An Interview with Amy Lilwall - Part 1
Amy Lilwall’s debut novel about little people that have been designed and created by humans — to keep as pets — is fascinating and completely absorbing.
If you haven’t started reading The Biggerers yet, I urge you to do so. Somehow Amy has managed to balance cute, disturbing, futuristic and realistic all at the same time. I fell in love with the main characters, Bonbon and Jinx, as soon as I met them.
This blog post covers the first half of my interview with Amy, where I ask her all about her inspiration for the book. But don’t worry, I won’t spoil the story for you!
At your launch party, you said that the idea [for The Biggerers] came from your cat (wondering what he’s thinking about and what he would say if he could communicate with you). Please can you tell me a little bit more about that moment?
Okay, well it was basically because he has his little routine, and I realised that I was part of that routine, but only if I wanted to be. And I thought, ‘that’s a bit unfair’. If he could ask me for a cuddle or to tickle his ears, he could have that at any point that he wanted, and I could be like ‘yeah sure’, or ‘no, I’m a bit busy at the moment actually’.
But because he had to wait until I was in a position to do that, and see if I was happy to do that (by coming up to me and nudging me with his head) I felt a bit sorry for him. I thought, ‘this is really depriving you of pleasure, it’s really kind of sad. Just because I can’t be bothered to play with you.’ So yeah, that’s where the original thought came from.
Then I started to think, ‘well, okay, this idea of controlling someone’s pleasure, that’s (when you’re talking about pets and humans, and that dynamic), that’s a completely different subject to humans and humans.’ The fact that you can speak to one another means you can accord more consideration to that scenario. Then I thought a bit more seriously about that and I thought, ‘okay, so in what situation will we be able to play with that dynamic.’
I wanted to play with [that dynamic] in a way that could be quite controversial, so I decided it would be interesting to see the same thing play out between humans, but by making that power dynamic explicit, and so making the humans small.
Did you have any influences when writing - particular stories or authors?
Yeah - there’s one story that I read by George Saunders called Pastoralia. I loved the beginning part because what he does is use repetition to convey that feeling of mundanity and also powerlessness. The people are very much the subject of a regime that’s been put in place. And so that’s how the whole thing started really. I thought, in order to convey the extent to which they are ruled by their regime, I would start my novel like that.
[The Biggerers starts with] these little people waking up, having their breakfast, one of them asking the other one to come back to bed for a little while, that not happening, at a certain point of day they collect stones, or feathers, or astro turf, then they go out into the garden and meet someone else - another little person - and then they go back into the kitchen and the whole things starts again.
It shows how primitive they are and how much they are guided by their routines. So yeah, I’d say Pastoralia was a big influence. There were other writers too - maybe magic realist writers - who inspired me to begin with, like Garcia Marquez, Kelly Link maybe to a certain extent, because I wanted the world to be really normal but with these strange occurrences.
I love that the Littlers collect things. For people who haven’t read it yet, please can you tell us a bit more about what ‘feather day’ is?
Oh, feather day! Okay, so the Littlers are living together in this kitchen and in order to fill their time they put themselves to work and collect things. So on one day they’ll collect stones, on another day they’ll collect astro turf, on another day they’ll collect feathers…
They then put them in their basket. It’s based around the idea that they’re nesting. But every so often their big She-on, the human who owns them, comes along and empties the basket and washes the blanket that’s inside and they get terribly upset because they spend so much time collecting all this stuff. Feather day is just one of their collecting days.
So how did you research for The Biggerers? I’m thinking of when they’re climbing up the stairs and holding onto the threads of the carpet - did you just imagine yourself in that situation, or look at things up close?
No, I think that’s something that a lot of writers do - especially when they’re trying to figure out gesture - they’ll sit there and scratch their head or I don’t know, smooth their eyebrows, just something to see what would correspond to that particular situation.
I’m not saying I climbed upstairs like that but yeah, it’s just based around imagination and maybe observing animals as well, or babies. Something that would struggle to get up high.
With regards to research, there is some science in it which I had to research quite a bit, specifically regarding cloning. And I’m a little bit worried about that because I know for the reader who knows what that process involves, it probably comes across as pseudo-science, but we’re going to live with that. What else did I have to research?
Oh, one of the characters is a psychologist, so I had to talk to some friends who are psychologists and interrogate them a bit, asking what they would say inside a psychologist’s office. But mostly it was all from my brain!
Thanks Amy - so, did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?
No, I didn’t always know that. That’s a really good question - no one’s ever asked me that!
I probably figured it out after my undergraduate degree [in Foreign Languages and Cultural Studies]. I think it was my cultural studies tutor who said, ‘you know, some of you could think about doing a Masters, because that would make you stand out from the crowd’ (because everyone had a degree in those days, well, I suppose they still do).
I was like, ‘oh no, I can’t do a Masters, I hate writing essays, it’s just awful’, but I really wanted one because I wanted to stand out, so I was flicking through the options at Kent University and I saw this MA in Creative Writing, which was basically to write part of a novel and to have some kind of academic piece with it, so I was like, ‘right, I’ll do that’.
From that moment onwards, I knew that I wanted to write. I just loved it. I was supposed to write just the first 30,000 words of a novel and I wrote the whole thing!
Gasping for more? In Part 2, I talk to Amy about her publishing experience — getting an agent, submitting her book, the FIVE YEARS of editing it took for her to get The Biggerers to where it is now — and her next exciting novel. So stay tuned, I’ve got so much more to tell you!
Can’t wait? Why not check out Julia Webb-Harvey’s review of The Biggerers first!
by Charlotte Rayment