Oh! Do I have a book recommendation for you today!
Some books are just so beautiful and harrowing it’s hard to find the right words to sum up how they make you feel. How It Feels To Float is definitely one of these books. 😭💛 It will make you love and it will break your heart. And you can just feel how personal it is, how much heart and soul went into it.
I’m super honoured today to have Helena Fox herself here for one of the best Q&As I’ve ever had the pleasure of hosting. And afterwards?! A giveaway!
OTHER AUTHOR Q&AS ON PAPER FURY…
Biz knows how to float. She has her people, her posse, her mom and the twins. She has Grace. And she has her dad, who tells her about the little kid she was, who loves her so hard, and who shouldn’t be here but is. So Biz doesn’t tell anyone anything. Not about her dark, runaway thoughts, not about kissing Grace or noticing Jasper, the new boy. And she doesn’t tell anyone about her dad. Because her dad died when she was six. And Biz knows how to float, right there on the surface–normal okay regular fine.
But after what happens on the beach–first in the ocean, and then in the sand–the tethers that hold Biz steady come undone. Dad disappears, and with him, all comfort. It might be easier, better, sweeter to float all the way away? Or maybe stay a little longer, find her father, bring him back to her. Or maybe–maybe maybe maybe–there’s a third way Biz just can’t see yet.
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Meet the author…
Helena Fox lives in Wollongong, Australia, where she runs creative writing workshops for young people. She’s a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.
She has travelled widely, living in Peru, Spain, the U.K, Samoa, and the US. Of all her adventures, Helena is proudest of the work she has done helping young people find and express their voice. How It Feels To Float is her debut novel.
thanks so much for visiting my blog, Helena!😍 So excited to have you! Can you tell us a little bit about your publishing journey? How it went from seed idea to published novel?
Biz (the protagonist of HOW IT FEELS TO FLOAT) came into my life about 8 years ago. She was this wonderfully odd, lost girl, talking to me about photos and science facts, and about her father who had died years before, but who still came to visit. I wrote about 17,000 words of Biz’s story back then, and while I knew the key elements to it, I wasn’t sure what to do with the story from there. So I waited. Six years later, in April 2017, Biz plonked herself down in a café where I was working, and said, quite emphatically, “Okay, it’s time to write me.”
With Biz’s voice bright and clear in my mind, along with a new starting point, a slight shift in tone, and the original chapters as guide points, the story just galloped out—I finished the manuscript in nine months. I think it came so quickly because having lived through some very challenging times in the intervening years, I finally knew, in a deep, gut-level way, what I wanted to say with Biz’s story—about grief, trauma, living with mental illness, and the incredibly healing nature of love.
I submitted my manuscript to a small list of literary agents in March 2018. A few weeks later, my dream agent, Catherine Drayton of Inkwell Management, asked to see the complete manuscript. Five days after that, Catherine called to offer representation! It was an unforgettable moment—surreal and completely glorious!
In May, after tightening the manuscript with Catherine Drayton and her lovely assistant Claire Friedman, the book went out on submission to publishers in the US and Australia. In June, my book went to auction with multiple bidders, and was sold to Pan Macmillan in Australia and Dial/Penguin Random House in the US. That was another wonderfully surreal experience, realising I was actually going to become a published author!
Then came seven more intense, satisfying months of revision with my two amazing editors: Jessica Dandino Garrison at Dial, taking the lead edit, and Claire Craig from Pan Macmillan providing equally invaluable feeedback. In this lovely, collaborative, respectful way, we made sure Biz’s story was as good as I could possibly make it. I worked with other brilliant people along the journey to publication: talented editors, copy-editors, proofreaders, and designers. I have to say my experience as a debut novelist, working with two publishing houses, has been a total dream come true. I couldn’t fault a minute of it.
And now the book is coming out into the world! I’m nervous and happy and every other emotion there could be. I’m so glad people around the world will read HOW IT FEELS TO FLOAT. Biz’s story means so much to me.
Ok I absolutely love hearing about your journey! Can you pick a line from the book that you deeply love?
Take it for now; take it in, Biz. Hold it, this trembling, borrowed time.
Life is terrible and beautiful, isn’t it? It’s the best/worst at the exact same time, all possibilities at once.
I thoroughly adore those lines (especially the second one 😭). Let’s talk about your character names? How do you go about choosing character names?
I was just talking about this with my daughter! Character names just appear in my head. In this kind of flash, the names come, and stay; they almost never change. Biz has always been Biz, like the sky is the sky and the sea is the sea. Same for every other character in the book. I don’t know how or why that is—it’s like the characters are all waiting inside me, and when I look for them, out they stroll, ready.
I love that Biz showed up knowing who she was like that. Which part of a novel do you love writing best: the beginning, middle or end?
Oh, I love it all, really truly. I love the fizz and freedom of writing the early draft, when the world of your book is brand new. You’re at the beginning, and you know you can try anything, reach as far and high as you want, experiment, write terribly, write beautiful lines you might never keep, and take time to know your characters. It’s a heady feeling, like falling in love.
The middle bit, the steady making and doing, the working towards the end, is also lovely, because you are in the thick of it, and you’ve got your characters keeping you company. So when it’s time to write, it’s like walking into a room where your friends are all waiting. And you’re doing what you’ve dreamed of—being a writer—so that’s a wonderful feeling too. It’s good, solid, steady work, like the building of a house.
The end bit—the edits, well, that’s another thing of beauty, isn’t it? Because then you’re sitting with the line, walking, swimming, showering, sleeping with the line, and you’re spending your days thinking, Is it the best it can be? You’re also thinking through curly problems you’ve discovered and you’re untangling the knots of them. You are so deep in the story at this point, it’s like a part of you. And you know it well enough that you can make big leaping changes—lop whole paragraphs out and chapters too—and you know that’s fine, important work; you’re making and shaping the world of your story until it’s ‘Just Right’. I think editing might be my favourite part of writing, because the focus becomes so minute, and you’re literally surrounded by people you love (all those lovely imaginary friends), doing service to the word and the world of them.
From your author’s note, I read how you also deal with mental illness day to day. Was it hard to write about Biz’s journey, how she unravelled through the book? Or was it therapeutic or comforting to talk about it openly and honestly?
I have lived with mental illness since I was a child, and yes, it’s sometimes a really challenging thing, to have to carry with you. While writing the book, I was also dealing with profound grief over the sudden loss of a very close friend, so all of that history and pain wove itself into Biz’s story. Her story isn’t mine, but Biz and I share a lot of similar ways of dealing with pain and trauma and mental illness. So in a way it was freeing, to write her story and touch on my own experiences, knowing how hard certain moments can be, and to write with sensitivity and compassion about living with serious mental health issues.
I actually wrote a lot of Biz’s story while going through a prolonged period of dissociation, which I wrote into the book, with the authority of actually experiencing it, in that moment. Instead of making things worse, however, writing the book through this muddy, difficult time was my anchor point. Biz was so real, so beautifully messy and opinionated, smart and funny, and so relatably vulnerable, I just held on to her, and followed her voice. As I wrote, I found I wanted more than anything to find Biz a safe place to land. So I looked out for Biz, and she looked out for me. I actually think of Biz as my awkward guardian angel—keeping me upright as I navigated my own hard journey.
It is deeply comforting, to write an ultimately hopeful story about living with mental illness. It is life-saving to write about the reasons you might stay, and about love and community and connection. I do think writing the story was my life-line, and helped keep me here.
Lastly, if you could tell Biz something she needed to hear right now, what would you say?
I’d say: Hold on, beautiful human. You are loved, deeply, truly. I know how hard this is; I understand. Here is a cup of tea, a quiet place to sit. Here is some blessed silence and some simple beauty—here is an ocean; here is the dog’s soft fur; here are clouds making shapes. Look up, look up; here you are. Here we are, walking through the whirl and muddle—all the terrible-beautiful—together.
Oh that answer is beautiful and brb just slightly crying here. I’ve adored chatting to you and your answers were incredible and lovely. Thank you so much, Helena!
There’s so much love to give this harrowing, yet hopeful, novel…
It’s the kind that absolutely stays with you, long after you turn the final page. It’s about grief and loss and disassociation. It’s about friends who stick by you, and friends who leave — both things that made and broke my heart to read. Biz is the kind of character who feels things so deeply and wholly, and she’s never gotten over her dad leaving. She sometimes sees him, sitting on the end of her bed, reminiscing about her babyhood. And she wants him, but she also doesn’t want to feel like she’s losing the plot like this? Then she kisses her best friend Grace (which turns into an awkward disaster) and a boy pulls her out of the ocean and her life beings to unravel and she can’t catch the threads.
Mental illness rep is so important in YA. It’s so isolating to through things like depression — and books are here to give us this safe space to say “hey what you’re feeling isn’t something you have to go at alone”. I feel like Biz’s voice was so personal, her narration so vulnerable, it was easy to feel like you were experiencing the whole book with her. And as someone who struggles with depression myself, I just found so many scenes made me want to cry. Soooo much accuracy. I think that’s the value of #ownvoices novels right here — they understand and get it right.
I loved the style of this, how it was all a breath and a wish of poetry, and the slow unravelling of someone losing themselves to mental illness. It’s gut-wrenching and yet threaded with hope. Truly a debut I won’t forget!
tell me some contemporaries that deal with mental illness that you loved reading about! it’s an Aussie and American release which I’m super happy about! is it on your TBR?