“It could have been that I was a child. It could have been that I was biased because she was my mother. Or it could have been that Margot-Sophia Lalonde was massive, larger-than-life, riveting, take-your-breath-away vivid, and astonishing.”
-Danielle Younge-Ullman, Everything Beautiful is not Ruined
Hey guys! I’m thrilled that I’m one of today’s stops on the Everything Beautiful is not Ruined blog tour! I absolutely loved reading this book and seeing Danielle Younge-Ullman’s interview answers! I hope you all enjoy reading.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I am a Canadian, living in Toronto with my husband and two daughters. Obviously I write novels, and EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IS NOT RUINED is the third I’ve had published. The first was an adult book called FALLING UNDER (Penguin, 2008) and I wrote the YA novel, LOLA CARLYLE’S 12 STEP ROMANCE (Macmillan, 2015). I’ve also dabbled in playwriting, short story writing, and I do a bit of freelance too. I love to read, I love to ski, I love the arts—music, dance, visual art, theatre, opera—all of it. This means I tend to write about creative people and their struggles, and I love to write about people who have talents I don’t have—singing, for example. As far as my background goes, I got my BA in English with a major in Drama and Theatre at McGill University in Montreal (great city to live in or visit!) and was an actor throughout my twenties and early thirties before turning my attention to the much more stable (ha ha) profession of writing.
When did you decide to start writing Everything Beautiful is not Ruined and why?
You’ve mentioned that when you were a teen, your mom sent you on a wilderness trip as well, how did this inspire you to write about Ingrid’s experiences?
My response to questions #2 and #3 goes together–hope that’s okay.
The summer after I’d finished high school, my mother sent me, against my will, on a wilderness adventure, due to my not having graduated with the marks she thought I was capable of. (My marks had, however, gotten me into every university I applied to.) I’d been to camp every summer since I was seven, so I was used to nature, and being away from home, but I was physically, mentally, and emotionally unprepared for this particular trip and I broke down. I found myself weeping most of the day, every day, while somehow still putting one wretched foot in front of the other. I did eventually get through it (sort of) and it was a life changing experience for me in many ways.
Fast forward to 2007: I was part of a group blog, http://www.thedebutanteball.com, and one week our writing prompt, or subject, was “My Worst Vacation Ever”. I used the form of a letter to my mom to describe my wilderness experience, and it ended up taking three posts. The posts got such a great response, and also really caused me to think about what had caused me to have such a terrible reaction to the trip. Suddenly it was clear to me that I had a book to write…but it then took another few years to get to it.
- Everything Beautiful is not Ruineddeals with a variety of difficult issues and navigates them well; is there anything you’d like your readers to take away from this book?
Much of this story is about survival, both emotional and physical. I want readers to know that even when everything seems crappy and unfair, you can probably survive it. You can survive it, and maybe even come out tougher and wiser on the other side. In addition to the survival theme, I also really believe it’s worth fighting for your right to be yourself, and for the chance to become the person you want to be.
What is your favourite thing about writing?
There are obviously high points during the writing itself, when things are cooking and it all feels magical. But my favourite thing is the readers. It’s the best feeling when someone reaches out to you to tell you they feel like the book was written for them, that it made them laugh, cry, made them feel less alone, et cetera.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
I start with a character and a problem, brainstorm and ask myself questions, do a bunch of pre-writing, and then usually a first scene just…appears in my mind. I use a general outline, but never end up sticking to it. I kind of stop and start–go forward until I get stuck, then re-brainstorm, tweak my failed outline to fit what I’ve written, plan ahead for the next few scenes, start writing again, et cetera, until it’s done. I wish it were a smoother process, but this is how it seems to work for me.
Music is a continual presence in this book—do you have any specific music you like to listen to while writing?
I can really only listen to music with no words, so classical often works, but most often I am in silence, or using white noise. When I’m at home and trying to block noise and feel like I’m in a cafe, I use rainycafe.com.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
Balancing the two timelines was probably the greatest challenge–figuring out what should go where in terms of both pacing and information. I pulled the whole thing apart during the editing process, more than once, and when you move things around there are always unintended consequences and things you have to fix. There were times I thought my brain was going to break!
Which writers inspire you?
I have an impossible time narrowing this down because everything I read inspires me. (And if I give you a list, the second you post this, I will think of five more writers I should have mentioned!) Even when I read something mediocre, I find that inspiring in a way, because I learn from it.
How do you switch off and unwind when you’re not writing?
I read, listen to music, hang out with my kids, go for walks, see friends.
As I have a lot of aspiring authors reading this blog, is there any advice or words of wisdom you’d like to give them?
My advice is always to read a ton, and read everything–not just the kind of books you want to write. Read, read, read. And then you also have to write! Keep journals, write short stories, poetry, novels. Take a course, join a critique group (a group of writers that gets together to read each others work and give constructive feedback–emphasis on constructive!). And realize that when you first start, you’re not going to be great at it, and that in order to get better, you have to keep doing it. Also, you need to know that a huge, huge part of writing is editing—you will spend more time revising than you could ever imagine.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t included?
Just thank you! I so appreciate your taking the time to read EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IS NOT RUINED and formulate these questions, and of course I’m so happy to know you enjoyed it.
A big thanks to Danielle for taking the time to answer my questions and writing such a beautiful novel, and of course, thanks to Olivia Horrox at Scholastic for organising this opportunity!
Check out the other stops on the blog tour:
You can also find out more about Danielle and her books in the following places:
If you haven’t heard of Danielle before, here is her bio:
Danielle Younge-Ullman is a Canadian novelist, playwright and freelance writer. This is her second YA novel, and would be her first published in the UK. She studied English and theatre at McGill University in Montreal, then returned to her hometown of Toronto to work as a professional actor for ten years. This was character-building time during which she held a wild variety of acting and non-acting jobs-everything from working on the stage and in independent films, to dubbing English voices for Japanese TV, to temping, to teaching Pilates. LOLA CARLYLE’S 12 STEP ROMANCE (Entangled/Macmillan May 2015) is Danielle’s YA debut. Danielle also wrote the critically acclaimed adult novel, FALLING UNDER, (Penguin, 2008), published a short story called “Reconciliation” in MODERN MORSELS, a McGraw-Hill Anthology for young adults, in 2012, and her one-act play, 7 Acts of Intercourse, debuted at Toronto’s SummerWorks Festival in 2005. Danielle lives in an old house in Toronto that’s constantly being renovated, with her husband and two daughters.
Thank you all for reading!