4 September 2012

Author Interview: Tracey Garvis Graves

Today I am really pleased to be welcoming the lovely Tracey Garvis-Graves, author of the fabulous novel On The Island which I read and loved last month. It's a wonderful love story set on a desert island where the main characters Anna and T.J. end up after their plane crashes. Tracey was kind enough to answer some of my questions, so my thanks go to her for taking the time to answer them, and to Katie at Penguin for organising the interview.You can read my review of The Island here.

1. Please tell me about your book 'On The Island'.

On the Island is a story about a thirty-year-old teacher named Anna who has been hired to tutor sixteen-year-old cancer survivor T.J. Callahan. They were supposed to be spending the summer at the Callahan's vacation rental in the Maldives. Unfortunately, the plane Anna and T.J. are traveling on crash-lands in the Indian Ocean. They make it to the shore of an uninhabited island and wait for a rescue that never comes.

2. Where did you get your idea for the book, and what sort of research had to go into writing it?

I've always loved the desert island premise. I loved the movie Castaway but I'm not sure I ever fully bought the idea of Tom Hanks and the volleyball. I thought it would be a great challenge to put two people on an island - two people who really shouldn't be together - and then see what would happen.

I did a lot of research on dehydration, including finding out how long a person can stay alive without fresh water. I watched YouTube videos on how to make a fire using the bow and drill method (which is what T.J. used) and I remember feeling ecstatic when I discovered that breadfruit is high in Vitaman C (otherwise, T.J. and Anna really could have died of scurvy or some other illness caused by vitamin deficiency). I also read about malnutrition and how long it would take for it to cause problems even if you did technically have enough to eat.

3. The book has been wildly successful, receiving rave reviews from across the globe. How does it feel to have such a success with your debut novel, and why do you think it's been so successful?

It feels wonderful and I'm eternally grateful to my readers for embracing the story so wholeheartedly. I think part of On the Island's success stems from the fact that it's a feel-good book. The characters experience real hardship, but it's ultimately an uplifting story with likeable characters you can root for.

4. You wrote the book in the first person from both Anna and TJ's perspectives - how was it writing from the mind of two very different people, especially a teenage boy?!

It was really fun! Anna was easier to write, for obvious reasons, but T.J.'s chapters really allowed me to channel my inner teenager. The fact that it was a teenage boy made it even more appealing because I knew it would be a challenge. T.J. was younger than Anna and therefore his thoughts and actions were less censored than hers. He really did act from the heart.

5. Having Anna be a much older woman having an affair with young, experienced student T.J. is quite a controversial plotline - did you consider reversing the ages of these characters, and were you worried of any negative impact your storyline would have?

I never considered reversing the ages of the characters. The entire premise rested on the challenge of taking two characters who really shouldn't be together and creating a relationship that the reader would not only understand, but come to root for. I was very worried about how readers would react to the premise, but I hoped they would agree- once they read the book - that I handled the age difference in a sensitive manner; the premise was never meant to be salacious or to titillate. On the Island spans 8 years with the epilogue so T.J. is not sixteen for the whole book.

6. 'On The Island' was originally self-published by yourself after being rejected by literary agents, and has now been picked up by some huge publishing houses. How did it feel to finally sign those book deals, and what do you think made them finally realise what a gem the book is?

Being offered a publishing contract for On the Island was definitely a dream come true. In hindsight I was probably naive in thinking that a publisher would be interested in a book that had a somewhat risky storyline and didn't fit neatly into one single genre. I think the readers embracing the story showed publishers that there actually was a market for a different kind of love story.

7. Who are some of your own inspirations as an author, and what are your top three books of all time?

Stephen King - because he's a master storyteller (The Stand is one of my all-time favorite books). The other two are probably Anne Rice's The Witching Hour and Anne Rivers Siddon's The House Next Door.

8. You have an active Twitter account (@tgarvisgraves) - do you think social media is an important tool for new authors, and do you enjoy interacting with those who have read your book?

I do think it's important if it's used correctly. Social media allows authors to be very accessible to their readers which is a great thing. I love interacting with readers on Facebook and Twitter, and I've made some great friends. Using social media to spam people with a plea to buy your book is definitely not advised, though.

9. Are you working on another novel, and can you tell me anything about it?!

Yes, I'm currently writing a book called Covet. It's my first foray into upmarket women's fiction and it's a story about a married couple and the effects of the husband's job loss during the recession. It's both heartbreaking and hopeful. Have your Kleenex box handy.

Thanks so much, Tracey!

You can buy On The Island as a paperback or an eBook now!

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