I am absolutely thrilled to welcome the author of the Ink, Alice Broadway to the blog. Alice is sharing some of the ideas and inspiration behind her brilliant debut novel Ink and the writing process in general. Thank you Alice for joining us!
I just have to say this loudly – I LOVED INK! Couldn’t put it down. For the benefit of those poor people (!) who haven’t read it yet, tell us a bit about it. That makes me so happy – thank you! Ink is set in Saintstone: a world where all your good and bad deeds, all your successes and failures are tattooed onto your skin. Everyone can look at you and know all about you. The purpose of life in Saintstone is to be remembered after you die – and only the worthy deserve this honour. If you are counted worthy after your death your tattoos are preserved in a skin book for your family to keep forever. Ink tells the story of Leora who is sixteen; her Dad has just died and when she looks at his skin book she realises a mark is missing and then everything she thought she knew unravels.
In Ink, people’s memories and significant life moments are tattooed on their skin to create a record of their life story: what was the inspiration for this idea and how did you go about researching it? It’s hard to put my finger on an exact inspiration, but I am definitely indebted to Ancient Egypt: I’m so fascinated by their approach to death and their ways of honouring the dead and their physical bodies. I love anything that makes me think twice about people’s motivations and I’m also really intrigued by the way we present our lives to near strangers on social media.
The world you create is very real, as are the people in it. I loved the use of fables to illustrate the history of Saintstone and where the people’s beliefs come from. It’s impressive enough to write a novel, let alone the fables within the story too – how did you go about writing them? If I’m facing writer’s block, my solution is to write or dream up a fable. There is something about the magic and gruesomeness of old traditional tales like Grimm’s that captures the idea of story for me. I sometimes work through my own difficulties by creating a fairytale-esque story. Is that weird?! I also come from a background of deep religious faith (although my own faith is very confused!) and I see story as the backbone of so many spiritual worldviews and I wanted this to be represented in Ink.
Leora has some really interesting relationships with the other central female characters in the story – her mother, her best friend and her mentor. Did your own relationships with female relatives and friends inform this? For me, relationships are the things that either cause you to flourish or to fold. I am very lucky to have good female friends, family and role models. I don’t feel that any of the relationships in Ink are exactly representative of the lovely people I have in my life, but I really hope I’ve been able to show the way other people can shape your world and thinking. I really like a lot of the characters in Ink and I feel for each of them. I should say that my Mum is much more chilled than Leora’s!
Faith and belief play a central part in Leora’s story; she is clearly grappling with things she feels she should believe versus the reality of what is happening around her. How important do you think faith is in today’s world? This is something I wrestle with personally, so for me it’s a big thing but I have no idea how it seems to anyone else. I guess we all spend time trying to work out what life means and how to live a life that is really worthwhile. I have experienced both the comfort of a very rigid faith and the freedom of having no faith at all and I wish I could see how other people make their way on this journey.
You’ve talked about your fascination with death and the afterlife in previous interviews. In the book, the people’s ancestors live on through their skin books; the family get to keep (literally) a part of them – perhaps in the same way that some people in our culture keep the ashes of loved ones. Has writing Ink changed your perception of death and keeping memories of loved ones alive? Researching Ink led to some amazing discoveries and one of those was the death positivity movement, which is a non-religious group of people trying to ease the fear of death and normalise what is a very ordinary thing. I’ve been greatly inspired by the words of Caitlyn Doughty who writes and vlogs brilliantly about death, dying and post-death practices. For me it has forced me to think about death and to talk about it more openly. It has made it a little less scary, which has to be a good thing.
The idea of the Blanks (outcasts and people who don’t share the beliefs of the inhabitants of Saintstone) is quite chilling. This is reflective of so many cultures across the world controlled by religious beliefs or where people who don’t share the same ideals – is this something you wanted to address through your novel? My feeling is that we love to create an identity, and belonging to a group gives us that. I’m concerned about the ways our loyalty to our own group can mean refusal to empathise and understand others. I didn’t aim to write a political book but I’m really interested in the ways it’s inspired people to talk about division, prejudice and control.
Ink is your debut novel; tell us a bit about the process of writing – how long it took; highs and lows; anything that kept you going if there was a low point! I’m super aware that all my answers so far have been a bit gloomy, serious and morbid and I really want to be super cheery BUT, I started writing Ink just after I was diagnosed with depression and for me, writing has been a great therapeutic thing. Of course, it also meant there were days I couldn’t write and that it was slow-going. On a much happier note, it has been just amazing to sign with my dream agent (Jo Unwin) and to then be snapped up by Scholastic, and get to work with an incredible editor (Genevieve Herr). Writing is so solitary and once I had other people giving me feedback and helping shape the book I kept feeling like I was cheating! I think getting to work with gifted and brilliant people has been one of the huge pluses – when people see what you’re trying to do and help you make it better it feels like a dream!
It must be a life-changing – writing a novel, being published, reaching so many readers. How does everyday life feel now and what do your family and friends make of your success? I’m still changing nappies and getting woken most nights by the kids! In all the best ways life hasn’t changed a bit but my dad published a blog post after reading Ink and he wrote that ‘it just goes to show that childhood dreams can come true’. I really feel I’m doing my dream job and I couldn’t be more thrilled. My family and friends have been LOVELY and so supportive and sweet. And so far they’ve been excellent at laughing at me being slightly crap at publicity and the like.
Finally, what would you most want to be recorded on your skin if we lived in a society like Saintstone? I’ve been thinking about this so much! For me, the family tree would be crucial but I wish there would be ways of showing more than just how someone is related to you. Family is so much more than blood or marriage and I would love a way to express how much I love those who are precious to me.
Thank you Alice for such brilliant responses and sharing your insight with us. We wish you every success with Ink and can’t wait for the next book!
Review of Ink coming soon!