What was the first seed that sparked the story that would become The V Girl?
I was doing research for another novel, when I came across testimonies that made my skin crawl because they described the cruel reality of mass rape. The one that disturbed me the most came from a woman whose country was invaded by several foreign armies. She was fourteen or fifteen at the time. When her country’s Army was about to regain control of her town, her mother made provisions so both of them could avoid rape, even though the girl didn’t think this was necessary. Mother and daughter prepared themselves for the soldiers’ arrival by shaving their heads and the girl acted the role of a very sick girl, hoping the soldiers would spare her. When the soldiers finally came, it turned out the mother had been right all along. Their schemes worked and the soldiers didn’t rape this girl, but they raped other girls. How did the mother know that certain precautions were needed? It was clear to me that abuses perpetrated by the troops were not only known, but also expected. The fact that the mother knew that this would happen and the fact that they did not make these provisions around the soldiers of the foreign army, but around the soldiers of their own country, had an impact upon my emotions. I thought, wouldn’t this young girl try to lose her virginity to a guy of her choice as part of her preparation? That was a story that deserved to be written and I wanted to write it myself.
Did you have trouble writing any of the scenes (the action scenes or the most emotional ones)?
Writing the action scenes was extremely hard and I was rarely satisfied. I wrote them, discarded them and re-wrote them repeatedly. Another challenge was putting my characters through such dramatic events and situations. I’m emotionally attached to all of them, even the antagonists, and writing about their suffering became uncomfortable. During certain scenes, their level of anguish and pain was so high that their emotions rubbed off on me. I also had trouble writing chapters forty-eight and forty-nine. At the same time, writing those chapters was cathartic because I had a similar experience when I was ten years old. I never told anyone until I became an adult and by writing a scene like this, I was able to have some kind of closure.
How did you manage to balance the disturbing themes with the romance or the dystopian sense of pushing for freedom in an unjust society?
Romance wasn’t central in the earlier drafts of the book. But my readers, my editor and my own heart responded well to it, so I ended up increasing the length of the romantic storyline. I love YA dystopian books that present a romantic subplot, but more often than not I finish the book thinking: I need more romance. The first draft was brutal and violent and there wasn’t a romantic counterpart to create balance. I added more pages focusing more on the romantic and emotional aspects of the storyline. That allowed me to develop the characters more and add a bit of humanity to this disturbing world. I liked it better this way. I had the chance to add swoon-worthy moments and a little bit of comic relief by presenting a love story limited by the circumstances of the war.
How long did it take you to get the plot rounded and what kind of message did you want to convey?
It took months to get the plot rounded. Lila’s storyline ends in The V girl, but the political context was so intricate that I’ll need more books to develop the world and resolve the war storyline. The ending was extremely difficult to write because the book was going to be published in two parts and I removed approximately fifty-thousand words from the original draft. I tried to convey the feeling that even under the darkest, most difficult circumstances, we can allow ourselves to hope and love. No matter how dire the situation is, there’s always some level of hope. The V girl world is so bleak and at times it seems that everything is lost, but if we don’t lose our humanity we can find the motivation to hope and love.
Did you have to do any research and what kind?
I searched “rape during war” on Google, and found eighty-seven million results. I had plenty of material to read. Besides, I read plenty of books and saw documentaries on the topic. If one does not see it, it is hard to believe that mass rape exists. Yet, it has been an unfortunate occurrence since the beginning of time. I also found useful information on the website RAINN.org, a site for rape survivors. I dedicated the book to them.
Do you plan to write more stories based in the same world, maybe continue the timeline?
I’m writing more books based on this world featuring different characters as we speak. Some of The V Girl characters are secondary characters in them. What I’ll write first will depend on the readers’ feedback. I want to know what they would love to see in future books.
Can you see yourself as not being a writer in the future?
No. Reading and writing are part of who I am. I’ll always write stories, even if I decide to keep those stories to myself and never publish them.
Interviewer: Belinda from Literaria.