We interviewed the lovely Beth Lewis and were able to get a cheeky pre-read of her newest book Children of the Sun. Read on to see our chat with Beth about books, career advice, the 80s, and cults.. yes you read that right!
A bit about Beth
Beth Lewis is a critically acclaimed novelist and has written frequently about the challenges of being a queer mother. Her debut novel, The Wolf Road (2016) was both an Amazon Book of the Year and was shortlisted for the inaugural Glass Bell Award. Her third book, The Origins of Iris, was shortlisted for the Polari Prize in 2022. She lives with her wife and daughter in Oxford.
Beth, tell us about your new book Children of the Sun. What was your inspiration for this?
Children of the Sun is a book set in the 1980s in Upstate New York, it’s about a rookie reporter who goes to investigate a cult that is hauled up in the woods, in the mountains, and the more he investigates the cult, the more he realises he has a lot more in common with the members than he anticipated. I think, for me the inspiration for this came from a long-held fascination with cults and the psychology of joining cults, the people who lead them, and how people end up in that situation, and I wanted to explore that to quite an extreme degree with this book. And then it was also inspired by my love of all things sci-fi and 80s and so I melded the two passions together.
In your novel you discuss AIDS, how important is this topic to you and do you think it’s important to raise awareness in this day and age?
Yes I do, it’s a really important topic, and it’s not something I focused on in the book because of the nature of it being set in the 80s, and with a gay protagonist it’s something that’s got to be there. I think it’s very important that although the landscape has changed from what it was then to what it is now, it’s still important for people to understand the history of the gay rights movement, especially with what it’s being faced with nowadays.
How did your career start as an author?
Well, I’ve always written stories since I was a kid, I always wanted to be a writer but I knew that that wasn’t the most stable profession in the world, so I went into publishing which was as close to books as I could get. I wrote a bunch of books but the first one that got published was a wilderness survival thriller, it got me an agent and got me published in 2016, and this is now my fourth book.
This is your fourth novel, what advice would you give our readers who want to follow in your footsteps and become an author?
The most important advice that I would ever think to give someone would be to finish the story, finish whatever it is, because that’s something a lot of newer writers struggle with, getting to the end point of a novel. A lot of people have half-finished ones because they get bored or go onto a new idea, but my advice would always be to finish it because you can’t sell a half-finished manuscript, or publish half a book. And the other piece of advice would be to have a thick skin and not be put off by rejection because it will happen, and it will happen before you’re published and it will happen before you’re on your fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh book, it’s part of the industry and if you can’t get past that then it will be a very hard road.
As a queer writer, what are your thoughts on lesbian and queer representation in literature, and how has it changed over the course of your career?
Well, when I was younger and reading books there was very little in the way of representation in kids’ books in YA books, there was nothing really there and there wasn’t anything there on TV or film either except for very issue-driven representation that usually ended in tragedy but that is different now, which is great. Being a queer writer is not seen as something odd anymore and you can’t move for queer romance books on TikTok, which is wonderful but a lot of fiction, especially for younger readers is still quite issue-driven, it’s about coming out and finding your place and although that’s important I feel like there isn’t enough fiction or representation where a character just happens to be gay and that’s what I have in my books.
In my third book Origins of Iris which came out two years ago, the main character in that just happens to be gay and she basically runs away from her abusive wife I had never read anything anywhere about domestic violence storyline in a same-sex relationship. So it was quite important to me to give that representation and with a character in which her experience isn’t because she was gay, she wasn’t persecuted for her sexuality, she wasn’t bullied, her parents didn’t reject her, she just fell in love with the wrong person and that is something that can happen whether you’re gay or straight or queer or non-binary.
And same with Children of the Sun, there are two queer characters in it— the main character James is gay and falls in love with his partner in the 80s there was a lot more homophobia around so I wanted to touch on that but it was never the focus of the book and he has a relationship and the same ups-and-downs and ultimately tragedy as any other straight character in that book. His tragedy does not come because he’s gay and so I think that’s quite an important step that LGBTQ+ representation has to take in fiction and media, is incidentally gay characters, and we’re getting there! But it would be great to see a lot more of it.
If you could use a magic telephone to call yourself at 15 years old what would you say?
(Laughing) I would say probably stop writing that really rubbish fantasy novel and go outside a bit more! And don’t get dreadlocks…
Who are your role models and why?
In writing, the writers that I love— David Mitchell who wrote Cloud Atlas, his books completely defy genre and he does kind of just does whatever he wants and that’s wonderful. In life.. is it cheesy to say, my mum?!
What plans do you have next for 2023?
Launching this book this month and then I’m taking some much-needed time off, my daughter starts school in September which is a big weird shift of sort of mental space of suddenly my baby’s not a baby anymore. But I’ve written a new book so I’m hoping that will find a publisher this year, that’s my aim.
Where and when can people get a copy of Children of the Sun?
Children of the Sun is being published on the 25th of May so it should be available in all good bookshops or if not then definitely on Amazon.
We hope you enjoyed our chat with Beth and let us know if you grab yourself a copy! If you want to discover more queer books or writers consider checking out our other articles in the books section.
Team Nonchalant x
Last Updated on 21st May 2023 by Nonchalant Magazine