Sophie Grenham speaks to author LUIZA SAUMA about Rio de Janeiro, the negative effects of social media and her second novel, Everything You Ever Wanted …
Luiza Sauma is a Brazilian writer and journalist, who worked for the Independent on Sunday for several years before publishing her debut novel, Flesh and Bone and Water (2017) to great critical acclaim. The book was listed by the Telegraph as one of their “ones to watch” for 2017. She was born in Rio de Janeiro and raised in London. She has an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths, University of London, where she won the Pat Kavanagh Award.
Sauma’s wondrous new novel, Everything You Ever Wanted, could not be more timely. The narrative captures the era of social media addiction and status anxiety perfectly. The premise will no doubt speak to the current generation and beyond: what if you could step off this planet, leave the noise behind and start again? What if you could go to a place that’s pure, untouched, and offers you an authentic way of being? For Iris Cohen, a “digital innovation architect” at a creative agency, the chance to be reborn on planet Nyx is the opportunity of a lifetime, but it means giving up everything she holds dear. As a troubled young women who suffers from depression, loneliness and the loss of her father, the pretty pink planet feels like the answer to all her problems. Despite the protests of her friends and family, she seizes the chance and heads down the wormhole, but her new reality quickly turns sinister. With echoes of The Truman Show and 1984, Iris finds herself on a different kind of platform, where she is no longer the writer of her own story. Sauma’s spare and refined prose illustrates the struggles and insecurities of young people with admirable clarity. Everything You Ever Wanted is a reminder of how much we take for granted on this imperfect planet Earth: perhaps we should be careful what we wish for.
Luiza Sauma lives in London with her family.
Everything You Ever Wanted (€17.55) is published by Viking and available from all good bookshops.
I live in Walthamstow, east London, with my partner and our baby daughter. Walthamstow is massive, with several different neighbourhoods. I live in the part where there are lots of factories, warehouses, studios, and very few shops, but we have the beautiful Walthamstow Wetlands and Tottenham Marshes nearby. I love Walthamstow. It’s the friendliest, most diverse place I’ve ever lived. Every time I leave the house, I hear someone speaking Brazilian Portuguese or run into someone I know, so I feel right at home. I spend most of my days marching around with a buggy, drinking too much coffee and trying to read while my baby sleeps.
I was born in Rio de Janeiro and lived there for the first four years of my life, before my parents decided to give London a go for a few years – but we ended up staying for good. Apart from university in Leeds, I’ve been in London ever since. I spent my childhood in north-west London, mostly in Golders Green. It was wonderful to grow up near Hampstead Heath, one of my favourite places in the world. It’s green and wild, an escape from the increasingly polluted city. I have so many memories of the Heath, from childhood onwards. It appears a lot in my new novel.
I grew up visiting Rio every year, but since my grandmother died, I’m not going as frequently. If Rio weren’t so far away, I would go at least twice a year. I miss it very much. It’s the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to, despite all its troubles.
On early reading
I was absolutely crazy for Roald Dahl and re-read his books many times, especially Matilda and The BFG. Later I found out he was a rabid anti-semite, which broke my heart! I also adored Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I’m looking forward to Greta Gerwig’s new adaptation, though Winona Ryder will always be Jo March to me. I loved the 1994 film. Jo was everything I wanted to be.
I have a desk in the corner of the living room, which is overcrowded with toys, books, plants, a pram, a TV, etc. Above my desk hangs a signed print by the cartoonist Adrian Tomine, which I bought after I got my first book deal. It’s of a naked woman lying face-down in bed with the air conditioning on. I like to look at it and pretend I’m somewhere hot. But I do my best work at the British Library. I can really focus there, and the hours pass quickly. The only danger of the BL is that I often run into people I know and end up socialising too much.
On independent bookshops
The one thing we really need in Walthamstow is an independent bookshop. I hope someone will open one soon! I love Burley Fisher in Dalston – it’s a lovely space and they do great events. I recently discovered Phlox in Leyton which is small and beautiful, with a great selection.
On her “To Be Read” pile
Right now I’m really looking forward to reading Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Starling Days, because I loved her first novel, Harmless Like You. I’m also excited to read Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. Her last novel, Mr Loverman, was so funny and special. Also on my pile is Sarah Knott’s Mother: An Unconventional History. At the moment I’m reading lots of books about motherhood, both fiction and non-fiction, because I’m still coming to grips with my new existence.
There are few places I love as much as the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath. I’ve been going since I was a teenager, but only in the summer. I’m Brazilian, after all; I don’t like to be too cold. The water always rejuvenates me. I only go a handful of times per year, so it still feels special every time – like a little holiday. The only place I love more is Ipanema beach.
On Everything You Ever Wanted
Around 2013 I decided that I wanted to write a novel about depression, perhaps because it wasn’t ruling my life any more. I knew it would be a challenge because depression can be so tedious. I parked the idea for a while because I was still writing my first novel. In 2014 I listened to an episode of the podcast Love + Radio called Hostile Planet, about a young woman who wants to take part in the Mars One mission, which would involve leaving Earth for ever and living on Mars. It seemed like a sort of suicide – to permanently remove yourself from your own life. There and then, I had my idea. I began with a chapter in which the protagonist, Iris, starts listing all the things she misses about Earth.
I had a lot of fun writing this book. I was working full-time when I started it, so it was a great escape – running off to another planet every evening. I never imagined I’d be able to write a sci-fi novel, perhaps because my literary education was very focused on realism, but then I realised I could write whatever the hell I wanted.
On social media
There are lots of good things about social media. It has given a voice to disenfranchised people – a platform where they can speak truth to power and share their thoughts with a global audience. And I’ve made lots of connections with other writers and artists on social media. However, it’s very addictive and has a tendency to take people out of their lives. We’re all performing online, but digital personas are becoming alarmingly sophisticated and well-crafted, as if everyone’s on a constant PR campaign. It’s the addiction to approval that worries me. We’re trained from an early age to seek the approval of others, so it seems to be a heightening of that.
On what’s next
I’m hoping to start writing a new novel at some point, but right now I’m spending most of my time looking after my baby and promoting Everything You Ever Wanted – but the third book is always there, at the back of my mind, slowly building.
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