With Once all of L.T. Smith’s formerly published novels are finally available again. And for the first time they are not only available as paperback but also as ebook.
We thought this interesting enough to invite Linda over and ask her some nosy questions:
How would you describe Once? What is it about?
I can’t tell you how many times I have written and rewritten this response. Summing up, or ‘describing’ Once could lead to me regurgitating the blurb, but that is not what I believe I’ve been asked here. Once is not just about Beth Chambers, not just about a failed relationship, or the gradual descent into depression. It isn’t about a protagonist who spends the novel blaming others for how her life turned out – or even blaming herself for leaving, or not leaving, a failed relationship.
Personally, I would describe Once as a book about overcoming life events and experiencing the wondrous realization of how strong the human spirit actually is. Once is about rediscovering hope, falling in love, and learning to love life. This book is about friendship, new beginnings, recognising that although we do have limitations these are definitely outweighed by our strengths but it just takes a little time to remember that.
And, best of all, Once has a dog in it. What else do you need to know?
Do you remember what sparked the idea for this book?
I have a photograph taken of me walking my lads at Earlham Park. The picture shows the back of me striding down to the river, the lead in my hand, my furry fellas racing ahead – Joxie to drop his ball into the water for mummy to collect; Mutley ready for his swim. Blissfully idyllic. Green sloping fields, the space open and free. Perfect. Everything was as it should be. Everything was wonderful.
But as I looked at the picture, the blue sky began to darken. Not literally, but with the following series of thoughts ‘What if Joxie actually went into the water and couldn’t get out? What if Mutley got pulled out by the current and got carried downstream? They’d both be dead and it’d be my fault. I was too careless, too carefree, too casual.’
I imagined myself standing in the river frantically trying to find them, desperately trying to save them, the action fruitless and devastating. The emotions running through me at the time of looking at the photograph – the guilt, the anger, the frustration, the despair, all seemed to coagulate within me.
Then, as stories tend to do, it grew inside my head. The emotions were not centred on two missing dogs, but on a failed relationship. The bitterness, the heartache, the claustrophobic imprisonment of being with the wrong person for the wrong reasons seemed to brew. Feeling worthless, stupid, emotionally crippled, all the things Beth Chambers believed she was experiencing in her shattered view of life. Unfortunately, an experience that is not unheard of with a lot of people.
So, what started with a picture ended with a story, a story I hope that shows how we can get past those doubts, those dark thoughts and darkening skies.
How did you come up with the title?
‘Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a woman… ‘ These were the very first words I typed when beginning the story and they seemed to fit with what I was trying to get across. Life isn’t a fairy tale. It is not full of Princess Charmings and carriages made from pumpkins. Life is not a sweet romance where everything is perfectly wonderful and full of hearts and flowers. Life has its ups and downs, its crises. Life is reality. We can’t just back space life a little, like we can on a keyboard, and make changes without there being consequences of our actions.
Also, I wanted the reader to be very aware that this tale was Beth’s story, and she was purposefully making reference to the art of crafting a tale, although the tale in question didn’t always follow the rules. A little like love. A little like life.
What do you like about your main characters?
I know some people want to pull their hair out when they read the frustrations of my central character, but to me she reflects how I believe a lot of us react in situations of the heart. Personally, I have inner doubts when it comes to how people view me. I also know, through the mails of quite a few of the readers who have been in contact, that it isn’t just me that feels the ‘does she, doesn’t she’, ‘I’m not worthy’, or ‘why would she give me a second look?’ Opening ourselves up to love is such a gloriously vulnerable feeling where second guessing each gesture, word, look drives us mad yet exhilarates us, too.
Therefore, without any more waffle, I like the realism of my main characters. They are not perfect, not glamour models, or company directors. To me they are everyday women who have all the idiosyncrasies of their readers, and react with stupidity, frustration, desperation, elation, and, hopefully, candor.
Were your characters inspired by anyone you know in your everyday life or by a famous person, or were they entirely made up?
I think Beth Chambers, like all of my narrators, has some of me in her. Not just her description, or her love of Dudley, but her mannerisms, too. She has the tendency to dwell on crap – so do I. Wink. As for Amy, I created her from bits and pieces of everyone and everything. Ms Fletcher could be classed as the perfect woman, but in reality, she is has her foibles and secrets just like the rest of us, but she is also a wonderful woman, a fabulous friend, and a perfect love interest for Beth.
Why do you think Beth and Amy work as a couple?
Who is to say they get together? Tsk. Trying to trick me into saying something I would later regret in a court of law? Therefore, I’m going to avoid this question and explain instead why I think Sue and Beth didn’t work as a couple.
They just didn’t fit. Like two pieces of a jigsaw from two different puzzles. You can keep banging at each piece with the hopes they will eventually slot together, but instead all you get are two bits of coloured cardboard bent out of shape with a picture that is turning into a Picasso. It’s a pity they didn’t realise this sooner instead of crushing the spirit out of each other each time the piece was forced. Some people will say ‘She is my person’ which is loosely based on a line from a TV show, but I think ‘She is my jigsaw piece’ is just as good
What draws you to writing lesbian romances?
It still surprises me to realise that I am considered to be a lesbian romance writer. If you ask people who know me, they will point and laugh, disbelief in the ‘labelling’ evident by the rapid shaking of their heads and spluttering. But, I hold my hand up and accept I am who I am. How could I deny it? I’ve written so many tales of woman falling in love, love spanning years, love overcoming all obstacles, love in its first bloom, love in its maturity, love in every stage of insecurity, love taken to the extremes of love, the devastation of unrequited love, the despair of lost love, and so the list goes on.
But. Listen. Maybe I am thinking I want to step away from writing just romance. Maybe I will move into another genre in the non-too-distant future – or should I say ‘I’ve already moved into one of my favourite genres’? I don’t know if you are aware, but one of my favourite types of books is the paranormal – more specifically, ghost stories. After Once, the next novel of mine to be published is Driving Me Mad. I think you are all going to be surprised by this one. Don’t worry though. There will still be romance, but let me say it is a little darker than my usual fare. Isn’t that right, Astrid
What writers in your genre do you admire? What are your favorite lesbian fiction novels?
Obviously, Sarah Waters. I will say her name until my tongue stiffens (get your mind out from the gutter). I have so many novels that I have read and loved, all of Ms Waters to start the ball rolling. Paulette Callen’s Charity and Fervent Charity (a copy of Charity I gave to Sarah Waters when I met her in May. Any excuse to chat with her a tad longer).
Actually, I should stop now. I don’t want to list all the authors whom I’ve read and admired as I know the list will be huge. And then what would happen if I forgot one and she read this and thought ‘WTF? I thought she liked me!’ Too much like an opportunity for drama to unfold and I will be quaking in the corner sobbing ‘What have I done?’
In a nutshell, look at the authors at Ylva. Pick any one and know I like them.
What are you currently reading?
I have just started Turning for Home by Caren J Werlinger. I can’t wait to get to bed to read some more. Early night for me tonight.
Are you working on a new novel? What can your readers expect next from you?
I am just finalizing a Halloween story that I was hoping to submit for Ylva’s annual anthology. I think my imagination truly got away with me with this story as maybe she is a tad too big and will probably get the boot.
What I want for you to do, if you have the time and the inclination, is cross your fingers and hope that she’ll make an appearance this year. But, if you are busy, I truly understand.
On a final note, I hope you like Once. Yes, this is her second appearance, but this time she is looking mighty fine – lots of spit and polish and new bits added. Happy reading.
Thanks Linda for answering our questions.