I loved Meg Grehan’s lyrical and honest verse novel The Space Between (my review) and was delighted when she agreed to an interview. Read on for more about verse novels, LGBTQIA YA, Meg’s writing process and her experiences as a debut writer.
Did The Space Between start out in poetry or in prose?
It started as prose but that only lasted maybe a thousand words or so, the second I thought of verse that was that! It fit the story much better and felt much more natural.
When did you become aware of verse novels as a form, and what are some of your favourite verse novels?
I think the first one I read was Crank by Ellen Hopkins and I remember it as such a weird, visceral reading experience. It’s such a versatile type of writing, it can be so beautiful and rhythmic or hard and jutting or anything in between and that really appeals to me. As for favourites it has to be Sarah Crossan really, doesn’t it? She’s the queen of verse! One and The Weight of Water are such gorgeous books.
On your blog you refer to the book as Mouse – when did you decide on The Space Between as the title?
I submitted it as Mouse but in my first meeting with Little Island we discussed changing it. I was pretty reluctant at first and we tried a couple different names but I think we landed on a good one! Once I saw it on the cover I knew it was the right fit.
Why did you choose to write in third person? I think one of the most skillful things about the book is how we still get into Beth’s head, even without the book being in first person.
I think the decision came from how personal the story is. Writing in first person didn’t feel right, it needed to be a little further from me or else it would have become a strange fictionalised journal! Third person let Beth be her own character and let me see her anxieties more clearly, instead of getting them muddled with my own.
Did you write the book chronologically, or were there certain poems you came up with first? Was there much shuffling around of poems?
I wrote it all out of order, it was a big messy muddle. I had a vague outline of the story in my head and I just wrote whatever popped into my head and pieced it together when I felt it was done. There were a lot of sticky notes involved!
Could you tell me about the editing process for the book, and when things like formatting (e.g. the breathing part), the use of italics for the ‘flashbacks’, or capitalisation (the plan/The Plan) came into the book?
They were all there from the start. My favourite thing about writing verse is the total freedom to use the page however you want, I put words where I felt they fit best and most, if not all of the formatting is the exact same way it was in the first draft. It’s all based on instinct, where the words fit and flow best. Capitals are the same, I feel like a capital gives a word extra importance or makes it a little more formal and I like playing with that.
Some of the poems are difficult to read emotionally as they are so powerful, were there particular poems you found hard to write?
The only poem that was difficult to write was the slightly saucy one nearer the end, I couldn’t stop blushing and smashing my laptop shut whenever anyone so much as looked at me! The emotional ones were easy, a lot of the time I used whatever was happening in my head at that moment as a starting point so they flew out. It was good, it always helped my head feel a little lighter.
What are some of your favourite YA books, and what would you like to see more of in YA this year?
Everything by Patrick Ness! I even have a tattoo of a line from Monsters of Men, his books are incredible. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour is one I could read over and over. Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan, Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan, Ash by Malinda Lo, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan Maguire… there are a lot!
I’d love to see more positive representation for queer girls, more rep for people on the asexual and aromantic spectrums, more LGBTQIA rep in general!
I love that The Space Between has such a sweet and happy love story between two young women at its core. You have said on your blog ‘I’m all about inclusive own-voices lit and have made it my mission to fill the shelves with happy, diverse stories.’ What do you think the importance of these diverse stories is?
I’ve been with my girlfriend since we were 19, we had been living together almost a year and I’d been out and open for two years before I could comfortably refer to myself as a lesbian even if it was just her in the room with me. I didn’t see myself until I’d already scrambled my way through the identity maze and even now, six years in, I still get a lovely fuzzy happy feeling in my tummy when I see women loving women in books or movies or TV shows. It means the world to me. It’s immeasurably important for kids to see that they can be themselves and be happy. Representation normalises our experiences, it validates our experiences and shows people with different experiences that we exist! If all we see is sad, tragic or negative representation what does that tell us about ourselves and our futures?
One of the reasons The Space Between is so moving is its honesty, particularly about mental health. You have written on your blog about your own struggles, and I think readers will really identify with Beth. Was this something you set out to do in writing the book, and are there particular books that you have found helpful?
I set out to take my own messy brain and try to see it from a different perspective. Writing about the things I was struggling with let me see it a little more clearly and find new ways to ease it all a bit. It’s been quite strange because before I started writing the book I was incredibly private about my mental health, I didn’t tell anyone anything and would force myself to pretend I was ok and then deal with the exhaustion that brings later. The first time I mentioned it on my blog I completely panicked and almost deleted the post a bunch of times! Beth gave me a way to tell people what was going on, which was terrifying but so worth it. Now I’m completely comfortable talking about my experiences! I would love for her and the story to help people who feel similar feel a little less alone.
I didn’t really have any books that I felt helped directly, which is part of why I wrote The Space Between. Having said that, Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne is really special to me because it was the very first time I read about an agoraphobic character. The main character Evie’s sympathy and understanding for Oli really touched me and still means a lot to me.
The Space Between is your debut – what has your experience of the publication process been like, and what advice would you give to new writers?
The whole experience has been wonderful! It’s something I’ve always, always wanted so it was overwhelming sometimes but I had such a positive experience.
My advice to new writers is to trust your instincts, but be wary of the ones that whisper negative things. There’s so much advice out there, don’t feel that you need to take it all. Find your own way of doing things and trust yourself. And always take lots of dance breaks! They will shake the dust away and give you a boost, I swear after every few pages I get up and dance like a fool and it’s the best!
What is next for you writing wise?
Lots of writing! I’m working away right now on a story I love, so who knows!
Meg Grehan at the launch of The Space Between in The Gutter Bookshop, Dublin