In my last post I wrote about Breathing Under Water by Sophie Hardcastle, and I have been lucky enough to ask her a few questions about her book! I am so excited and grateful to have been able to do this, and I really hope you enjoy reading! Huge thanks to Ashleigh Barton of Hachette for facilitating this interview, and of course to Sophie Hardcastle for taking some time to answer my questions.
Congratulations on your debut novel! How do you feel about this story finally going out into the world?
Thank you!! I am SO excited for people to step into this world that I’ve created, meet my characters and become friends with them! Maybe it’s weird, but I feel like I know them as if they’re real people.
Were there any key inspirations for the story? Was it perhaps inspired by events or people in your own life?
I started writing a version of Breathing Under Water when I was fourteen-years-old, only back then it was called Horizons. At that age, I was a tomboy, surfing and skating with the boys in my neighbourhood. Those boys were some of my best friends so I think the story came naturally because I was so much like Grace. I also thought having a twin would be awesome and was, in a way, able to experience that bond through the story, even though I didn’t have a twin in real life.
I also think it’s impossible to write fiction without imprinting parts of your own life on the characters and events. There is no one character based entirely on one person I know in real life, but my characters definitely have nuances and personality traits that are likely to have been inspired by my close friends and family.
I’ve never gone through what Grace has been through, but I certainly experienced loss when I first became sick. My own life spiraled out of control when I became lost to myself. I believe that helped me to connect emotionally with Grace and empathise with her.
Having worked on it for so long, do you feel like it changed during that time?
When I turned twenty, I sat down with Horizons (hand-written in non-lined notebooks) and realised my younger self had known nothing about life, love or death. I decided to write a story based loosely on the original, and the result was Breathing Under Water. I used the bones of Horizons and fleshed it out. I don’t think the heart of the story changed; it just matured. I’d been to hell and back with depression and I’d fallen in love and knew how terrifying, heart breaking and beautiful it is. I’d grown up and although I know I still have SO much more to learn, I had a wide breadth of emotional experience to draw on. It gave the story depth.
You write about quite a few ‘heavy’ topics in Breathing Under Water, and your memoir Running Like China explores an experience of mental illness, too. Do you feel like these topics need to be more present in open discussion?
As a writer, I want to be brutally honest. I don’t want to sugarcoat things. When there is tragedy, I want to show how teenagers can spiral out of control and how ugly that can be. Why? Because I want to show things can be beautiful again.
In Running Like China, the truth was harsh, but I think it needed to be. Mental illness is a reality for so many, and I believe we need stories to make real how we are feeling, to validate that pain. In opening the discussion, I hope I showed people their pain is real and that they are not alone.
When I wrote Breathing Under Water, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of opening a discussion, but I was just as determined to write a story that was raw, stripped back and honest. What really happens when your heart breaks? What really happens when your world caves in?
Surfing is quite prominent throughout the book – how are your surfing skills in real life? (Personally I have never been able to stand upright on the board for more than a few seconds!)
Haha! A few seconds is still worth it!
For anyone who hasn’t read Running Like China, I was practically raised in the sea. I first stood up on my dad’s long board at Long Reef lagoon when I was four-years-old, and I’ve been surfing ever since. When I was younger, all I wanted was to be a pro surfer. I had all the newspaper clippings and posters of professional surfers stuck to my walls and I was surfing morning and afternoon. I also competed and was very lucky to travel all around Australia for surfing competitions. I dropped out of competitions when I became mentally ill and have never gone back to them. I loved the competitiveness when I was a kid, but as I got older, competing took some of the magic out of surfing. Now, I surf because I love the way the ocean moves around me. I surf because it’s a breath of fresh air. I surf because I love being a part of something far greater than myself.
Now that the book is complete, do you find you miss your characters at all?
Yes! I love that you asked this question! As I said earlier, I really do feel like they’re my friends. I feel as though I had the pleasure of stepping into their lives to tell their story, and that they have continued to breathe and go about their days long after I finished writing. I wonder about them all the time. Where are they now?
What are your writing plans for the future? Do you think you will keep going with fiction?
I want to be an author of fiction for many years to come and can’t see myself stepping away from YA anytime soon.
I’ve just started writing my next novel. I’m only into the second chapter so I’m still getting to know my characters.
I can’t say much about it, but I will say this…
Grace learnt to read the swells in the sea.
My new character learns to wind the wind on Open Ocean!
And finally, some quick questions!
What are your current favourites?
... reading? I’m doubling up at the moment and reading Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta (an old favourite) and Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham.
...drinking? A delicious loose-leaf tea I bought in an alleyway in Morocco.
...eating? I’m about to make garlic mushrooms, sautéed kale and silverbeet, poached eggs and avocado. I have no talent whatsoever when it comes to cooking but my boyfriend (who has a lot of talent) has helped me master this combo.
...loving about the current season? Whales! At the moment they’re migrating past Sydney and we’ve seen them a few times when walking the dogs. Oh and I love bed.