I was lucky enough recently to sit down with Laura Wood, author of A Sky Painted Gold and have a chat about her book. I recently read A Sky Painted Gold and absolutely adored it, it was so lovely, gentle and thought provoking. So once i had the opportunity to interview Laura herself, i knew i had to jump at the chance to ask her about her book! Here is the interview…
Is the Cardew house based on anywhere specific?
Yeah the house is based on St Michaels Mount that is in Cornwall, so that was what kind of inspired the idea of the house. When I went there I just thought ‘this is so magical’, and I knew I’d end up writing something about it. It’s attached to the mainland, however when the tide comes in its cut off as an island. Yeah it’s amazing, it’s got sort of a castle on it, so it hasn’t got the same house on it, and it’s not a private home. It feels really magic.
(I then mentioned that I had recently been to Wightick Manor and I found that to be similar to how I imagined the Cardew house to be)
Weirdly, my boyfriend had some work stuff at Wightick, and I haven’t actually been but I’ve looked at pictures of it, and it’s so beautiful. And actually the feeling of it is very similar to the Cardew house.
How Important did you find it for Lou to have the sibling relationship she had with Alice?
That was really important to me because I actually don’t have any sisters. I love books about sisters and have always been interested in sister dynamics and I knew I wanted to have sisters in the book. So that was really important. And it ended up being such a good catalyst for the story to begin. I don’t think I realised until I started writing A Sky Painted Gold that Alice’s wedding was going to be the catalyst for everything that came after. It’s almost like a moment of crisis for Lou. That feels like her definite moment of which her ties from her life as she’s known it forever have been cut. The scene made sense with Lou being swept up in to the Cardew life, and her relationship with Alice. So it was really important.
(We discussed for a minute Alice always being Lou’s grounding when she arrived back home)
Alice is definitely an anchor for Lou at home. Obviously everything that happened in the book has happened after Alice has left, everything happens in the context of that point where there has been seventeen years before that point where they were together, almost like one unit, almost like twins. So it adds a nice quality to their relationship. Their relationship felt really real to me.
Did you ever want to write the two families incorporating a little more?
Yeah, I did have Robert more incorporated in to Lou’s family earlier on in my first drafts. But my editors wanted me to change that. And they were right. In my first drafts of the book it was a bit too easy. Her and Robert became really good friends very early on, and they always had that slow burn relationship, but it was slightly different. From the perspective of adding some tension it made sense to keep the two more separate. In the end it worked really well. It makes more sense as well because for Lou, she’d want to keep those things separate and have something to herself. That way the Cardew’s get to know her without the context of her family, it’s like a fresh start for her.
(We talked about a few scenes with the families mixed that I thought was particularly sweet)
The thing I kept getting in trouble for in the editing process was that everything was just too nice. Everyone was having a nice time, and getting on too well and there wasn’t enough tension and that was because I was writing it in this really escapist way and I was really enjoying it. I really loved the characters and I found it really hard to put them in these difficult situations.
I was surprised about how well it’s been received, and I was surprised about how immediately enthusiastic Scholastic were when I pitched it to them. Because I think it’s quite small and gentle and I thought maybe it’s not going to be splashy YA enough. It felt like it was less about there being a big splashy narrative with loads of drama. And it was more about these small really human moments and concentrating on getting the writing as sharp as possible. Concentrating on really getting to know Lou as a character and really feeling what she was going through. And in doing that I feel like it was actually much closer to my teenage experience. So when I say it’s small and it’s gentle, I feel like that’s quite powerful.
It’s proper comfort reading, for when you’re on holiday, or when you’re ill and you want to curl up, that’s the book I wanted to write.
Considering A Sky Painted Gold is set in the 1920’s, how much of a decision was it to put LGBTQ+ themes in it?
It wasn’t a decision at all really, I didn’t think about it, it was just in there from the beginning. I knew that I had a bisexual character, the thing is I think it’s ludicrous to imagine that sometimes in historical fiction there’s a possibility that you can shy away from those subjects. But it’s ludicrous to imagine just because those people aren’t writing about means that those people weren’t there. It wasn’t a big decision to put those things in there because I thought that’s what would happen in that group of people. And those characters aren’t defined by their sexuality at all, it’s just in there because that’s a part of what was happening. I also think it’s naïve in the extreme to think everyone would be completely scandalised and didn’t imagine that this was going on. I don’t think that’s the reality. So it wasn’t a big decision, it felt very natural. What I didn’t want was the sexuality to become an issue. I wanted it to be a part of who they are. I didn’t want it to be a huge shock, everyone knows and their kind of alright with it, it’s just accepted.
Who are your writing influences?
All sorts of people, I really like the way Willa Cather writes, I like the cleanness of her writing. I really like the way Dodie Smith writes, I Captured The Castle is such a big influence from the way she writes the narrative voice. Lots of poetry, I read a lot of poetry and that’s a big influence on the way I write. That’s a good tip for anyone trying to get in to writing, is to read lots of poetry and write poetry. You have to be sparing with your writing. Every word has so much value and weight so it changes the way you think about language. A lot of my writing is about the rhythm.
Do you prefer writing YA or Middle Grade? What’s the main difference?
I really like writing both, that’s why I was really pleased when Scholastic said they wanted to sign me up for YA, but don’t want me to stop writing middle-grade either. I find writing middle-grade slightly easier, but I think I prefer writing YA. The YA stuff is closer to what I would read. Whereas with the middle-grade books, I really love them and I put a lot in to them, but I write them with younger me in mind, what I wanted to read sort of 9-10 years old. I feel like I get more lost in the story of YA writing.
I’ve found YA to be the most comfortable fit for me. I know people are surprised that I write both, I do I have to get in to a different mind-set, and I would find it very difficult to write both at the same time, but I don’t find it too difficult to go from middle-grade to YA.
(We then spent some time talking about writing YA and how difficult it is starting to write, and I didn’t actually wrap up this interview properly)
Thank you to Laura for letting me interview her and Kimi from Waterstones Deansgate (and my pal) for setting this up for me! Laura was a pleasure to talk to, even after i talked her head off about Uni life and doing her PhD. Easily, this was one of my favourite interviews i’ve done and i didn’t even get through all my questions as we talked so much.