It is no surprise that St Andrews’ atmosphere acts as a springboard for artists of all sorts. It is no different with Lauren Mangiaforte, a self-published author currently living in New York City and former alumna of our university. Mangiaforte’s first book, The Boys Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, is not only an accurate description of what university life is like on the coastal line of Fife, but also a minute fictional narration of the lives of four different characters that we analysed in one of our previous book reviews. The Literary Society of St Andrews recently organized a Skype interview with Mangiaforte to discuss the writing process and her choices underlying the drawing up of The Boys Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, as well as to try to get more information about her new project. Here’s what Mangiaforte said:
To what extent was your novel inspired and influenced by J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan?
Lauren: As weird it may be, when I came to St Andrews for my PhD programme I had not read Peter Pan since I was a child. The link between the town and Neverland struck me though and that is probably what brought the book back to my mind. I was never as reminded of Peter Pan as I was during my time at the University of St Andrews. The novel had a major influence on my writing process and such a choice felt wonderfully appropriate, even more so when considering Barrie’s relationship with the University of St Andrews, but this was something I only realised later in the process.
What about your St Andrews experience most influenced the characters of your novel? Were any of them based on real people?
Lauren: I am afraid that there is not an accurate answer to this question. What is mostly interesting about The Boys Who Wouldn’t Grow Up is that I do not like to think that I based my characters on real people, although I loosely drew on stories that I heard from friends of mine. The character of Catriona, for example, was an ever-evolving one. When I started writing my story I found that I hated her, which is why I felt like I had to redraft the novel itself. My mother even said that she liked Catriona only after that I redesigned her character, and I felt the same way too.
Did you find an increasing familiarity with your characters as you edited the novel, despite them not being based on people you had known?
Lauren: Absolutely. I think the further into the writing process, the more I empathised with the characters. Spending more time in each of their heads let me understand why I, in the first place, had wanted them to make the choices they made. In the end it was no longer a matter of creating a storyline for my novel, but trying to justify why each of the characters had become the way he/she had become.
What inspired you to give your characters their names?
Lauren: I still remember the first time I heard the name Catriona. I was, obviously, in St Andrews and first thing I thought was how stereotypically Scottish that name was. Being American, I have always found Scottish names so exotic, and I hoped that my readers might feel the same. On the other hand, Julie’s name was meant to sound stereotypically American. But her last name, Lovejoy, had to do with her views of and experiences with love. I wanted to create a balance between the best name for a character and the most realistic one, as well as between Scottish culture and the American one.
One of the most shocking features of The Boys Who Wouldn’t Grow Up is its ending. Was it deliberately ambiguous? What do you think happens to Catriona?
Lauren: I am not sure myself. When I wrote the ending I hoped that my readers would have the same experience I did have in this case. I do not think there can be just one solution to Catriona’s condition. There are mornings when I think that Catriona makes one choice, and other mornings when she makes the other. What do you think?
Do you find that your writing style changed when you changed locations? Did you write differently in Scotland than you did when you were in the process of editing and publishing your novel in New York?
Lauren: That is particularly interesting. I would say that my writing style changed absolutely. It was something linked to the place that I was living in but also connected to the fact that the writing and self-publishing of The Boys Who Wouldn’t Grow Up took such a long time. I can say that I am definitely a different (and hopefully better) writer now than I was when I was living in St Andrews. Self-publishing my book, working alongside great editors, surely affected my style. Nonetheless, writing a book so close to my own life was a rather cathartic experience.
What advice would you give to all the writers out there in terms of your experience with self-publishing?
Lauren: Self-publishing is a great experience, but you need to be careful. Not having editors along the way can be dangerous, which is why it is very important to find people (friends, mothers and fathers, siblings) who are willing to help you edit, even if it is in a very casual way. I had friends from university who worked in editing and publishing, and were very helpful during the polishing process. The Boys Who Wouldn’t Grow Up would not be the novel that it is without them. So, if you are working on a project, it is never too soon to start looking out for people who are willing to give you some feedback!
What other projects do you have planned?
Lauren: I like to think that every writer has a ‘college’ novel and then a ‘New York’ novel. I am working and living in New York now and currently I am in the process of writing a much more mature love story set in New York City, exploring the lives of two very different couples that expand on two opposite concepts of love.
It is no exaggeration to say that it is with great anticipation that we look forward to seeing what Lauren Mangiaforte will publish next. The Boys Who Wouldn’t Grow Up set the stake quite high, and it will not be easy to do better. On the other hand, New York hides so much inspiration that we are sure Mangiaforte will know how to use it to her own advantage. Thanking once again the Literary Society of St. Andrews and Lauren Mangiaforte for this incredible opportunity, in the wait of her second novel let’s all sit before the fireplace reading her first one. A good work never gets boring.