Gemma : Hi Liz, did you always intend for your main heroine to be a wheelchair user?
Liz Jensen : No it came to me halfway through writing the scene where Gabrielle meets Bethany in the mental hospital. Somehow I had a picture in my head of Gabrielle and Bethany both sitting down and then I noticed Gabrielle was in a wheelchair. So I didn’t resist my sub-conscious, I went with it. And it involved using a lot of research and meeting a wheelchair user who was immensely helpful.
Tina : I really enjoyed the show this week and have a few questions to ask, where did you get the inspiration for this book?
Liz Jensen : I wanted to write a novel about climate change because it’s an issue that has been preoccupying me for a long time. I get my research from newspaper articles and I read the paper every day and there’s always something to base a novel on from there. So I knew I wanted to write about climate change and The Rapture so I came up with a story to combine all these with a gripping plot.
cookie monster : Hello. Do you believe in people ‘seeing the future’?
Liz Jensen : No I don’t. But I do believe that some people have a kind of special sense. In the case of Bethany there is very much a scentific basis to explain her natural disasters she sees. There is a section about Van Gogh as he had grand mal seizures and the swirls he painted in later life were very scientific. There is always an explanation for what may look supernatural.
Sarah : Did you always know how the book would end, especially for Bethany?
Liz Jensen : I had a pretty good idea of what would happen to the world and the environment by the end of the book. I didn’t want to write the book where the world is saved at the last minute by a heroic team of scientists. That said, it took me a long time to realise what would have to happen to Bethany even though she was on this trajectory right at the start. Because I becamse so fond of her I found it very hard to write her ending but I did it anyway as it seemed to fit the shape of the book and it followed the logic of Bethany.
ursula : I enjoyed reading this book and wondered if there was a follow up in a post-apocalyptic world?
Liz Jensen : I thought about doing that and it’s very tempting. I think if I do write a book set in a post-apocalyptic world then it would probably have different characters. I like to write something new in each book but I took Gabrielle as far as I could take her in The Rapture. It would be possibly a different kind of genre if I do do it.
Tina : Do you believe global warming will destroy our world in the near future then?
Liz Jensen : I think it will seriously damage the world as we know it within the lifetime of our children. I know a lot of people who do not believe it but I don’t think they are paying attention to what science is telling us. Ever since the Copenhagen Climate Summit I feel bleaker than I did before. With the election coming up I think now is the time to be campaigning and talking to our representatives so they do what is best for our children and our children’s children.
Alastair : Hi Liz. I loved the book. I haven’t read any of your back catalogue. What would you recommend I pick up next?
Liz Jensen : My favourite is War Crimes for the Home which was published in 2001. But lots of other people say their favourite is Ark Baby, which is about evolution. But read them all please!
Tina : Also, your book is a total mix of genres what genre do you think your novel fits into?
Liz Jensen : I call it a psycho-eco thriller. My early books are black comedy. This is certainly very different but it’s not disimilar to my fifth novel – The 9th Life of Louis Drax. I like to switch genres and mix them up. For me it’s a challenge as a write to take on something I haven’t done before which is why I am currently writing a ghost story.
cookie monster : How aware are you of the scary/intense/edge-of-the-seat aspect of your novels as you’re writing? Are you easily scared?
Liz Jensen : I think all writers need to feel stimulated by what they’re writing and that involves going to dark places and coming up with dark personalities. I didn’t feel comfortable in the presence of Bethany but I knew I needed her in the book. I didn’t feel comfortable wth a lot of things I was wriitng which is why I needed to write them. I love to read all sorts of books but more and more I’m enjoying the sort of books that challenge me and scare me.
Sarah : So did you write this book with a message you wanted readers to take away from it?
Liz Jensen : I think if you set out with an agenda or a message then your book will come across as didactic fiction and no-one likes that. I do have strong feelings about climate change but I hope they don’t change the book. The whole point was to question and I found that if I keep applying the question ‘what if’, I can move the story along and if a message is revealed at the end of it then that’s good, but I don’t set out with that as my aim. Each reader is individual so they will all come away with their own message.
cookie monster : How old were you when you started writing?
Liz Jensen : As soon as I could write, so about 5! I was always writing stories. I wrote my first proper book when I was 8 and it was called The Ghost with the Wooden Leg. And I started writing a novel when I was 15 and it’s about a man who wakes up on a beach and doesn’t know how he got there or why. But I knew from very young that I would be a writer. As I grew up I realised it sounds like a very difficult ambition to achieve, and it is. And I’m very grateful and happy and lucky to have been able to do it.
Tina : That’s good that you like to mix it up and not follow conventions too much! I really like that way your writing gave such a clear understanding of the characters, especially Bethany. Did you always aim to make Bethany completely evil?
Liz Jensen : Bethany isn’t completely evil, she’s simply very very disturbed. I have a problem with the word evil, I think it’s all too easy to apply it to people who are just messed up and do awful things so it’s not an adjective I’d use. But certainly what Bethany does, many people would call evil.
ursula : I’m certainly going to read more of your novels. I like that you gave Gabrielle a s ex life despite her disability. I thought it was a bold and different approach. I thought both central female characters in Rapture were believeable.
Liz Jensen : Thank you very much. When I was researching The Rapture, I made contact with a wheelchair user called Ann and it was she who persuaded me to give Gabrielle a s ex life. It wasn’t something I had planned, Frazer was originally going to be gay. When I told the wheelchair user that, she said that she had to have a proper s ex life. She really made me confront my own inhibitions and I’m so glad I did, I learned so much. And of course people with disabilities have s ex lives and so they should. If this novel can open people’s eyes to that then I’ll be happy.
Sarah : Did you enjoy the show by the way?
Liz Jensen : Yes I saw it and I loved what they said about my book. I particularly like the fact that Jo Brand recognised that Bethany is pretty bonkers! I’m glad that someone who has worked in the field thought that Bethany worked as a character. I always like the negative comments too as well as being flattered by the positive ones. I was very honoured to follow on from one of my favourite writers, David Mitchell. I’ve been following the show and reading the other books. So far i’ve particularly loved The Silver Linings Playbook and Cutting for Stone and I’m currently reading Brixton Beach.
Tina : The names of the characters seem very carefully chosen? For example, Bethany seems like a very sweet name for such a horrible child. Did it take you a while to get the perfect names?
Liz Jensen : Bethany was only called that at the last minute. I had another name for her, which was Stacey, which didn’t seem to work. So I asked my son who’s 15 and he said Bethany and I immediately knew that that was a perfect name.
ursula : I had a lot of sympathy for Bethany despite her disturbed mind.
cookie monster : Did you visit many secure hospitals to get an accurate idea of what they’re are like?