How, What, Where and When? - with Alyssa Sheinmel, on 'A Danger to Herself and Others'.

26 March 2019

I am so thrilled to have had the chance to interview Alyssa Sheinmel, author of ‘Faceless(2016), 'R.I.P Eliza Hart' (2017), and now ‘A Danger to Herself and Others’. The latter tells the story of Hannah Gold, a 17 year-old girl who has been checked into a remote treatment facility after a mysterious incident with her room mate in California. But her being admitted is obviously a mistake, and it’s only a matter of time before everyone sees that and she’s released. Right? 


This is just the second in my new interview piece format, How, What, Where and When! In case you missed the first (with Lauren James) let me remind you: every post in this series will ask just 4 questions, starting with each of those words. Simple as. Let’s do this!  


Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Alyssa! Let's start at the beginning... 
 
How did you learn about mental health centres like the one Hannah Gold is sent to in this novel? 

I’m a pretty research-happy writer.  So not long after I got the idea for this story, I was reading book after book written by people who’d spent time in mental institutions and hospitals.  Memoirs like Marya Hornbacher’s 'Madness', Susannah Cahalan’s 'Brain on Fire', 'The Quiet Room' by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett and the YA classic 'I Never Promised You a Rose Garden' by Joanne Greenberg (and so many more books and articles!) were invaluable to me.  Some of the books I read were stories of people who’d been institutionalized or hospitalized for very different reasons than Hannah, and others under similar circumstances—but each these stories were such vivid accounts of what it was like to be in an institution.  What it was like to feel trapped at times—but at others, to feel safe and secure under a doctor’s care; the struggle to come to terms with a surprising diagnosis; the certainty that the doctors and therapists can’t help you—but then the relief when you realize that the doctors and therapists have been helping you all along. 



What part of the book was most enjoyable to write? 

I loved writing Hannah’s voice.  Smart, confident, even occasionally funny—her voice was clear to me from the very first page.  I knew I was writing a complicated and not always likeable (or reliable...) narrator—but I loved slipping into her head with every page I wrote.  


Where did the story idea come from?

This may sound strange, but the spark for this book began on Twitter.  An editor I know tweeted that she was looking for a YA novel where a character is confined to a single room for much of the story.  Of course, she was asking for book recommendations—not for someone to actually start writing a book!—but it got me thinking about why a character might find herself in such circumstances, and it wasn’t long before I was picturing a girl in a room in a mental institution. 



When was the final direction of the story decided? And was it hard to leave Hannah, at the end? 

I wrote the first few chapters of this book before I decided exactly where the story was going.  But around chapter eight or nine, I stopped writing and started outlining. So I knew fairly early on how the story was going to end.  Still, it was hard to leave Hannah behind. She’s one of my favourite characters I’ve ever written, and I loved writing her.  


BONUS QUESTION (because I just can’t help myself!!)!

Why did the story end the way it did (spoiler: Hannah does not have a happy ending, as such)?

The story is about Hannah’s time in an institution, so ending the book soon after she was released from the institution felt natural.  But Hannah’s story definitely isn’t over: she’s been given a diagnosis and sent home, but she’s still learning how to live in her new reality.  In the final chapter, she’s struggles to accept her diagnosis, to take her medication, and questions whether she’ll continue therapy. It felt like the most honest way to end to the book. 


Thanks again for your answers, Alyssa! You can get your copy of ‘A Danger to Herself and Others’ now – and while you’re at it, stock up on her previous novels too! 

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Keep an eye out for the next How, What, Where and When’, bookish friends.
(And let me know in comments or on Twitter if you’re a fan of this format!)



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