Luiza Sauma was born in Rio de Janeiro and moved to London with her family when she was four; she has lived there ever since.
After studying English at the University of Leeds, Luiza worked at the Independent on Sunday for several years.
She has an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths, where she won the Pat Kavanagh Award. She has also been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
Flesh and Bone and Water is her first novel. She is currently working on her second novel.
Her agent is Emma Paterson at Rogers, Coleridge & White.
What three things do you miss about Brazil?
Ipanema beach, Bahian food and the natural beauty of Rio de Janeiro – it’s such a wild, gorgeous city.
What was the last trip you took?
I last went to Brazil in November 2015 to visit my sister, who was living in São Paulo. It was my first time in the city, and I absolutely loved it. I usually go to Brazil every year, but now that my sister has moved to London, I’m taking a little break.
Could you tell us a little about your background (where you grew up etc.) and your earliest experience/engagement with literature?
I was born in Rio and moved to London with my family when I was four. I grew up in north-west London, mostly in Golders Green. When I arrived I didn’t speak English and can clearly remember the process of learning the language, and falling in love with it. I’ve loved reading and writing since childhood, when my favourite author was Roald Dahl (obviously).
What do you like to do to relax?
Yoga, eating, drinking, going to the theatre, and watching TV and films.
When and how did you realise that you wanted to be a writer and which author/s inspired you to pursue a literary career?
I realised I wanted to be a writer when I was around 15, when I started reading lots of classic 20th-century American writers, such as Truman Capote, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ralph Ellison and the Beat Generation. Those writers showed me something different to what I was studying at school – the possibilities of form and experimentation. But it would be many years before I found the confidence to actively pursue a literary career.
For those that are unfamiliar to you as a writer you have previously worked as a journalist, did you enjoy this experience?
I worked as an arts journalist for a while, mostly at a newspaper. I had many great experiences and interviewed lots of fascinating people. I was very lucky, but it’s hard to make a living from journalism these days. I stopped being a full-time journalist a while ago, though I still write the occasional piece.
Could you describe your early writing habits and did you pursue writing fiction whilst being a journalist – if so how did this balancing act work? Have you noticed any differences/changes over the years?
In my teens I wrote nearly every day – mostly in my journal, but also some bad poetry and short fiction. When I became a journalist my fiction-writing fell by the wayside, because I was working such long, intense hours. Several years passed in which I barely wrote anything outside work. I moved to a less strenuous job and found I had more time to write in the evenings and weekends. I’ve had more demanding jobs since then, but I’ve learned to protect my writing time – it’s precious.
Do you feel that your background in journalism has helped your writing today? Please explain…
Journalism helped me to become more disciplined. Even if my book feels like it’s going badly, I sit down and write most days. Newspaper editors don’t mince their words, so I’m not easily offended by feedback – especially from people I trust, like my agent and editors.
Your short story ‘Agnes Agnes Agnes’ was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize; was this the catalyst and recognition you needed to leave journalism behind and focus on your fiction?
By the time I was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize I was working at an arts organisation, rather than in journalism. It was definitely a boost, but I couldn’t just leave my job, because I needed the income.
There wasn’t a single moment that made me focus on fiction; there have been a series of baby-steps, like getting published by small literary journals, doing the creative writing MA at Goldsmiths, and winning the Pat Kavanagh Award in 2014 with an early draft of my novel. The latter was the one that really made me sit down and finish my book. I had been drifting away from it because my day job was so demanding, but the award gave me the courage to push myself further.
We are huge fans of the short story. Could you expand on your creative and writing processes for ‘Agnes Agnes Agnes’ which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers prize in 2014?
I don’t have a conscious process. I have an idea, I spend a long time thinking about it – often while doing other things – and then finally one day I sit down and write without plotting or planning too much. And then I rewrite it, over and over again. I wrote my novel in much the same way.
How did you feel about the recognition and praise it received?
I was delighted to be shortlisted, especially as the judging panel included Marlon James, who is one of my favourite writers.
Is the short story genre something you will be looking to explore in the future? Could we expect an Anthology of short stories from you?
Perhaps, but it’s not something I’m working on at the moment – I’m trying to finish my second novel.
So how are you dealing with the praise for your debut novel ‘Flesh and Bone and Water’?
It’s wonderful when people tell me they enjoyed the book. For many years it was almost a secret – I hardly spoke about it with anyone, especially when I started writing it – so it’s lovely to hear that other people are reading it.
I loved ‘Flesh and Bone and Water’. It’s very rare nowadays that a book has such a strong engaging storyline throughout. Your twist that comes in the final third of the book is masterfully delivered and comes out of nowhere, how did you decide upon this and the delivery of your revelation?
The ‘twist’ in Flesh and Bone and Water was an integral element from the very beginning, when I first wrote it as a short story. I don’t know where it came from – my unconscious, I suppose – but it felt right for the characters and the world they live in.
Each character in the book has brilliant characterisations and jump out of the book, are they based on anyone in particular? How do you go about creating the believable souls of your characters?
I took some inspiration from people I know, but the characters are all fictional. I’m not sure how I created them, to be honest. André and his father were the first characters that came to me; I could picture them exactly and understand their motivations from the start.
If you, as a writer, are able to put yourself into a character’s shoes – and really believe in them – then they will come to life.
Not since Daphne Du Maurier has someone written as the opposite sex in such a wonderful way. Was if difficult to get into the mindset of your male protagonist? Could you offer any insight into how you approached this task of delivering a truly believable male lead?
In our society so much culture and information is delivered from the point of view of men, so I feel like I grew up understanding how they see the world. Men and women are not so different; the main difference is in how they are treated by society.
Here’s a small example: in Brazilian families, household chores are often expected of girls, but not boys. From an early age I felt that my sister and I were, in intellectual terms, completely equal to our male relatives, but for some reason they had extra privileges. This is what I kept in mind, when writing in André’s voice.
What is your favourite book?
I don’t have a favourite. When I was younger I would have said Lolita, because it’s so darkly funny and virtuosic but, in retrospect, also problematic. I need to re-read it soon. The book I’ve most loved in the last few years was Austerlitz by W G Sebald. It has such a singular, unique voice.
What is the one piece of advice you would give aspiring writers?
Try to silence that inner voice that tells you you’re a terrible writer. Write your first draft without thinking too much – go with your gut, get to the end, and then you can step back and improve it.
What is the best piece of advice you received as a writer?
Finish your book!
What are you presently reading and what books would you recommend?
I’m currently reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which I’m really enjoying. Lately I’ve been recommending Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout to all my friends. It’s just wonderful.
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Interview by Ross Jeffery
STORGY Interview with critically acclaimed author Callan Wink.
Available online from 26th March 2017.
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