Author Interview: Alice Kuipers

My introduction to Alice Kuipers and her writing was back in 2012 when I read her previous release titled 40 Things I Want to Tell You. I was absolutely blown away by Alice's mastery of storytelling, so I was excited to hear she had a new 2014 release called The Death of Us.

I'm thrilled to have Alice stopping by Esther's Ever After today, where she and I chat a bit about The Death of Us and Alice's writing style in general.

Q: I read 40 Things I want to Tell You when it came out, and I fell in love with your storytelling. I noticed that your books often deal with very difficult topics - why do you choose to include such topics? Is it difficult for you, as an author, to write about these hard topics?

A: Tackling big ‘issues’, like alcoholism, violence, anger, cancer, teen pregnancy, terrorism, means I have to do my research to make sure I get the facts right on the page. The worst thing would be for me to present an issue falsely. The research often teaches me a lot and makes it easier to write about topics that are hard.
One of the best things about writing young adult protagonists is that I feel a sense of hope in them as they become the adults they’re going to be. While I love those characters, and I find it hard for them to have to go through terrible things, I have faith they’ll pull through. What was different in The Death of Us from my other books is that they don’t all pull through, and yes, that was hard to write.

Q: I've heard that The Death of Us has some big plot reveals. Was the ending a surprise for you as well, or have you always known it would end?

A: I remember waking up one night realizing what had to happen at the end and feeling like I needed to get out of bed immediately to get the narrative right. The story was exciting to draft, because, while I had outlines and ideas, the twists and turns kept shifting my ideas and making me rewrite the book to make it better.

Q: I'm very intrigued by the non-linear narration, which I'm sure is very effective for telling a mysterious story. Was it difficult writing in 3 different POVs (at different times)? 

My editor told me that each of us is the hero of our own story. Hearing that made me realize that each of my characters had to be the centre of their own universe. They don’t consider themselves only one third of the story. Once I saw that, then I felt like I really got the hang of a multiple character narrative. 
In The Death of Us, the story actually starts near the end, then goes back to the beginning. Having that happen, AND the three perspectives wasn’t easy at all. I needed a good editor to help me hone the story on the page. And I needed faith that the story was going to work.

Q: You do an excellent job with making characters feel real and I think that's important for readers to be able to empathize with your characters. It sounds like Callie is a character many readers will be able to relate to (just from reading the description, I can see pieces of myself in her already) - whereas as Ivy sounds more like the "unattainable". Do you see yourself in either (or both) of these characters?

Thanks very much. That’s really nice to hear. I think there’s always some small part of the author in every one of their characters. To me, we’re all like paper dolls – layered and complicated with many possible versions of ourselves. Think of how different you are when you’re with a friend compared to with a parent compared to in a formal job or class, and then you’re different again with strangers… As an author, thinking about all my different selves helps me to create characters. But then I have to look out. I have to imagine, to dream, to interrogate those characters. I need to find their differences to make the story feel real and true. 
In The Death of Us, Ivy, Callie and Kurt each have secrets – we all do… I do… and knowing that each of us is capable of dark acts made me feel both close to and far away from these characters at different points of the story. 

Q: Now, I haven't read the book yet (I will - soon! No spoilers, please) but I'm wondering if there's anything you hope readers will take away from reading The Death of Us and Callie's story? 

A: This is a great question, although I’m not sure I have a specific answer. I learned early on in writing that I’m the sort of writer who isn’t trying to send a message. I try to leave the interpretation of my books to the people reading them. In my first book, Life on the Refrigerator Door, the pages are mostly white space (it’s a book written in notes) and that white space is for a reader to fill with their imagination. 
In The Death of Us. I don’t have a message but I do think all of my characters have to find themselves in this book. Life is about being honest with, at least, yourself. And above all in The Death of Us, I’d like a reader to come away feeling the risk was worth it – the pay off for investing their time in these characters and the complicated storytelling was worth it. 

Alice, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some of my questions. Congratulations on the release of The Death of Us!

Bestselling author Alice Kuipers was born in London. She moved to Canada in 2003. Her first novel, Life on the Refrigerator Door, was published in 28 countries and won several awards. Since then, she has published two further award winning YA novels internationally, with a fourth, The Death of Us, coming out in September this year. Alice has three small children and she began writing picture books for them. Her first picture book Violet and Victor Write The Best Ever Bookworm Book will be published in December this year. Alice’s website is full of tips and hints for those of you who want to become writers too. Find her here: www.alicekuipers.com or on twitter, facebook or goodreads.

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