Q&A with Tasha Kavanagh,
author of things we have in common
people look at me and think the same as i thought when i saw you: freak. so I figured, as well as feeling compelled to stare at alice taylor, being freaks was something else we had in common.
As author Tasha Kavanagh notes below, there are touches of her novel's protagonist, Yasmin, in all of us. Perhaps it's this connection that makes the story of this lonely misfit so compelling. Things We Have In Common is an unputdownable book that pulls you in, simultaneously making you squirm and making your heart ache. Here Kavanagh shares her thoughts on embodying a character, her creative process, and what she'll do next.
Victoria Fullard: Endings can make or break a book for many readers. By all accounts, the last page of Things We Have In Common is completely and totally satisfying. Did you always know how the book would end? Did you consider alternate endings?
Tasha Kavanagh: I didn’t develop a plot structure/outline before I began writing. Doing that just doesn’t work for me. I find the only way I can write is to jump in, start the engine, and work out the route as I go. Having said that, I did have a sense of the story’s ending pretty early on. Knowing, more or less, where my protagonist was going to psychologically end up gave me the tone of the story. It also meant that, whilst I was discovering new places along the way, I had confidence that the direction I was traveling in would eventually lead me to my destination.
VF: Some actors go “method” and can’t leave their characters behind after a day’s filming. Yasmin is such a heartbreaking character; what was it like seeing the world through her eyes? Did you find it hard to shake her off after a day of writing?
TK: I never felt that Yasmin was separate from me. I just wrote, and out she came. On the surface of things I’m nothing like her—was certainly nothing like her as a teenager—but on some deeper level, perhaps we’re not so different. I think everyone can relate to a fear of social rejection, of loneliness. So perhaps I was going method a little—I don’t know. But I certainly never had a sense of stepping into or out of her skin.
VF: What books did you draw on for inspiration as you were writing?
TK: I’ve always loved the stories of Patricia Highsmith and Daphne du Maurier, and their influence on my writing (or at least on my desire to write!) is significant. Half way through writing Things We Have in Common, I suddenly remembered a dark and compelling book I read as a 15 year old: The Collector by John Fowles. It made a huge impression on me at the time and—given my novel’s subject matter—must have been instructing me from my subconscious.
VF: Before penning Things We Have In Common, you authored several children’s books. How did your creative process differ with your new book? Were there ways in which it remained the same?
TK: Before writing Things We Have in Common, I wrote picture books for 2–5 year olds. Before that I worked as a film editor on features including Twelve Monkeys and The Talented Mr Ripley. It’s impossible to know how much my experience in these visual mediums shaped the way I approached my novel but I definitely write visually, seeing the settings and action in my mind’s eye. Picture books are like animations—they are all about the momentum, the forward action, the page turn. As well as honing an instinct for story pace, writing in this very restrictive (12 spreads) medium taught me to be economical when choosing what to show and to ensure that the emotion of a story is always carried with the action.
VF: What’s your favorite writing advice you’ve received?
TK: “Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you, and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that—but you are the only you.” —Neil Gaiman
VF: You obviously have quite a range—what’s next?
TK: I’m writing another dark psychological novel. I’m always drawn to characters that exist on the fringes of society. Their loneliness makes them compelling, in that it can drive them to act in ways that the rest of us never need to.
VF: Fill in the blank (hopefully in an unexpected way): People who ________ should read Things We Have In Common.
TK: People who aren’t afraid of a little immorality and/or like chocolate should read Things We Have In Common.