The book is contemporary women's fiction, and follows Holly from her tumultuous early early years through her experiences with love interest Trevor, a roadie who brings her into the backdrop of 1970s-era rock and roll.
From Amazon reviews: "Nell Gavin has an amazing way of pulling you straight into the hearts and minds of the characters of her books. "Hang On" is no exception. From the very beginning, I was drawn into Holly's emotions, needs, and desires and loved reading about her trials and adventures on her way to finding her true self. I highly recommend this book. Nell Gavin writes a great story! It's a book you don't want to put down!"
This book deserves to get good exposure from the Hang On blog tour which kicks off today!Check the blog tour page for interviews and reviews of the book!
Now, on to our conversation with Nell Gavin!
People might think that Hang On is your typical story about groupies and rock stars. It IS about Rock and Roll in the 1970s, and the book has a few groupies walking in and out of the scenes, but overall it’s a character study of a girl, Holly, who is too pretty to fit in and have friends, and too mentally ill to establish any kind of relationship. She’s a perennial outsider - as pretty as she is she’s a little too geeky, a little too interested in books, and art museums, and public television documentaries - and she’s very, very lonely.
She has Borderline Personality Disorder, which wasn’t recognized in the 1970s and there was no treatment at that time, so her psychiatrist has nothing really helpful to offer her, except to be there to stop her should she ever feel compelled to kill herself, as her mother did when she was four years old. Borderline Personality is a lot like Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and her condition is the result of her childhood trauma. It will be the 1990s before there will be any treatment for it, so Holly has to struggle with it largely on her own.
One day she meets an English roadie, Trevor, and falls in love with him, and he with her. Holly’s challenge is to keep the relationship going, despite her mental illness. Her relationship with her new love makes her keenly aware of her weakness, and very anxious to be “cured,” whatever that means. In the meantime, she needs to hide her illness from Trevor, as she tours across the US with him and the band he works for.
The opening scenes are heart-rendering, and very effective at bringing the reader into Holly's world. Were those sections difficult to write?
Those scenes were pretty difficult. What inspired them was a little girl I saw in a police station, when I was a teenager. My friends and I had gone there to file a report about a stolen car, and as we were leaving I saw this tiny, beautiful girl of about four years old, filthy, her long dark hair all matted and tangled, sitting there primly on a wooden bench with her hands in her lap and her ankles crossed. She was stiff and terrified. The thing that struck me most was that she wasn’t crying. She was just scared and watchful and wary, as if she didn’t expect much good to come from life. And she clearly wasn’t going to get much good from life that evening.
I wanted to go over and hug her and sit with her, but my friends pulled me out of the door. That little girl has haunted me ever since. Decades later I still wonder about her, what her story was, and what happened to her. So I wrote a book around her, and gave her a background, and gave her a story with a happy ending.
What I wish more though, was that I’d had an opportunity to give her a hug.
Your book includes British customs and phrases as Holly gets to know Trevor. Is that part of your background, or if not how did you research that?
I really did have a roadie boyfriend, who worked for a famous English rock band. However, “Trevor” isn’t the exactly the same person. He’s a composite of two men: the roadie boyfriend is the placeholder, whereas his personality is someone else’s. Both men were very dear to me.
I really did get flown to the Bahamas by that boyfriend, and spent two weeks with that famous English rock band, who shall remain nameless – I couldn’t reach anyone to get approval to mention them. But know that Torc is nothing like them. So, I was immersed in the culture and the speech. Plus, I was with the boyfriend for two or three years, so the speech patterns became buried in my subconscious. I didn’t even realize that until I began to write!
I had to ask for help, in order to write the banter of the English roadies on the band bus. An English writer sent me a list of vulgar British words to spice things up, but I had to give the words meaning and context. I had to hear British accents and phrasing patterns again in my head, and it had been decades since I’d been exposed to them to that degree. I thought I would struggle with it, but it turned out to be so much fun I couldn’t stop! I wrote pages and pages of it, nothing but bantering dialog, and as I did each of the roadies came alive to me as an individual, even though they really don’t figure much in the story after that. Then I had to go back and edit the dialog down, and write the story around it. It was my favorite part of the book to write.
Your book is very evocative and written in a very readable style. Can you tell us about your writing influences? Any authors you consider a mentor?
My three top books were To Kill a Mockingbird, for its poetic prose, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for its simple, straightforward storytelling. The third book was Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. And if I could throw in one more, it would be A Wrinkle in Time. When I was young, I looked for personal guidance in the books I read – I was just that way – so all of them are books that changed my world view in some way. I wanted to write books that might change someone else’s, as those books changed mine.
So in Hang On, I try to give a snapshot of the way people behave toward one another. Someone might be a “Grandma,” or a “Geri,” or a “Denise,” or that man who passed out bogus business cards for a modeling agency in order to pick up pretty girls. They’re all composites of real people and situations. I felt they were worthy of comment. So in the book I partly focus on the “Objectification Wars,” where men and women view each other as objects, and often treat each other very poorly. My hope is that someone will recognize those situations, and think about them and how people get hurt from it all.
I also turn society’s fascination with beauty on its head by showing its dark side. I make it Holly’s nemesis – the thing that most stands between her and the rest of humanity, even more than her mental illness. Beauty doesn’t solve any of her problems; it just creates more of them. Even when she finds love she doesn’t trust it because Trevor may only love her for her face. Does he? “If I were suddenly ugly, would you still love me?” she asks him. She acknowledges that her face is lovable, but doesn’t quite believe that SHE is.
On the flip side, there is the rock star’s distrust of the “love” he’s found in life. “Where would they be, if this all went away?” He asks Holly.
I write character studies, rather than action-driven stories. And I make my characters different people by the end of the book, so they’re stories of personal growth. That is what I like to read as well.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
I’m a “method writer,” in the same way some performers are method actors. I have to immerse myself in the character – totally get myself into her head – so I can experience things with her and describe them accurately. This character was mentally ill, and in a lot of pain. I had to channel that in order to do justice to the book, and I really couldn’t sustain it for long periods of time and still remain functional. That’s why the book took me ten years to write. Holly has a condition I suffered from, when I was young. I’m completely recovered now, but I had to relive the sensations and emotions in order to describe them. It was like escaping a fire by the skin of my teeth, and then deliberately going back in there. I don’t experience these things anymore; I can only remember them, now. But I had to actually make it real while I wrote, and sustain it for long enough to make my words match Holly’s feelings and thought patterns, and that was difficult.
What’s the best thing you find about being an author?
I enjoy the fans. In particular I love it when they write to me to tell me that I actually reached them in exactly the way I intended to. I can’t tell you how thrilling that is!
I also enjoy meeting other writers. I found my clan!
Can you give us some insights into your writing approach?
I can’t write unless I’m “channeling” the character, as it were. If she doesn’t “speak” to me for months, I don’t write for months. I try to wake her up by editing the chapters I’ve already written, and that often works. She’ll tell me what she does next, or what she thinks about something, and I slog through the next chapter until finally the book is done.
I don’t recommend that approach to anyone – it’s one of the reasons I don’t crank out books, the way other writers can.
What advice would you give to other writers or would-be writers?
I would advise them to, first of all, join the writer clan. You need a network and you need a place to ask questions, and an obligation to help the people who come after you.
And always hire an editor.
Okay, let's get a bit more personal. Tell us five random things about you!
I used to collect “countries” when I dated. If you had an accent, you could get a date with me. So I managed to collect fourteen countries and five continents. The continent I missed was South America, and I fudged a little on Asia (his parents were missionaries). Missing a continent is one of my regrets. “Where do you find all these foreigners?” is an exact quote from my mother.
I also collected odd occupations. If you were an accountant, you could NOT get a date with me. So, I had dates with all of the following and more: Pastry chef, cartoonist, stilt-walker, first string violinist for a ballet company, clockmaker, ski instructor, teacher of the mentally disabled, professional rugby player… etc. The one I was shooting for and missed was “Australian sheep farmer.”
And finally, I collected odd jobs. I have been: waitress, stockbroker, cowboy hat salesperson, factory worker, airline reservationist, software product manager and designer, optician, and many more. I am now a technical writer.
That’s only three, but isn’t that enough? I had a feeling I was going to write, so I thought it was best to go out there and meet different people, and learn stuff. Furthermore, I was a wild child, when I was young. I got bored easily and kept moving. As I get older, I’m really thankful that I did that.
Thank you! We enjoyed your book very much. What is coming up next in your writing plans?
I’m writing a non-fiction software guide, which may turn into a series. This time I’m writing it under my real name (Nell Gavin is a pen name). I think I may have one more novel in me, but it’s down the road a bit.
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Hang On is available now to download to your Kindle!