Ali Land is the author of Good Me, Bad Me – the tense, gripping story of Milly, a young girl who struggles to break free of her dark family history after turning her mother – a serial killer – in to the police. We talked to Ali about writing, reading, and fantasy dinner parties…
What did you do before you were a writer?
I was a children’s mental health nurse for ten years. I gave it up to allow myself more psychological energy to write, and worked as a PA/nanny during the time I wrote my novel.
When did you know you wanted to write?
It was less about ‘wanting to’ for me, but more about needing to. I had nowhere else to go. My mind was fullto bursting of the things that worried me, of the young people I’d looked after, and this burning desire to provoke discussion around how to care for children who had been damaged by their pasts. Reading had always given me a huge amount of comfort and I hoped writing would do the same, which it has. Almost as soon as I put pen to paper, I felt a palpable sense of relief, as if somehow I’d arrived home.
Where do you live now?
I live in west London, a minute’s walk away from the vibrant Portobello road. I love that every day during the week the market traders are there selling fruit and veg come rain or shine, and that at the weekends it turns into a vintage mecca with buskers and people spilling out of the pubs onto the streets. It has a very bohemian energy and community feel, and for an avid people-watcher like myself it’s heaven. A very stylish and laid-back heaven!
Who is your favourite fictional character and why?
Merricat from We Have Always Lived in the Castle – she’s a heady mix of magic, insanity and suspense. I imagine if I saw her she’d be surrounded by this irresistible light, that she’d almost vibrate but I’d never quite be able to touch her. Never quite be able to know her true essence, but feel compelled enough to keep on trying to.
What are you reading at the moment?
I tend to dual read, and at the moment I’m reading Soldier Spy by Tom Marcus and a proof of the novel Mad by Chloe Esposito.
What would be your desert island…
Song: With One Look performed by Glenn Close
Book: The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton
Film: Girl, Interrupted
Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party and what would you serve?
Hannibal Lecter, liver, fava beans and a fine Chianti. Joking! If only I was that brave.
I’d invite Roald Dahl (for his magical thinking); Joni Mitchell (for her beautiful energy and voice); Sitting Bull (a legendary Native American warrior and medicine man, for his stories and his visions); Lizzie Borden (there’s so much I want to ask her); Adele (to get Lizzie drunk so she might tell me some of the things I’d like to know) and Derren Brown (to keep us all on our toes).
I’d serve tapas on a revolving table.
Not many people know this, but I’m very good at…
Vintage-hunting. I have the eye of a magpie and collect pieces of jewellery and clothes from all over the world. If I hadn’t become a writer, I was going to open a vintage shop somewhere warm by a beach and call it Velvet Magpie.
Where do you write?
I usually write at home. I like to move around the room, disrupt my creativity, wake it up. I also like to roll ideas around by talking them through out loud – one long, slightly bonkers conversation with myself, which would be super annoying for everybody else if I did it in a café. My creative space is really important to me. I get inspiration and ideas by being surrounded by artefacts and items I’ve gathered over the years, and I like that I can pick up a book at any point and read a chapter or a poem, which of course is an important part of the writing process.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I always have a candle burning when I write. A writer’s desk can be a lonely place and for me, the warmth and light a candle gives, is comforting and encourages my creativity. I like to refer to candles as deliciously scented and silent friends! I use music too, always through my headphones so any external noise is eliminated. I like to break up the periods of writing by listening to certain songs that mirror the emotional landscape of the writing I’m doing. The music takes me further and deeper into the psyche of the characters and helps me harness voices and images.
How would you define the role of the writer?
I would define it as a privilege. An opportunity to provoke, to move, to both disturb and comfort. A masseuse for the readers mind.
What’s the most useful piece of advice about writing you’ve been given?
‘Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power.’ This quote by the American author Joan Didion is the reason I began to read my work out loud. I recognised very early on in writing Good Me Bad Me that my natural style is staccato in nature and beats to an unusual rhythm. I had to learn how to make the prose more accessible to readers, and by reading it aloud I was able to clean up the rhythm yet still retain its uniqueness.
And finally, what’s the question (and answer to the question) no one has ever asked you but you wish they would?
Q: What worried you the most about writing your novel?
A: My biggest fear when writing Good Me Bad Me was that readers wouldn’t feel compassion for my main character Milly, that they would write her off as a child that couldn’t be helped. Of course, that risk remains very real, but by making a conscious decision to place her in a foster family that was, in its own way, toxic, I hope that I’ve managed to buffer the thought that there’s no hope for Milly and instead prompt readers to ask questions such as: But what if she’d been placed in a more appropriate setting? Where should children like Milly go? How can we look after them?
Translated into over 20 languages, Good Me Bad Me is a tour de force. In its narrator, Milly Barnes, we have a voice to be reckoned with, and in its author, Ali Land, an extraordinary new talent. Read an extract here
Praise for Good Me Bad Me
‘Original and compelling – what a sensational debut!’ Clare Mackintosh, number one bestselling author of I See You and I Let You Go
‘An astoundingly compelling thriller. Beyond tense. You hardly breathe. Best read in ages’ Matt Haig
‘I absolutely loved it and read it in less than a day. A proper page turner and brilliantly written’ Edith Bowman
‘This book is a work of twisted genius. It is going to be HUGE. Watch out for Ali Land’ Bryony Gordon
‘Ten pages into Good Me Bad Me, I became an Ali Land fan. Her beautiful, intimate voice immediately tugged me into the heart and mind of a serial killer’s daughter and then wouldn’t let go. Is there hope for this teenager’s new life outside of her mother’s horror? Original, intense, and utterly compelling, Good Me Bad Me is not just a terrific thriller but a psychological dive into a young girl’s soul. It takes subtlety and perfect balance to maintain a dark tale like this, and Land never once stutters or makes you look away’ Julia Heaberlin, author of Sunday Times bestseller Black-Eyed Susans
‘A triumph of tension. I doubt I’ll ever sleep again’ Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of R&J bestseller The Last Act of Love
‘Intelligent and disturbing, Good Me Bad Me had me hooked from the first page’ Debbie Howells, author of Richard & Judy book club bestseller The Bones of You
Milly’s voice is gripping and shocking. This is a book you will want to discuss with everyone you know’ Claire Douglas, author of The Sisters and Local Girl Missing
‘Good Me Bad Me is a novel that explodes off the page, with beautifully drawn characters and carefully executed pace. Heart rending, engrossing and ultimately terrifying, you’ll be thinking about it a long time after you’ve turned the final page’ Rowan Coleman, author of R&J bestseller The Memory Book
‘Unbelievably good, utterly gripping’ Jill Mansell
‘Listen to the early praise for Ali Land’s Good Me Bad Me because it’s all true. It’s dark, utterly gripping, brilliant’David Headley, Goldsboro Books
‘I read this book in one compulsive gulp over two days and absolutely loved it. It’s raw, superbly controlled and it chills to the bone’ Richard Skinner
‘You know from the first page you’re in confident hands. A genuinely disturbing debut that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Good Me Bad Me is going to be huge – and it deserves to be’ Catherine Ryan Howard
‘The best crime debut I’ve read in ages. Creepy, edgy and addictively twisted. I loved it’ Sarah Hilary
‘Ali Land’s Good Me Bad Me is an intensely compelling exploration of nature versus nurture wrapped up in a page-turning psychological thriller. Darkly disturbing and beautifully written. What more could any reader want?’ Sarah Pinborough
‘Good Me Bad Me is an astonishing debut – technically sophisticated and emotionally heart wrenching. So many things are done well – the status jungle of girls school, the psychological dissonance of a dysfunctional family, the internal machinery of damaged children. I thought it was wonderful’ Helen Callaghan, bestselling author of Dear Amy
‘One word: Wow. What a brilliant book – believable, shocking, thought-provoking and utterly compelling. The writing, as well as being so pacey, is beautiful. This feels such a current and original book’ T R Richmond,author of What She Left
‘Good Me Bad Me is a compelling page-turner. Chilling and dark, it grips you and won’t let go’ Rebecca Done, author of The Secret We’re Keeping