Interview with Rebecca James – Author of Sweet Damage

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Summary from Amazon UK

‘In my dreams the house itself has sinister intentions.
In reality, the people who lived there did the damage...’

Tim Ellison is lucky to find a cheap room in the city’s best location. There’s a hitch, though – he must run errands for the reclusive owner, beautiful Anna London.

Anna is secretive, but it’s obvious something is haunting her…

When terrifying things start happening in the house, Tim is forced to think about leaving. But he’s fallen for Anna, and when her past comes back with a vengeance Tim is caught right in the middle.

Paperback: 400 pages 
Publisher: Faber & Faber (6 Mar 2014)

 Interview

Where did the idea of Sweet Damage come from?

I had this image of a sad and isolated girl living in a mansion. She’s trapped, but there’s nothing physical or concrete keeping her there, it’s her own anxiety, her own mind, that stops her from leaving the house. I played around with that idea until I came up with the character of Anna London – agoraphobic, isolated and with a very tragic past. 
 
How do you go about setting a creepy scene?


I find it really hard to describe my process.  I’ve been told I write intuitively (which is a nice way of saying I fly by the seat of my pants) and when I think too hard about the craft side of things I tend to stuff it up. Unfortunately it makes  it a bit hard to answer questions about process – sorry!


Do you ever test out your writing to see if you have achieved the desired effect?

I often get people to read for me if that’s what you mean. It’s very hard while you’re writing to know if your work is having the impact you want it to. You tend to get too ‘close’ to your work to be able to ‘see’ it clearly – if that makes sense? Having a break certainly helps but sometimes publishing schedules mean an author is pressed for time! That’s why editors and readers are so very essential.

Tell us a bit about Anna’s agoraphobia. How difficult was it to write?


Agoraphobia is a condition which results from really bad anxiety, or panic disorder. I suffered from anxiety  in the past, and in trying to understand the condition – and avoid becoming agoraphobic myself –  I read a fair bit about it. And while I don’t consider myself any kind of medical expert (I’m a novelist, not a doctor) what I try to get across in Sweet Damage is the essence of mental illness. How debilitating and overwhelming it can be.

 
I was never as unwell as Anna but my experience with anxiety gave me a glimpse of the potential for your mind to let you down and the sense of shame and helplessness and isolation you feel when you have a mental illness. 

I enjoyed writing about Anna. She’s such a mysterious character and many readers have told me they were baffled by her and didn’t know whether to love or hate her — I enjoyed creating that complexity. 

How much research went into writing Sweet Damage?


I already knew a fair bit about anxiety before I started but I did some more research into agoraphobia for this book. 

How would you like your readers to feel after reading Sweet Damage?


I hope that the story moves and enthrals them enough to keep turning the pages. I quite fancy the idea of people finishing one of my books with a satisfied sigh and a small tear in the corner of their eye.  

 What authors inspire you?


Oh, there are so many. Liane Moriarty. Roxana Robinson. Anne Fine. My sister, Wendy James. Helen Garner. Lorrie Moore. Sue Miller. Elizabeth Berg. Anna Quindlen. I could go on and on. I tend to enjoy and admire authors who show a genuine sense of compassion and understanding towards people and all of our glorious imperfections! I’m fascinated by villains who are not entirely bad and good people who sometimes do bad things.
 

Are you working on anything at the minute that you can share with us?

Yes. I’m working on my third novel which is currently titled Cooper Bartholomew Is Dead. I’m at the line edit stage which is the bit I love best. This is when all the tricky structural stuff has been finished and I get to finesse every page, try to make the manuscript sing. So much fun! It will be out in Australia later this year and I will announce any foreign release dates once I know them.

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