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Lesley Hauge: Interview

You might remember that I recently read and reviewed the YA novel, Nomansland. The author was kind enough to agree to answer a few questions on this blog. So without further ado, Lesley Hauge!

1. What was your inspiration for writing Nomansland?

I had a few sources of inspiration for writing NOMANSLAND including the book THE CHRYSALIDS by now-deceased British author John Wyndham (and the epigraph for NOMANSLAND comes from that book). But perhaps my main inspiration came from my own schooldays in Africa. I know NOMANSLAND is set on an icy, remote island that is nothing like Africa but the society I depict in the book is a distorted version of my all-girls, all-female staff school in a country that was called Rhodesia at the time but is now called Zimbabwe. The school was strict, petty and obsessively competitive and all this came from the adults rather than the students. They were also obsessed with our appearance in that any attempts to wear makeup, short skirts and or have our hair loose were among some of the worst crimes. But then they allowed this really weird thing: an incredibly cruel beauty contest, where the students (actually we were called "pupils") picked the entrants, and this was the inspiration for the beauty contest in the book. It was one of the first things that started me thinking about women, the pressures on them, the competition to be gorgeous and how all this makes women and young girls miserable. 

2. Can you tell us about how you got to be published? What was it like?
I am trained as a journalist and published articles regularly, but I wrote unpublished fiction for many years, at least three novels and some short stories. Everything was rejected but sometimes I got encouraging letters saying that I had promise, or words to that effect, and that would keep me going. I took about a year to write NOMANSLAND and I knew it was a YA book although I had never written YA before. I sent out about 12 queries to agents and two agents came back to me. My agent, Ann Tobias, helped me enormously because she is an incredible editor as well as an excellent agent -- she taught me more about writing than any MFA course could. I cut and polished the manuscript and it took many months but it sold quickly, for a modest sum, to Henry Holt. Watching the manuscript morph into a book was one of the most fun experiences of my life. That was all the nice part. I cannot say I have enjoyed the actual publication part. It is nervewracking. Suddenly your work is out there for all to comment upon, and being publicly discussed requires an author to develop a thick skin -- I must acquire one. But no one makes you write, so you can't whine about any part of it.

3. What was the hardest part of writing Nomansland for you?
     Um ... it was all hard!

4. Your book has a strong theme of feminism. Is there anything you would like to say regarding that?

    Yes!! I wanted readers to think again about feminism because I don't agree that we live in a post-feminist world. Also I'm not sure what young women today think about feminism and I'm hoping to find out via responses to the book. Part of what I was trying to do with NOMANSLAND was to show how deeply embedded female oppression is in our culture, which is why I included the Pandora myth, Eve in the Garden of Eden and the internalized oppression of some of the women in the community. I think we need to remember feminist ideals more than ever in a world full of narcissistic, sexualized images of women that both fascinate us and make us miserable because we can't ever look like that. The particularly insidious thing about these images is that in this supposedly "post-feminist" world this fetishized sexiness is presented as "girl power"-- as if all this imagery is proof of our liberation. But the sexual power in these images is, in fact, presented as the only source of female power. Well this is a tricky one. Women do have a certain sexual power but, in my view, it is the least reliable way to go about shaping your own identity. But it sure sells stuff and works upon our sub-conscious very effectively. I want to say that your intelligence, independent-mindedness, skills, humor and grace will stand you in far better stead. On the other hand, we are wary of the joyless, man-hating caricature of feminism that is the mocked-version of 1970s feminism -- young women today have to navigate their way between the grim version of feminism that has become a silly populist view of the 1970s feminists and this other consumer-driven shiny, shiny celebrity perfection. The girls in the book look back at our society with all its shiny surfaces, magazine pictures of smooth, flawless women, a world full of objects and possessions, and are both fascinated by what they see and repelled by it (well Keller is). They are hesistant and confused and overwhelmed. I suppose there are darker things going on in their psyche when they are inspired to compete with one another to see who is the most beautiful ... I'm not offering any easy answers.

5. What are some of your favorite books and authors?

When I get asked this question I do the equivalent of closing my eyes and reaching into a barrel full of goodies to pick some at random:

J.M. Coetzee (South African writer) in particular a book called WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS

Ian McEwan -- I am reading SOLAR, his latest book about climate change, and it got terrible reviews in this country, but it is really good. I'm sad USA didn't like it.

I just read an excellent book called MARY REILLY by Valerie Martin, which is a retelling of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story from the point of view of a housemaid in Dr. Jekyll's household.

Books from other eras would include: MADAME BOVARY (Gustav Flaubert); MIDDLEMARCH (George Eliot) and THE SECRET AGENT (Joseph Conrad)

I also love books by Patricia Highsmith and J.G. Ballard and poetry by Elizabeth Bishop and Philip Larkin. I also read lots of non-fiction. One I would recommend is called THE WORLD WITHOUT US by Alan Weisman and it is a book about what the world would become if human beings were suddenly one day to disappear completely.

Thank you for answering my questions! It was a pleasure interviewing you.


Heather said...

I've never heard of Nomansland, but I'm going to look for it. I agree with Lesley-we say we are in a post-feminist world, but there are still so many examples of women being objectified, and some of our most basic rights are at risk as well. Good for her for putting that into a YA novel. I teach 3rd-5th grade, and after the Chris Brown/Rhianna incident I overheard three of my fifth grade girls talking about it. I thought they were talking about what I jerk Chris Brown was, but instead they were blaming Rhianna, saying she shouldn't have made him mad. We still have a long way to go, girls!

Lydia said...

I've not heard of this book - but the cover on it looks fantastic and I'm all for girl-power in a novel (especially after the slew of spineless female characters we're submitted to in popular YA novels).

I'll be checking it out - thanks for a great interview and introducing me to it!

Kristen said...

I wanted to read this book before, but this interview has taken it to - I must read this book. I love debut authors and it's fun to read interviews by them because they're just started out and feel a little more down to earth and modest. I think I will dig this novel because of some of the feminist themes - very great to see - especially in a YA novel. Also, that she had to go through that evil beauty contest in school - sounds awful.

Emily a.k.a WilowRaven : ) said...

Gotta say, I have a thing for debut authors :) From what I've heard about Nomansland, I know I wanted to read it. Now I'm even more intrigued. Great interview! I'm moving this one up on my wishlist :)

Emily said...

First off, congratulations on your debut novel! Nomansland sounds excellent and is moving up my TBR list as we speak. Thanks for posting this great interview- there were lots of interesting themes and things to think about!

Becky said...

Her schooldays in Africa seem very interesting! I haven't heard of this book before, but I will have to check it out! Great interview!

Buried in Books said...

That was a great interview even if a little over my head. I went back and read your review of Nomansland so I could kind of follow better what she was talking about. She definitely had a purpose to her novel. You should have asked her your questions in the interview, the ones you had at the end of the book. But it was a great interview with very good questions.

Congratulations on your first novel. You must be feeling all kinds of things. Good luck and you know we'll all advertise for you when it gets to the publishing stage.


Jo said...

I had seen a review of Nomansland and thought it sounded interesting. I had read a book called "Herland" when I was in college, and thought this sounded a little like that. Thanks for having an author interview -- it really gives more insight into a book. :)

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Wow that seems interesting!

Deepali said...

Coming over from the Sunday Blues Meme, this is great to see the author interview!! It seems like there is a lot of thought to the book...

VIsit me sometime at

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