Author Q&A: Holly Gramazio

Elena Bowes spoke to debut author Holly Gramazio about her entertaining new novel The Husbands, a funny, original and surprisingly wise story with just enough twists and turns to keep you engaged. Imagine if you could switch husbands with no emotional or financial cost? Intriguing thought. The Washington Post called the novel ‘delightfully addictive, a bottomless champagne flute of a novel (with no hangover).’

This Q&A has been edited for brevity. The full recording can be listened to here.

Holly, how did you get the idea for your book?

I think the idea came from a few different places. I’ve been interested in the idea of something that explores relationships starting at the middle, that skips through all of the getting to know you and trying to impress each other bit and just puts the protagonist in the middle of a situation to try and figure out what’s good, what’s bad, what works, how happy she is.

I tried to make that as a little video game because my background is in game design. I spent a couple of days working on that and I couldn’t really get it to click. Nothing was really working about it. I didn’t have the attic then and the descending husbands. I just had the idea of choosing to stay in a relationship or to teleport almost to the middle of another one and see how that went. And it wasn’t quite clicking, but a few years later I came back to the idea and thought, well, I’ve always kind of wanted to, to write a novel, might as well give it a shot. And that was about when the idea of the attic came along as well. And that’s when it really clicked. Australia, where I grew up, doesn’t have attics. When I moved to London a bunch of people had these attics that I had only encountered in children’s books where maybe they’re a portal to a magic world.

I don’t have a good idea of what Lauren looks like. I know what all the husbands look like, but not the main character. What was your thinking on that?

I wanted to stay very close to Lauren’s point of view. So, when she thinks about her appearance it’s about the things that are different than normal. ‘Oh, my legs are more muscular than usual. I must be into hiking (in this world).’

How did you keep all your husbands and worlds straight?

I had a lot of little spreadsheets and post-it notes. I wrote a lot of fragments with husbands and moments and thoughts about ways they might all fit together. I had to make sure I wasn’t switching things up an implausible amount or plummeting her into the same situation over and over. The garden became very important to me once I was shaping it all together because it was one of the few ways I could help (Lauren) keep track of the passing of time. Having the garden there, sometimes in states of abundance, sometimes a huge mess, but nevertheless with the things that should be in flower, stuff growing and dying in time with the passage of the year felt really useful to me.

Can you tell us about the Husband Generator on your web site?

Because of my background in game design, I got the idea to make this tiny little Husband Generator, which is just a little digital toy. It’s a bit like those flip books that have a hat and a bunch of faces, and a bunch of torsos and legs and you can combine them in different ways, but instead of having 20 hats, it has six hundred jobs and five hundred names and hundreds of hobbies and pets and habits and things that the husband’s parents might do. Each time you press the Husband Generator button, it just gives you a new one. The process of making the Husband Generator helped me expand my understanding of the sort of relationships Lauren might be in. I would look through a list of jobs and come across some and think, how would Lauren meet an architect? How would Lauren meet a tree surgeon. Does that ring true as something that might be in her life? Or look through the list of hobbies and (think) how would she feel about someone who’s really into stamp collecting? How would she feel about somebody who’s into hiking?

I read in another interview that Tinder was a useful research tool for you. How so?

I’ve had so many friends who have just handed me their phone with Bumble or Tinder or whatever it is open on it and said, ‘Oh, can you, can you have a go? Can you do it tonight?’ They feel this obligation to go through the faces and, and swipe in one direction or another. It’s this chore that they must get around to. It’s exhausting. It’s this never-ending carousel that feels like the possibilities are endless in a way that prevents you from being able to really consider any of them in a way. It’s like being in a supermarket and going, I just need some jam to take home to have with my scones. And there’s 400 different jams and you just get frozen, right? But instead of jams, it’s people. So having sat there and gone through that, that carousel for friends and the feeling of that and the slight exhaustion of it definitely informed my sense of how Lauren might feel about the husbands after it’s been going on for a while.

How did you view on-line dating… before you met your husband?

I set myself the task of going on a date every week. And I’d always schedule it to be at something that I thought would be interesting. I wouldn’t go to dinner with someone that I’d only just met because if you then spend an hour and a half talking to them and they’re boring then all you’ve done is paid for something you could have made at home for cheaper and wasted an evening. But if you go to an event, an outdoor free theatre show or an art exhibition or a tour of the science museum where everyone puts on a big cockroach costume.

Were you and your date in cockroach costumes?

Yes. there was definitely no spark, but we had a fun time. We learned a lot about cockroaches.

Did your job as a game designer help you?

I think my past as a game designer definitely was very informative. I spent a lot of time just thinking about the different ways that things could go wrong or right, the different types of husbands that she might meet, the sort of twists and turns that could come up and, and how to pace those in a way that felt very similar to designing a game. You want to time your player’s expansion of the sense of the world and what is possible within it to hit just before they get bored with it.

What advice would you give other wannabe authors?

Okay, first is I spent a lot of time feeling like the people who write books are in some way weird special people who have been given access to information that the rest of us don’t have and that maybe at some point in my life this specialness would be visited upon me and then I would feel it possible to write a book. It turns out that’s not true. People who write books are just the same as the rest of us, except that they’ve stuck with it. The way you find out how to write a book is to try to write the book. And then when you try to write another book, it turns out that a lot of things you learnt the first time through are no longer useful because it’s a different book now.

The second thing is that while you’re writing it, you are figuring out how to write it. The first draft, perhaps many first drafts, will be quite bad, unless you’re very lucky and the sort of writer that writes clean the first time through, or who works slowly and meticulously and knows where it’s all going. But I think for most people, the first draft is going to be a mess and you kind of have to accept that.

Can you tell us something surprising about yourself?

Honestly, I’m very predictable. You know, if you see me on the street you’d be able to make a pretty good guess at what I’m like. You’d be like, ‘Oh, I bet she has a cat. I bet she’s quite good at cooking, but not quite as good at cooking as she thinks she is. I bet her house has colourful walls, but not super colourful, just quite colourful.

There must be something… Ahhh! I can’t knit.  I think if you looked at me, you’d think, Oh, that’s probably someone who’s slightly annoyingly into knitting, but actually I cannot knit.

I was into urban exploration for a while, in my early twenties. It’s when you get together with a group of friends, and you go into a drain pipe or an abandoned building and hang out together there and sit and chat and then head out. That was good fun.

What would you say about me if you saw me walking down the street?

I would expect that you have a quite meticulous apartment, and a slightly glamorous beach house that has the kind of French doors that you can open and big white curtains that can flap in the air and that you would sit on its deck and drink orange wine perhaps.

What is orange wine?

I do not care for it. It is the newly fashionable sort of wine.  I would also say that you would be there either with a husband or a medium sized dog, but not both.

You could almost be a psychic. Although I don’t have a medium-sized dog.  I have a very small pug. And a husband.

I see. I could be a bad psychic. I could say things confidently, but wrong.

Thanks again for this very enjoyable chat.

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