I recently read Good Me Bad Me, by Ali Land, an unputdownable debut novel. Ali Land is touring South Africa right now as a guest of the Open Book Festival and I was lucky enough to meet up with her in Kalk Bay Books last week. Ali was a mental health professional for youngsters until she gave it all up for writing. She had a story to tell… and Good Me Bad Me is that story. Highlighting the plight of troubled teens in a culture where, when a problem erupts, the children are removed from the situation and placed in a completely unfamiliar environment and they are expected to not just survive, but to come through it all. In cases of extreme family crimes the children are removed, placed in high security institutions and released into the world at eighteen. Just as a passing thought, this cannot have a good result for the children involved, they are forced into a situation that can not choose and then they are forced to survive… by any means available to them.
About the Book: Good Me Bad Me
Good Me Bad Me is a book that is classified as a psycho thriller… and if I had known that before hand I may have been a little nervous to read it. That being said, before I read it I knew that it was the story of a very troubled teenager and I wanted to know more about her. This is an astonishingly good book, an important book, that highlights the emotional roller coaster of troubled adolescents. It is about Milly, or rather her emotional journey, as she exposes her serial killer mother to the police and processes her childhood in a very different kind of home to any of her peers, while she sits out the wait until the trial, in a foster family. The foster family that looks so perfect on the surface, a complete private school experience with all the advantages that money can buy, turns out to be as one expects a lot of foster homes to be, far far from ideal. Just as Milly is gulping for air and for help, she is plunged into a dysfunctional family and forced to sink or swim, all the while her psychologist foster father is oblivious, or in denial, about what is going on around him. Milly is removed from all that she knows and is given a new home and a new school and a new name… and while she is trying to prepare for the impending court case, she is perpetually falling pray to her malicious and devious foster sister’s wily ways. Not to mention that throughout the book we are seeped in the dread of Milly finally meeting up with her mum again at the trial. Despite all her troubles she seems to hold her own, keep herself together under very trying circumstances and plunge on towards the trial. Or does she?
There is a tragic twist in the tale, that I did not expect at all, though looking back could have been avoided. This is a book that leaves you with more questions than answers, as it should. We should be thinking about kids like Milly, what will happen to her, will she ever be able to fit into society or will she always be able to stand outside the group looking in, orbiting around her community, so to speak. The question is, “Will children of deeply troubled parents become deeply troubled adults themselves?” “Is it genetics?” or, “Is it environment?” The age old debate rages on. What could Milly have done differently under such overbearing pressure? Nothing really, since she is placed in the system there is little she can do, she cannot control the wave of misfortune that she has been placed into. This book is an eyeopener into what teens are going through and talking about. It places bullying into a whole new light… I would certainly give this book to my older teens to read… it is a great discussion opener. It isn’t a pleasant read and it isn’t going to leave you with a happy feeling afterwards… the opposite in fact. But you will be a lot more aware of teen mental health and how as parents, even when we think our teens are talking to us, there world’s can be spiralling in a completely different realm to ours. It looks like everything is under control, but upon closer inspection all the adults in Milly’s life could have found the little cracks in her armour and places to help her, had they been a little less self absorbed. This book is a conversation starter on bullying, on who is in control, on what secrets are ok and which are definitely not okay. The book contains no gratuitous gory details and the focus in fixed entirely on the players rather than the crime. This is a compelling read, way out of my comfort zone and somewhat shocking, totally different to anything else on the bestseller list. This book is going to stay top of the charts for a long while, while folk try to process it.
Se7en + 1 Interview Questions for Ali Land
- Let’s Begin with an Introduction. Tell us how you transformed from a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Nurse to a Full Time Writer:
- Could you describe your perfect work day:
- Do you have a favourite book? And what are you reading right now?
- Tell us about your writing style: Are you compelled to write when inspired, or extremely disciplined, or do you just squeeze writing in whenever you possibly can?
- Tell us about your writing process and where you write best: On the couch or at a desk in an office?
- Good Me Bad Me is quite a story, with very well defined characters, it is hard to believe you haven’t really met them. Where did you find the inspiration for your characters, are they created from scratch or an aggregation of people you have encountered?
Sylvia Plath said ‘Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me.’ And she’s right. Writers are like sponges and even when we don’t realise it, the life that’s going on around us will inevitably bleed into our work. There’s inspiration for characters everywhere. I created the characters in the book that would allow me to explore every facet of Milly’s mind. For example, Phoebe the jealous foster sister, how would Milly react to her? And then the opposite with Morgan, a vulnerable girl who shows Milly unconditional love. I write to explore and to go as deep as possible into my main character’s psyche, the people you surround them with are the keys to unlocking that.
- I am guessing after writing Good Me Bad Me you were fairly emotionally stretched. Do you have more books in the pipeline? Will they be similar to Good Me Bad Me, or are they going to be totally different?
- Who do you think had the biggest impact on you becoming a writer? How did they inspire you and how would you inspire others to write the stories that they carry within them?
With a massive leap of faith! I hadn’t written since University, some twelve years before, but I’d always been a voracious reader and had, for the whole of my life, heard voices and seen images playing out in my mind. It wasn’t until I got older and the voices became louder and the images sharper that I was hit with an urgency to explore my creativity. I gave up nursing, took a less demanding job as a private PA/Nanny while doing an evening class in creative writing and the absolute joy was that, although writing the book was the most challenging and emotionally turbulent journey I’ve ever been on, I enjoyed it. I discovered I’d been a writer all along, it just took me longer than most to get the words onto the page.
I currently live in London but very much view Sydney, Australia as home so let’s go there for my perfect work day. I’d wake early as the sun is coming up over the beach and do the staggeringly beautiful coastal walk from Bondi to Bronte and back again. An ocean swim followed by a matcha latte and an acai bowl. Both are magical for the mind. My perfect working day would mean I only have my novel to think about, no emails, no tweets, no interviews, nothing! I’d work at my desk in my apartment which overlooks the water. All of the words would be beautiful and effortless and require no editing. The bones in my wrist wouldn’t ache or click and there’d be no self-doubt to battle. Sigh. After that I’d go to either Gertrude and Alice or Ampersand, my two favourite bookshop/cafes. I’d read a book, not for research or because I have to for work, but purely for pleasure. More than likely I’d drink a large glass of wine while doing this. Later in the day I’d meet up with another writer, or someone who understands the creative solitude, and we would drink more (too much) wine and go and see a documentary at an arthouse cinema or a spoken word night leaving us feeling inspired and reinvigorated about our own work.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is my favourite book. Jackson writes with perfect restraint, slowly lifting the curtain on the bizarre daily routine Merricat, her sister Constance and their uncle share. The narrative is peppered with magical thinking and superstitions which gives the overriding sense they’re content in this strange existence and because of this, the insanity drip, drip, drips off the pages. I’m currently reading Riders by Jilly Cooper because I fancied something fun and outrageous.
I ‘business’ write most days as in interviews/articles but I don’t work on my novel every day. It does however fill pretty much every second thought, it becomes a delicious obsession. I spend weeks thinking and mulling over ideas and ‘what ifs’ until I feel all the canons line up and then I’ll spend weeks working intensively, night and day, barely coming up for air until the draft is finished. I have to write A LOT to get to the heart of my story and unlock the characters, it’s because I’m a ‘by the seat of my pants’ kind of writer. It’s a messy and at times draining process but it’s mine and I roll with it. In the recovery period, as in when my work is with my editor, I read and read and read.
I write most freely when I’m handwriting so during the research period I can often be found scribbling in notebooks on sofas in cafes or the library. But when I’m typing it up and really going deep into a writing session, I need to be at my desk in the privacy of my own home. I move around a lot when I’m fully engaged in the creative process, stand up, pace, talk out loud to my characters, and I always have a candle burning, the sort of behaviour that I’m sure would see me politely asked to leave the library!
I’ve just delivered eighty-three thousand words of creative chaos to my agent and editor aka my next book. It’s a massive mountain to climb especially when there are so many wonderful things happening with my current book, but climb I must and we’ll be making an announcement about it on social media quite soon. All I’m allowed to tell you at this point is, it’s another psychological drama this time set on a scarcely inhabited Scottish island with a man named Jack at its heart.
Had I not been a Child and Adolescent mental health nurse I never would have written about Milly, so the children I looked after have had the biggest impact on me becoming a writer. They inspired me to listen, to watch, to care and to search for the why because understanding often leads to compassion. What I’d say to others who are carrying stories inside of them is, set them free if they want to. Write from your heart and your gut but do so sensitively. I don’t believe boundaries should exist in what we explore in the safe space of fiction but it must be done carefully and with regard to the person or people it’s perhaps inspired by.
You can find Ali Land
On Twitter and on Instagram.
Thanks so much to Ali Land for the interview, and Penguin Random House for setting it up. I did receive a copy of Good Me Bad Me from Penguin Random House South Africa for review purposes, and otherwise this is not a sponsored post… all opinions expressed are entirely my own.