Let Me Be Like Water S.K Perry
Holly moved to Brighton to escape. But now she’s here, sitting on a bench, listening to the sea sway… what is she supposed to do next? How is she supposed to fill the void Sam left when he died? She had thought she’d want to be on her own. Wrecked. Stranded. But after she meets Frank, the tide begins to shift. Frank, a retired magician who has experienced his own loss but manages to be there for everyone else. Gradually, as he introduces Holly to a circle of new friends, young and old, all with their own stories of love and grief to share, she begins to learn to live again.
Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?
A) Let Me Be Like Water tells the story of the narrator – Holly – who loses Sam, her partner of five years when she’s in her early twenties. The novel takes place in the first year after his death, as she begins to process her grief. She moves from their shared flat in London to Brighton and – sat by the sea one day – she meets Frank, a retired magician. He introduces her to a Book Club he runs, teaches her to bake, and helps her find her feet. She takes up running and spends her time navigating the chaos of loss as best she can, getting to know herself again and reimagining the rest of her life without Sam. It’s sad, but also (I hope) funny, and really it’s about what it is to heal.
In terms of my background, after graduating uni in 2012, I worked in a call centre for a bit, during which time I co-founded the Great Men project, an initiative working with men and boys to discuss and affirm healthy masculinities, challenging behaviours linked to violence, sexual violence and disproportionately high suicide, addiction, and imprisonment rates in men and boys, and promoting mental health awareness and gender equalities. I then studied for an MA in Creative Writing and Education, and spent a year working in school using creative writing to promote emotional literacy and wellbeing. I spent a year as the Global Campaign Manager at PEN International, and have acted in gender consultancy and training roles for businesses and NGOs. As a writer, I was longlisted for the inaugural London’s Young Poet Laureate and was Cityread Young Writer in Residence in Soho, from which my poetry book Curious Hands was commissioned.
Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?
A) In some ways the book was vey accidental, which I think maybe lots of first novels are. I was working in a call centre (meaning lots of time to write), and then a family death and a life-changing trauma left me feeling completely adrift. I have a grandad I never met, who’s also a bit of a family legend, and I guess he became the starting point for the character Frank. I find the sea therapeutic and if I sit by it, or swim in it, I often find my mental health bolstered, so it made sense for Brighton to be the setting of my story, the place where the narrator Holly struggles to heal as she grieves the loss of her partner. As a woman in my early twenties I was yearning for narratives of female friendship; accounts of sexual experiences located in the female body; depictions of womanhood just started. I wrote about running because I think trauma is often processed by our bodies, whether we push them too hard or neglect them entirely. I wrote about food because I love to read novels that make you hungry. I wrote about sadness because I wanted to find a way to hold what I was feeling, a story other people could be held in too. It was a jumble of thoughts and feelings that felt like the beginning of a book so to motivate myself to finish it, I entered it into the Mslexia Novel competition. When it was longlisted I had to finish it (fast! I wrote 30 000 words in a fortnight), and then when it was shortlisted, I had time to edit it before pitching to agents at an event run by the competition. My agent, Laura West at David Higham, edited it with me for around eighteen months before it was sent out to publishers, and then last year Nikki Griffiths at Melville House said they were going to buy it. I was working on a project in Tegucigalpa, Honduras when my contract first came through, sat on a rooftop and eating with my colleagues; it was really surreal!
Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?
A) I’m so fickle; anything I have just read and loved becomes my favourite! I’m currently reading Sharlene Teo’s Ponti, which is great. Most recently I loved The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. Some of my other favourites are: everything written by Zadie Smith; The First Bad Man by Miranda July; All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche; and All The Birds Singing by Evie Wylde. I love memoir and poetry too. When I Hit You: Or, a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy is phenomenal, as is Small White Monkeys by Sophie Collins. Poets I love include Belinda Zhawi, Mary Jean Chan, Miriam Nash, and Ella Frears. I also love and respect poets like Victoria Adukwei Bulley and Toni Stuart who are working across mediums, using film or documentary or dance for example, to do other interesting things in their work. Victoria produced the Mother Tongues films, which were some of my favourite pieces of literature I engaged with last year.
Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?
A) As a child, I was wildly obsessed with Anne of Green Gables; my first true love was Gilbert who she ends up marrying and although I was happy for them, this really broke my heart. I think I was maybe a bit in love with Anne too, which made it even harder to swallow. Also I loved a book about a group of kids who founded a theatre: The Swish of the Curtain. I grew up in a wonderful time; we had the anticipation of each new Harry Potter book (I still fall asleep listening to those audiobooks again and again) and the Noughts and Crosses series, which were brilliant stories in themselves obviously, but also the first time the structures of whiteness were made visible to me as an eleven year old white girl. I wanted to be an actor, so as a teenager I read plays devoutly; I loved Shakespeare’s comedies, as well as Tennessee Williams. I was obsessed with Sylvia Plath for a while, and we read The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Saturday by Ian McEwan at school for A level English. I had great teaches and loved both these books so I think they were both quite foundational novels for me too.
Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?
A) Answering these questions the book isn’t actually out yet so I will have to wait and see! My favourite thing about writing is teaching though; I love working with other writers and creating ways they can tease out what they want to say and the best way of saying it for them. It makes me a better writer too, and it’s always a thrill to be present in someone else’s creativity.
Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?
A) I’m so blessed in this regard. I am surrounded by other writers and creatives who are very supportive, including my partner and some of my closest friends. My housemates are some of the best people in the world, and my family are really supportive and wonderful too. My agent is the person who has pushed me hardest and really nurtured me too; I’m so grateful for her support with this book. Being published by an independent is also very humbling; they take big risks on the books they put out because they’re smaller in terms of resources. I’ll be forever grateful to Nikki Griffiths at Melville House for taking the plunge with this book; putting it out there is a real show of support and I feel very lucky to have had that from her.
*Thank you for taking part in the Q&A on my blog, I wish you every success with your writing career.
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