I have to admit I was a bit shocked when I found out that Eliza Henry-Jones is only 25 years old.
Her debut novel, In the Quiet, is wise and insightful. Many people (including me) have described it as ‘quiet’ – but it’s quiet in a way that makes you want to lean in to really hear what’s being said. In short, it’s an incredibly mature work.
The book is narrated from the perspective of Cate Carlton. While Cate is dead, she watches over her family, including three teenaged children, who experience their grief in both public and private ways. You can read my thoughts on it here.
It is with great delight that I welcome Eliza Henry-Jones to Book Birdy.
When you started writing ‘In the Quiet’, what kind of book did you set out to write?
I started writing In the Quiet with two things in mind. Firstly, I wanted to explore grief but also all the emotions that exist alongside grief after a loss. Our ability to feel joy, peace, boredom, excitement – that multitude of feelings – is not a sign of us grieving “poorly” but rather a sign that our emotional world is extremely complex.
Secondly, I wrote from the image of Jessa, who had just lost her mum, sitting uncomfortably on the verandah in a too-small dress, being showered with jacaranda flowers.
I have not lost my mother (thank goodness!). I think to write grief (or, at least, for me to write grief) you have to draw on your own experiences in a broad sense. It’s a hard thing to explore otherwise.
Possibly the most critical decision you had to make about this book was deciding whose point of view to narrate it from. Can you tell me how and why you arrived at the decision to narrate it from Cate’s point of view?
It’s strange – looking back, it IS such a big decision and one that shaped the story more than anything else. Yet, it wasn’t a conscious decision. There’s a scene right at the start, with Jessa on the verandah. That was the first scene I wrote down (and it is very nearly, word for word, exactly as I first wrote it) and it seemed natural to use Cate’s voice. Cate’s voice is the easiest I’ve ever written with. She just flowed along, fitting in beautifully with what I wanted to explore.
I think it’s one of those things where, if I’d thought about it too hard, I probably would have been immobilised. I think sometimes the greatest gift you can give yourself in your writing is to not overthink things and just let yourself explore.
I’ve described ‘the voice’ of Cate as being quite raw, verging on stream of consciousness. Is this something that comes naturally to you?
I’ve experimented a lot with voice. I’ve written a novel a year since I was fourteen (In the Quiet is the first one published) and have also had a bit of poetry and quite a few short stories published. A few of my earlier manuscripts are third person, but I quickly settled into first (where I am most comfortable). Over the last few years, I’ve definitely been drawn to first person, present tense.
I think I tend to write fiction fairly sparsely (probably because I enjoy it most that way – I like to keep moving when I write, to find out what’s going to happen). The particular rawness of Cate’s voice is definitely more particular to In the Quiet and Cate as a narrator. I hope that the effect of Cate’s voice is that it brings readers into the story. Having Cate both absent and narrating could be very distancing, but I hope that the way Cate explores her life and her family brings readers into her world.
The title ‘In the Quiet’ is so perfect for the story you’ve written, because many of the most telling moments in the book are the ones that happen to the characters in private. Do you think grief is largely a private experience?
I picked the title very early on – I think when I was only a few thousand words in. It’s lovely to hear that you think it fits the story because I think so, too. I think grief is a funny thing – it is very much part of our psyche as a community. Grief is explored in songs, movies, books and television and is experienced by everyone. Yet, we shy away from it. The family in In the Quiet aren’t able to communicate what they’re experiencing. They struggle to have real conversations with one another. I think fundamentally, everyone grieves and everyone grieves uniquely, yet there is this constant pressure in grief to adhere to a norm that doesn’t exist. We second guess our responses (should I be going out so soon?), we’re guilty (I can’t believe I just laughed). There is so much needless pressure. So yes, I think we do grieve in private – both by the very nature of grief being so unique to each person, yet also because we’re so confused about what grief actually looks like.
Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Fast drafts or painstaking ones? Daily writing, or big bursts?
I am a first draft sprinter! I finished the first draft of In the Quiet within six months of first having the idea for it. I write the way writers are taught not to write – without structure and without planning. I will sit down and write ten thousand words in a sitting, and then not write anything for a week. I don’t have a structured routine and it’s taken me ten years to accept this as a perfectly acceptable writing process and to value the time in between the actual putting-words-down-on-paper.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Write what engages you. If you’re not engaged in the writing, people won’t be interested in the reading. My process is writing non-chronologically and just going to the bits i feel like writing. If something’s not flowing and I’m not enjoying it, I’ll just go to another bit of the story until I find something I WANT to write. And I think this has improved the pacing of my writing.
I used to draw and paint a lot when I was younger. I would say I drew just as much as I wrote (and I wrote A LOT). I was on a visual art scholarship and was thinking of going into art and design after high school, but by then I was writing far more than I was drawing or painting and so I went on to study Literature and Psychology. I’ve always written. I am unhappy when I’m not writing. It’s part of how I explore and understand the world around me – it’s cathartic and soothing and exciting.
*To purchase In the Quiet
, or for more information, visit Harper Collins