#LoveOzYA Q&A with Gabrielle Williams about IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S ME
Gabrielle Williams is the author of a number of critically acclaimed YA novels, including Beatle Meets Destiny, The Reluctant Hallelujah, and My Life as a Hashtag, all of which have been shortlisted for a number of prestigious awards.
She told #LoveOzYA's Stassi Austin all about her latest release IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S ME — check out their chat below!
For those that haven’t yet read IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME, and without spoilers, can you tell us what it’s about?
Forty-year-old Holly Fitzgerald from Melbourne in 2020 wakes up to find herself in the body of 16-year-old Trinity Byrne from Los Angeles in 1980. As she starts living the life of Trinity, she discovers startling connections between the two of them, building up to one final connection that has the potential to completely change the trajectory of Trinity’s life. Meanwhile, the contrasts between hers and Trinity’s life are stark and has Holly wondering whether she really wants to go back to her old life in 2020 after all. But of course, just like she had no say in switching lives, she has no say in whether or not she goes back to her old life. Or does she?
Can you explain a little bit about where the idea came from?
The idea came from, strangely, a second-hand typewriter I found in an op shop in Katoomba a few years back when I was doing a residency at Varuna It was adorable and I bought it immediately, lugging it all the way back to Melbourne. It seemed to have a real personality and charm, and I started thinking about the life it had before me. The people who had placed their fingers on it. The stories they’d typed up. As I thought more about it, I thought about how the typewriter connected me to those people, that I was touching the same keys that a stranger had touched years ago. And of course, that led to me wondering if there were other connections we might share. And in that slow chugging way that stories build and gather steam in our heads, I started thinking about soulmates, the people in my life that I feel I was always destined to meet, and whether there are soulmates in my life that I haven’t met yet. Random daydreaming that turned into a fully-fledged novel!
Time travel and that feeling of deja vu is central to Holly and Trinity’s story, why did you want to explore that?
Déjà vu is one of my favourite things. Also, coincidences. They have a sense of joyful magical mystery about them. They’re one of the great mysteries of life that can’t be explained by science. Interestingly, I don’t really believe in time-travel, or soul swaps, but once I started thinking about the connections between me and the past owners of my typewriter, it prompted me to consider going back in time to meet them. I became intrigued. The temptation to write about it grew immense. I knew that if I was going to attempt something like that, it would be hard work, that I’d have to do a lot of research into time travel and metaphysics, that it would be a real test for my powers of persuasion. I like the idea of pushing myself into areas that are unfamiliar. I don’t want to keep writing the same books over and over again. Exploring time travel and soul swaps was a great way of taking me out of my comfort zone.
A lot of the novel takes place in the United States. What did the research process look like to make sure you represented it accurately?
Fortunately, we travelled over to LA in 2019, just before COVID-19 hit. I spent days in the archives of the Central Library in Los Angeles, reading all the newspapers from 1980 (a lot of the news stories and ads Holly refers to are real. Even the word, ‘kidnaped’ being spelt with one p on the front page of the LA Times was from a real story which I changed for my purposes). The For Rent signs hammered onto palm trees, nearly getting run over by cars because I didn’t expect them to come from my left, confusion over the temperature because it’s in Fahrenheit, all those things slapped me in the face when I was over there. I found the house that Trinity lived in. I walked from her house to John Marshall High School. The book would have been very different if we hadn’t visited LA.
Who is one person you would like to swap lives with for a day?
Hm. I’m not sure I’d want to swap lives with anyone else. I’m actually pretty happy with the life I’m living. Sheesh, boring answer! No, wait, I’d love to swap lives with Wai Chim because I’ve always wanted to go on Survivor, and she actually went ahead and did it! Go Wai!!!
Can you describe IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME with just five words?
I’ll take the quote from Nina Kenwood on my front cover: ‘Funny, clever, compelling and utterly original.’ Technically six words. But six very fine words. Thanks Nina!