E Lockhart: "I rewrote We Were Liars about 15 times!"

The author of the Guardian children's fiction prize longlisted book We Were Liars takes our quickfire interview with site member CaraErica

• Read about We Were Liars being longlisted for the Guardian children's fiction prize

E Lockhart's book We Were Liars is a thing of pure beauty. But then tragedies often are –beautiful, until the blisteringly bittersweet end. But We Were Liars does more than just tell the story of a fairytale gone wrong: it confronts problems relevant to today's world, making it a reflective piece of literature, sure to go down as a modern classic.

With the opportunity to interview E Lockhart, I am fortunate enough to have some of my questions, about the book and the author behind it, answered. Hopefully, the ones I'm asking are those you would ask too!

How did you discover your passion for writing?
I was the only child of a playwright. I used to sit in the back of theaters and watch rehearsals, seeing how a story changed with revisions, cuts, changes in tone, lighting and inflictions.

Which authors inspire you and why?
I am inspired by writers of the Spiderman comic books, Monty Python, Evelyn Waugh, John Irving, and Alice Walker, among many, many others. I especially like writers who aggressively use stylized language to create a unique world.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
Some days I make something I am proud to have made.

You mention you wrote your first novels in the third grade! How has your writing progressed since then and have you ever received criticism along the way?
I took one college fiction writing class and got a B. The teacher didn't read my final stories because he said I was a "B student" and he knew it without reading them. That was unhelpful criticism. I didn't take any more writing classes. Later on I received huge amounts of useful criticism – ideas about how make my work better, given with respect for and interest in my projects – from editors and colleagues. I still get this kind of criticism and I adore it.

Have you ever written books based on your own experience or do you prefer to draw from other sources of inspiration?
The feelings in my stories always come from my own experience, but they are transposed into fictional situations. In We Were Liars, Cadence has chronic migraine pain, selective amnesia, a home on a private island, and a fortune coming to her. I have never had any of those things. But I have been desperate and heartbroken and ambitious and angry.

Your writing is praised as revolutionary in the ways of modern literature. How did you create such a unique style?
I do not think I am revolutionary at all. I think I am part of a long continuum of writers influenced by postmodernism and by high and low culture sources. I started by imitating the styles of writers I admired: Louise Rennison, Raymond Chandler and P.G. Wodehouse, to name a couple. Bit by bit, my own voice came together. Also, I rewrite a lot. I mean, a ton.

It is often said that nothing today is original and partly this is true. However, We Were Liars takes advantage of this by combining well-known stories, such as King Lear and Wuthering Heights, and beautifully morphing them into something completely new. Why did you choose to intertwine these stories with your own and how did you think it would impact the reader?
I started with the King Lear idea because sibling rivalry over money and love is a universal topic I wanted to explore, but I realized We Were Liars was connected to Wuthering Heights rather late in the game. I have read Emily Brontë's novel many, many times, but I didn't see that I had brought it into my own work until I had done several drafts of my story.

How difficult was it to not give the ending away in We Were Liars and why was it important for us to learn the truth alongside Cady?
I have no trouble keeping the secrets of the story – and my readers have been wonderful. I think people have enjoyed finding creative ways of talking about We Were Liars without saying too much.

How did you develop your ideas for We Were Liars to create such an intricate story line?
I rewrote this novel maybe 15 times, and reorganized it over and over.

In We Were Liars there are deviations to fairytale stories - what was your inspiration for these and why are they important?
Fairy tales get told and retold because they tap into truths about human beings. I used the fairy tales in We Were Liars to have Cadence tell truths about her family that she felt were unspeakable any other way.

How would you encourage others to pursue creative writing and what tips would you give to any wannabe writers?
Read widely. To me it is that simple. Every new book you read puts language and imagery and storytelling techniques into your head that weren't there before.

Having been longlisted for the 2014 Guardian children's fiction prize, how do you feel and what do you hope to achieve in the future through your writing?
I am thrilled and surprised to be on this list along with some of my favorite writers. I hope to write books people want to argue about and read more than once!

CaraErica

The GuardianTramp

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