl Friday, famously made cave shoes out of her bra. I couldn’t resist using this idea in my book. And here’s me, attempting my own version:

You say on your website you did ‘method writing’ for The Island – can you tell us a bit more about that?

I wanted to get as real an experience as possible as I wrote the castaway scenes, but didn’t have the funds for a stay on a real desert island. I became a ‘caravan castaway’, holing myself up in my caravan in West Wales, with only my Jack Russell, Basil, for company. To mimic my character Fran’s food foraging, I decided to live only off what I found in my caravan cupboards: porridge oats, sardines and tomato cuppa soup. The only things I took with me were coconut water and a few oranges. Not to be recommended, but it did make me realise how living on a limited diet affects your mood, and I’ll always remember the excitement when I found half a packet of dusty sultanas at the back of the cupboard!

I wrote in situ wherever possible, using the Welsh woodland leading to our local beach as the jungle, and the long sandy beach with its melting sunsets as Fran’s desert island home.

Cardigan Bay

Clifftop walks in Cardigan Bay, West Wales

You can read about my method writing experience here:

Without any spoilers, what made you end the book in the way you did?

I wanted Fran’s experience to be as realistic as possible. I wrote the final scene long before I finished the book, and for a long time it was actually the first scene, with the island scenes as flashbacks. I saw the ending as a kind of tableau, ambiguous, but with hope too.

Is this the end of Frances’ story, or can we expect to hear more from her?

Hmmmmm. At the moment I’m working on another contemporary adventure book, but starring a runaway, rather than a castaway. Although the very early draft of The Island was called Blue, and I had ideas for Bluer, and Bluest (!) Frances’ story in its final form was written as a stand-alone.

How long do you think you would survive on a deserted island?

My children say not long at all, I’d be hopeless! But I like to think that I’d be incredibly good at it, and transform into a dread-locked wild strong survivor, stabbing fish with lightning quick speed.

And here are my quick fire questions to round off with:

What are you reading at the moment?

Affinity by Sarah Waters. It’s a creepy, Gothic tale of female Victorian prisons and seances and ghosts. Plus it has an unreliable narrator, which I love.

Favourite book as a child?

Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr, although it terrified me.

Favourite writing drink and snack?

Any sort of herbal tea, especially if it’s aniseed-y, and I don’t eat when I’m writing because I wouldn’t stop! I sometimes chew gum.

5 desert island books?

War and Peace because it’s long, and I never got to finish it when I was at uni, which has always annoyed me.

A survival handbook, to tell me how to spot poisonous plants and fish

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The Valley of Adventure by Enid Blyton

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Favourite place to read?

In the bath with a glass of wine.

Any hidden talents?

I got quite good at hula hooping, but am out of practice. I did hold the wheel pose in yoga for a few wobbly seconds last week though.

What fictional world would you love to live in?

Hogsmeade. Also, I’d like Moonface’s room on the Faraway Tree. Oh and Nutwood too, probably.

You can find Olivia Levez on Twitter @livilev and on her website: 

Purchase a copy of The Island here:

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