- Words Charlie Brogan
- Photography Shawn Butcher
- Photo assistant Max Cornwall
- Make up and Grooming Kerry White
- Styling and Production Charlie Brogan
- Location Notion Studios
We spoke to Liv Little about her debut novel Rosewater, writing a coming-of-age character and what it means to live before you tell the tale.
Liv Little’s career is as iconic as her debut novel is set to be. The founder of Gal-Dem, award-winning writer, and now novelist, is always doing big things. Rosewater, Liv’s highly anticipated debut, follows 28-year-old poet Elsie discovering love and community amidst the chaos of complex family history, eviction and unemployment, turning to her childhood friend for solace.
You’ve probably seen the soon-to-be iconic Rosewater cover gracing your timeline. A shaven head is set against a satisfying ombre backdrop. It’s stylish, unique, and beautiful, just like the tale within the pages readers have been waiting for – a queer love story that isn’t just hot and real but heartbreaking and tender too. The early reviews ahead of Rosewater’s release are right: you will laugh, feel horny, and cry. It’s the kind of effect debut novelists dream of.
Hey Liv, firstly, how does it feel to have your debut book out in the world?
It feels really emotional actually. This week is a year since my dad died, so there are all of those feelings coming up, but there’s also this feeling of intense excitement that I’m going to be releasing a piece of work I’m proud of. It’s me in a book, well not me in a book, but in terms of my heart and how I see the world. I hope people will read it and it will touch their hearts somehow. I’m someone who leads with my heart in the work and writing that I do, so I’m really excited, it feels really good.
Writing a novel just seems like such an amazing feat…
It’s a huge accomplishment. I’m getting a bit more comfortable with being like ‘I did that in one of the most challenging years of my life personally’, for me that’s a testament to the healing powers and transformative nature of storytelling. It’s so expansive – the world and the characters you create – the freedom and fun that comes with that. So as much as it’s a big job, and it can be hard, it’s also really fun, and to be able to write, for that to be a career, is not something everyone gets to do.
You cover so much, in the book, including themes like queerness and sex work, mental health, and community. I think it’ll provide a sense of comfort for people that read it. What did you have in mind that you wanted to provide for your readers while writing?
It’s a love letter to community, family, friends, romance, and the people that mean a lot to us. But it’s also about the challenges and the things that might block us from showing up to love. What happens when life gets in the way, and when we can’t see all those things in front of us? I think we all go through moments in life when it can be hard to see the light.
But it’s also really joyous and funny and Elsie’s charming. You need all of those sides of light and dark I think to come through, because that is just life and her life is big, messy and complicated, that’s what it is to be human.
I love that it’s a coming of age in someone’s late twenties, showing how things aren’t really tied up in a neat little bow as people assume it might be…
There’s something about, like you say, the assumption that you should have it all together because you’re at a certain point in your life. And actually, here is a character that’s been through real things in her life, it’s not theoretical or hypothetical. Elsie’s someone that’s had to be responsible from a young age. She’s had caring responsibilities with siblings and she’s had to be very self-sufficient. At what point does she just get to live and experience life? Those are all things that are very real, and even though we’re not the same, as a writer, you draw on some of the feelings you experience in your life.
I feel like writing authentic, hot sex is famously hard. You see it done so badly, but you’ve straddled the line between scenes not being overwritten, and never being just merely suggestive. It’s real and sexy…
I don’t know when I even decided to write sex, but it was obviously going to be part of it. Elsie uses sex in different ways, and there are lots of variations depending on who she’s having it with. I was really trying to channel the power dynamics and the ways that it happens: the confidence and the nervousness. Is she in control? When does that flip and who does it flip with? These are fun things to explore, and it was fun to write.
Sex is a part of life, it’s a part of Elsie’s life and how she shows her strength and power in many ways, it’s something that she’s good at, so it’s a space that feels comfortable for her. It’s messy and it can be awkward, it’s not all perfect and put together and it’s not all super romantic.
I could so easily go for a wine with Elsie, she’s so fleshed out as a character. Did you learn anything on your journey of writing her?
I think one of the things that being in a relationship has taught me, especially being in a relationship with another Black woman, is that it can be very illuminating, like holding up a mirror to all of the uncomfortable and beautiful parts of yourself. It’s really forced me to grow as a human being. I think there’s some of that energy in this book, like how are the characters mirroring or learning from each other? I think they all hold up a mirror to each other in many ways, and that’s how life and relationships work.
How did you come to the decision of making Elsie a poet? And what was it like working with the poet Kai-Isaiah Jamal to make the book?
Elsie is painfully cool and smart. In terms of creating the work, it was really natural and easy. When I envisioned Elsie’s tone of voice, I completely envisioned Kai. I knew what I wanted the poems to say, and what they’d be about, but I knew they would be the one to take it to that place. Really being able to capture the essence of what I was trying to get across with each of them was so special.
What is your writing process like? And how was your process when writing the book?
It’s a mixture. When getting into the meat of the project I had five days away, and I wrote a chunk of it there. It was about getting the character and the start of the story down on the page, and then you’re juggling everything else. The writing process is a mixed bag. I needed to have the discipline to get it done. But I had all of this stuff inside of me that I just wanted to say, so it was ready to come out.
Had I been in my early twenties and not lived so much, I think the depth I would’ve been able to draw on wouldn’t touch people in the same way. That’s one of the things about fiction, it takes time.
This is just the first piece of fiction. I’ve written short stories before, but this is my first novel, and there’ll be so many more to come. I’m sure I’ll continue to evolve with each piece of work and I think that’s incredibly exciting. We don’t stay the same version of ourselves forever. And how boring would it be if we did? I don’t want to do the same thing forever. I want to really live in the world.
Rosewater is out now via Dialogue Books.