Author Interview: Louise Willingham

There’s an old belief that as time goes on, pets and their owners begin to look alike. Scruffy faced old men begin to assimilate the look of their husky counterparts, frizzy-haired middle-aged secretaries take on the harried countenance of their mini-poodles. In as much as two different species can resemble each other, pet and owner form a symbiotic physical appearance.

I think authors take that a step further. There are some authors that their novels simply becomes them, as charismatic, solemn, sensitive, quiet, or thrilling as that person is in real life. Reading Not Quite Out, and knowing what I know about Louise Willingham, I can see clearly the earnest soul that penned it. Their light and spirit came to life on the page. It is such a delicate, intricate and sensitive piece of literature that has as much to say as its author.

It’s appropriate that this interview comes on Valentines’ day, as I choose to celebrate the relationships in my life that are complex, nuanced, and invaluable. The ones that go further than chocolates, flowers, and greeting cards, and tiptoe quietly into the life-saving and irreplaceable. Not Quite Out is a story of those kinds of relationships.

I was glad that Louise took the time to answer my questions. You can also read my review of Not Quite Out here.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a nervous bi who has a lot to say! I live in Staffordshire, England, and spend most of my time walking around my village or chatting about new story ideas with my friends.

Tell us about your novel, Not Quite Out.
Not Quite Out is a slow-burn following a nervous bi while he tries to work out the best way of helping his new friend while trying to be honest to himself. Will is an over-thinker, and that really drives the whole book.

It’s Valentine’s Day, so let’s have a bit of fun with the occasion! If your book had a dating profile, what would it say?
Oh my.

A rainy-day read with a hard-fought happy ending and a bed shortage searches for a reader who isn’t sure how to come out but has so much empathy it gets them into trouble. Must love coffee and/or jacket potatoes.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from Not Quite Out?
The absolute main one is that you can love someone without knowing everything about them. With an unreliable, limited first-person narrator like Will, it’s really fascinating to see the plot lines that happen “off-page”. A lot goes on without Will knowing, and it’s hinted at for the reader to pick up on, but it really drives home this point that everyone is allowed their secrets. It’s okay to not tell everyone everything.

You mention your main theme is that you don’t have to know everything about someone to love them. I find that to be a really refreshing take! Has this theme developed from something personal to you?
Yes! I think it’s so important that we don’t expect 100% clarity from everyone we socialize with—even our very best friends. No one should feel forced to talk about things unless they want to, particularly when it comes to sexuality and trauma. Those are deeply personal things. I think this comes from me realizing I really don’t have to explain every part of myself to the world in order to publish a book, just like I don’t expect other authors to out themselves (or be outed) just so they can write a book where the girl gets the girl. 

What is different about Not Quite Out?
For a start, the topics I cover. Being an indie book means I can talk about things traditional publishing doesn’t usually take a gamble on. We have an explicitly bisexual main character, which I think we all agree we need more of, and the love interest is an absolute mess of a human—but he’s full of good intentions.

Not Quite Out features a bisexual main character. How do you feel about bi representation in books currently?
I rarely read a book specifically for the rep. I think that’s dangerous because every bi experience—or every trans experience, asexual experience, gay experience etc—is different, so if you expect to connect to a character-based only on your shared queerness you’re asking for trouble. That said, I love stories where characters grow in confidence and learn to accept and embrace parts of themselves. When this is bisexuality, I feel a kinship to the character. I’m very happy with the surge in queer literature over the last few years and hope it continues so we get a broader range of queer voices. As I always say, there are as many queer stories as there are queer people. The more books with “rep”, the greater chance a reader will find a story similar to theirs.

Were William and Daniel influenced by anyone you know in real life?
Largely, yes. Much of NQO is based on things I’ve experienced, and I know some good friends will be able to point at specific conversations in the book and go “yep that’s me”. (I talked to them about it before I included it, of course!) A lot of the things Will says are things I find myself wanting to say to people I love, so really that’s the important thing. I’m sort of speaking through Will and even though he’s an annoyance a lot of the time I think that’s because I am, too! He’s definitely not a perfect character but I like to think it’s clear he always has the best intentions.

How would you describe the relationship between Daniel and William at the beginning of the book?
In the beginning, there’s a lot of caution. Will has no idea what he’s getting himself into, and Dan attempts to shield him from it. But, underneath it all, Dan is an extrovert. He needs to have people around him. He realizes that Will is probably the best person in the area for him to start trusting, so he gives it a shot. Will proves again and again that he has time for Dan and any and all of his problems, and that’s where Dan drops his guard and admits it would be quite nice to have a friend. That’s how they go from acquaintances to proper friends.

Are there aspects of the relationship between William and Daniel that mirror a relationship you’ve seen between persons(s) in your own life?
I have a very poor imagination, so most things I write about are directly inspired by things I’ve experienced. For this reason, the whole book is incredibly personal to me. William’s absolute need to look after Dan is something I firmly relate to—sometimes, you notice someone is suffering and feel like you’re the only person in the world who cares. Sometimes that person feels like you are, too. But, as Will learns, you can’t always be the one doing the helping. Will is under constant pressure throughout the book, and Dan notices. Dan does everything in his power to reassure and protect Will and I think that bidirectional flow of trust and support is super important. Any relationship—friendship, professional, romantic—should be built on mutual trust and respect. As one of the characters in the book says, it should also make you happy. These are things I make sure I have in all my relationships and I think they’re critical to staying healthy.

What are your plans for future novels?
I’m always writing and ‘spending time with my characters’, but I don’t currently have plans to publish another book. I have a few WIPs which will maybe one day become something I want to share, but that’s a long way off.

How can we purchase your book?
The best place to buy it is through your local indie! My local indie shop, Queer Lit, have been wonderful and had an early ARC to review before they advertised the book. If you’re in the UK, I’d recommend buying through them. Bookshop is great for the UK and US, but apart from that, the book is listed on all Amazon sites and by retailers such as Waterstones and Barnes and Noble.

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