Interview with Maud Woolf (THIRTEEN WAYS TO KILL LULABELLE ROCK)
Maud Woolf is a one-time bookseller at Forbidden Planet. She was a student on the Glasgow University Creative Writing course and graduated with an MLit with distinction. She has had a number of short stories published in online magazines but this is her debut novel. She lives in Glasgow.
Welcome back to the Hive, Maud. Congratulations on your debut, Thirteen Ways to Kill Lulabelle Rock. Firstly, can you tell our readers a little about it?
In Bubble City, the celebrity elite have access to a technology that allows them to make perfect copies of themselves, known as Portraits. These Portraits are designed to carry out the myriad of roles expected of us in society. Jaded actress Lulabelle Rock has thirteen; some of them party, some of them do stunts….and one of them kills. The thirteenth Portrait of Lulabelle Rock wakes up and is given one simple mission: to track down and eliminate her predecessors. While initially easy, her task is made difficult by the labyrinthine confusion of Bubble City and the unfortunate stirrings of a developing conscience.
Like the character it’s named for, my book is a little bit of everything. Romance, action thriller, noir mystery, but overall I like to think of it as a weird kind of modern day fairytale.
Your book is set in a near future world filled with sentient clones which are primarily used by the extremely wealthy. What I loved about this aspect was that it creates a world where people are a product, where most experience loneliness and struggle with their identity. How did you balance between exploring these very poignant themes whilst also delivering the dark humour surrounding Lulabelle assassinating herself?
I was very aware when I was writing the novel that there would be a different, much bleaker way to approach the subject matter. In a lot of ways I felt like I was trying to thread the needle with my tone – I didn’t want to make light of serious subject matter but I didn’t want to make people feel miserable either. My working title for the book was actually ‘The Thirteen Suicides of Lulabelle Rock’ and I’m glad we changed that eventually because I think it might set readers off on the wrong foot.
I do think a lot of the time dark humour is used as an excuse to be an edgelord (or worse, a bigot). Having said that, I do think that there are some subjects we almost can’t approach any other way. A lot of it comes from my personal bad habit of being unable to talk about the big stuff without making jokes. A lot of people think that’s a way of hiding how you’re feeling but I disagree – sometimes we need to sidle up on the scary stuff sideways if we can’t face it head on.
I completely agree. I use humour in that context too.
And can you tell us more about the quirky Bubble City? What inspired you to create a place so extravagant and glitzy?
I grew up in the country and believe it or not, a lot of my childhood ideas about what a city looked like were based on watching episodes of Futurama. You don’t travel around Bubble City in pneumatic tubes but it’s not far off. Bubble City is a place that really shouldn’t exist, built around a single thin stream of water in the desert. I’ve always been fascinated by places built in hospitable areas- I wanted Bubble City to seem like a mirage. The name implies a kind of fragility, like it’s more of a dream than a real community.
I’ve lived in cities for a long time now but I still find them kind of baffling in their extremes. Insane wealth and cutting edge technology right next to all the noise and mess and poverty. The brighter the lights, the deeper the shadows and in Bubble City I wanted everything to be as shiny as possible.
Tell us more about your different versions of Lulabelle and how you made them all so distinct? Which of them was your favourite to write?
In the novel, one of Lulabelle’s Portraits was created solely to go to parties. She isn’t the first Portrait that pops up in the novel but she was actually the first one I thought of. I loved the idea of this haggard perpetual party girl, living off canapes and snatching odd hours of sleep in coatrooms. All of the Portraits started as an image like that rather than a list of bullet points.
When I was coming up with the Portraits I wasn’t thinking about what would be most practical to have, mostly because Lulabelle isn’t very practical. She has one for stunts, one for social media etc. but she’s a volatile person and a lot of them were created on a passing whim. I liked to think that she started out trying to use them sensibly and then as time went on they became a reflection of her increasing paranoia and loneliness. The artist and the suburban mother are made to explore alternative lives she could have led. There’s a protective element to some of the others. The one that works for her agent for example, I see as being a kind of sacrificial lamb, sent out to be used and controlled by someone that Lulabelle, consciously or not, is frightened of.
Another aspect of Thirteen Ways which I loved was that it fantastically raises the question: when life demands so much from us and we have such little time, how are we to be everything all at once? Which is especially true for women as we are often expected to play a multitude of roles in life. Was this something you’d always planned on exploring? What drew you to this theme?
In all honesty a lot of the book was probably a reaction to leaving university and getting my first full time job. I would be working from ten to seven every day and coming home and trying to find time to have a social life and keep everything clean and eat properly and write on top of all that. I remember lying in bed at the end of the day and thinking about how this was just normal for everyone and something I would be doing for the rest of my life. Trying to juggle all those different things I felt like I was splitting myself up into different people. I had a work self, a friend self, a family self etc. I started thinking about how each of these roles required a certain amount of artifice and effort and the exhaustion of keeping all those plates spinning.
So I guess you could say it was a kind of quarter life crisis that brought me to Lulabelle.
If you were to make a Portrait of yourself what kind of Portrait would she be? What tasks would you want her to fulfil?
I’m trying to work on a second book at the moment and finding the time to write is a struggle. So maybe I would make one to go live in a cabin in the highlands and just keep churning out pages. Though realistically I would be very jealous of her and she would get incredibly lonely and we would both end up trying to kill each other. Maybe that’s the sequel to Lulabelle right there.
Real life Lulabelle! Lol!
Thirteen Ways feels like it would make the perfect adaptation to screen. If the opportunity for adaptation came along which medium would you prefer; a Netflix/Amazon Prime series or a feature length film? Do you have any ideal castings in mind to play Lulabelle and side characters such as Spencer, her agent?
Lulabelle isn’t a very long novel but the idea of a series would be exciting- the chance to flesh out the world and some of the other characters. My main character is so laser focused and it makes her kind of incurious, especially in the first half of the book. This was fun to write but also frustrating because with another character I would have taken longer to explore Bubble City. A series would be a fun way to do that.
As for casting, I like the idea that any actress could play Lulabelle if they got a bottle of blonde hair dye. I would love Stephanie Hsu- she’s so funny and has such incredible range but maybe she would be too young for my idea of a washed up actress. Weirdly I have a more specific casting in mind for the hitchhiker: Skyler Gisondo, who I have been obsessed with since watching him in the Santa Clarita Diet.
In fact, were there any specific films or series or even music which inspired you whilst writing?
A lot of people compare it to Orphan Black or Killing Eve and while I’ve heard both are amazing I actually got too scared to watch either. I have a stupid fear that watching anything too related to what I’m writing will throw me off somehow. I get more inspiration from making playlists. I made one for Lulabelle to listen to on the bus which ended up being nearly 100% Marina and the Diamonds. Her stuff is all glitter and energy on top of lyrics that actually matched up pretty thematically to Lulabelle. One song in particular ‘Valley of the Dolls’ I think I must have listened to about a hundred times in one week.
This one is just for fun and is one of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
Weirdly this is actually something I’ve put a lot of thought into. Obviously the gut reaction is to say gryphon (flight AND claws) but after careful consideration I think I would indulge my eight year old self’s wildest dreams by saying unicorn. I was so fanatically obsessed with them as a little girl that I once made a giant one out of boxes and plastic bags to watch over me at night so to say anything else would feel like a betrayal.
What’s next for you, Maud? Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s)? Will you possibly be returning to Lulabelle Rock?
I think Lulabelle’s story ends pretty conclusively but I like the idea of the characters potentially wandering into other books as background figures at some point down the line. I won’t say too much about the book I’m currently working on out of fear of jinxing it but I will say it’s also science fiction and also a kind of romance.
Are you planning anything fun to celebrate your new release? Do you have any upcoming virtual or in person events our readers may be interested in?
I have a launch party currently being planned for January and I think my mum has invited every single person she knows. I will also be attending Granite Noir in February, an Aberdeen based Crime Writing Festival. I actually went to University in Aberdeen so this is something I’m really excited for!
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
From Lulabelle, I suppose I would want them to come away feeling like it’s okay to not be able to do everything and please everyone. I think everyone feels like they’re drowning a lot of the time under the weight of all the things they have to do or should be doing. I don’t know if I have a solution for that but I want people to come away knowing they’re not the only person who can’t manage it.
Ideally I guess I would want to be the kind of writer where readers are primarily entertained by the story but then catch themselves thinking back to parts of it at odd moments. That’s the kind of book I love anyway.
Thank you so much for joining us today!
Thank you for having me!
Thirteen Ways to Kill Lulabelle Rock is due for release 9th January 2024 from Angry Robot. You can order your copy on Bookshop.org