Lonely Girl is a book I recently reviewed, and loved, and which left me with this feeling of unease reading about these two characters that are playing mind games with each other in the most deliciously messed up situation. Lynne Vincent McCarthy is the author, and a screenwriter and here she shares just how Ana and Luke came to life for her.
Tell us about the transition from script advisor and screenwriter to author? How did you come to find yourself writing Lonely Girl
The project was conceived as a screenplay. Initially it was vehicle to get me to the Binger Film Lab in Amsterdam where I spent six months developing a 1st. Over the next five years the project had the support of some excellent people in the film industry, one of who passed the screenplay onto a commissioning editor at Pan Macmillan. She liked it enough to ask for a ten thousand word sample to make sure I could write prose.
From there I was given a small advance to write a first draft. The manuscript went through three quite major rewrites and quite a lot of final tweaking with my brilliant editors before it went to print. It was almost three years from when I wrote the sample until I had a final draft. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had a publisher on board from the outset. I know how lucky that is, especially for a first time novelist.
What is the most surprising difference between writing in the two different genres/medias?
The obvious difference is that as a novelist I can take the reader into a deep and subjective point of view of a character. That is possible in film too but being able to delve into the interior world of character and sit in their skin is more immediately there with prose.
In film we know about a character by what they do and by what they say but obviously you don’t want to rely too much on dialogue. There are brilliant tools that work with the visual and aural landscape to help with emotional and psychological storytelling like juxtaposition of images, soundscape and of course subtext. There’s a lot you can imply in film and if you’re clever you can make the viewer work for you and bring their own imagination to the storytelling.
Obviously it was liberating for me to have such immediate and deep access into my central character’s interior world but perhaps what was surprising was that it was also quite terrifying at times. I think I invested and exposed more of myself through the process. That said, I think it also made me less afraid of the empty page and also made me trust myself and my voice more.
What inspired Ana?
Ana was in part inspired by the grief I felt at the loss of a very special dog in my life, and the isolation I experienced at that time. I wanted to channel those feelings into something positive and creative. I’ve also had a life long fascination with complex characters and the darker aspects and impulses of being human. I believe most people are capable of pretty much anything, given the right or wrong circumstances, and sometimes questionable choices come from deep desires and needs that we can all relate to. A more tangible inspiration was moving into a house that had a basement and commenting to a friend that I could lock someone in there and no-one would ever know. The horrified but intrigued look on my friend’s face was pure inspiration!
Why introduce River to the story?
Ana is a very isolated character who goes out of her way not to engage with people so River was a great way for me to get the audience closer to her, to get to know her well before she starts making questionable choices and moving way out of her comfort zone. I think people reveal themselves in their relationship to animals and it was a great way of provoking audience connection and empathy for a character whose actions can be at times difficult to relate.
The thing that intrigued me so much about her is her capacity to be… devious shall we say when it is the last thing I would have expected from her in the beginning of the book. Tell us about the choices behind her behaviour in that regard and what your aim was with them.
As I said I believe most people are capable of anything given particular circumstances and I started the story already knowing that Ana would hold a man captive. I then addressed how to convincingly get her to that place. We see lots of stories in fiction and in the media about men abducting women but not so much the other way around and I was captured by the question of what might motivate or drive a woman to go there. Her character really emerged from that space. As writers often do I drew on things from my own character, particularly feelings I had as a younger woman, specifically that sense of being isolated and not belonging in the world, as well as yearning for connection and intimacy, but with Ana of course I heightened everything. Essentially, she needs to change, or embrace all of who she is, if she’s going to stay in it and the character as I wrote her is someone who becomes more and more spontaneous and takes more risks as her journey goes on. It’s a bit like the domino effect. After those first few ‘out there’ decisions she has no choice but to keep going, to keep digging herself into a deeper and deeper hole, and then try and find a way out of it. She was fascinating to follow.
I like that Luke proved to be … devious in his own way, and proved a far more formidable foe than Ana thought. What prompted you to go down this path with him?
I wanted them to be a match for each other and to also hold up a mirror to the other. In some ways they are quite alike but they also learn about their own truth from this strange and twisted bond that grows between them. They’re both hiding so much and are more and more exposed and confronted as their journey together progresses. I didn’t want either of them to be completely guilty as it’s the shades of grey in human nature that I find particularly interesting.
How would you sum up their relationship in one sentence?
That’s an interesting question but one I find impossible to answer. The complexity of their characters and relationship makes it impossible for me to sum up in one sentence. I’d be very interested in hearing how readers might answer that question.
If you could cast this for a movie, who would play Ana and Luke?
I actually prefer not to imagine that sort of thing as it’s not a decision that will be up to me. Of course I see them both clearly in my mind but they’re certainly not any actors I know as for me they are very real people. I personally love that each reader can imagine who they are for themselves and I wouldn’t want to influence that by naming actors here.
I’ve been mulling over how to describe Ana and Luke’s relationship too, and it is indeed tough! What impression do you get of them?