Gytha Lodge won the 2009 Geoffrey Whitworth Award for best UK play and set up her own theatre company and began to tour productions. Her one-act play Otherwise won a Fringe award in 2010 for best new play and was selected for Leicester Square Theatre’s Best of the Fringe run.
After beginning the UEA Creative Writing MA in 2011, Gytha began writing for screen and in prose. She was shortlisted for the Yeovil Literary Prize and the Arts Council England fiction awards, and developed a very large online following for her young adult and children’s writing, with over a million reads on platform Wattpad. Her first novel, thriller She Lies in Wait, was published in March.
1. Who were your literary influences and heroes as you were growing up?
I was really lucky to grow up in a house that was stuffed full of different books. My mother has always loved traditional mystery stories, with Agatha Christie featuring strongly. I immersed myself in those and then became obsessed with Dorothy L. Sayers at a slightly older age. But I also developed a love of science fiction, and spent months reading nothing but Larry Niven and Robert Heinlein, before becoming an Iain M Banks-obsessed teenager.
Woven into all this was a love of fantasy, in particular of Tolkien. I didn’t really get into “children’s” books until I hit 17, which I think is because the grown-up world was a bit too scary for me right then, and fantasy was a great way to escape.
2. Your path towards being published was not a traditional one. You started as a playwright?
I’ve always wanted to write, and in fact wrote a (truly awful) novel at 14, which I then sent off to the head of Transworld (who was wonderfully kind about telling me it wasn’t quite there!). But having spent a huge amount of time on the stage as a teenager, I fell into writing plays, which became pretty much my full-time job for seven years. I wrote and toured plays, eleven of them in total, to London, Edinburgh Fringe, etc.
It was fantastic, and I learned huge amounts through all the feedback. In theatre, EVERYONE has an opinion, it emerged. Your actors, your audience, your critics in the papers, the lighting guy, the stage manager… and on top of that, getting to hear your words and see your stories tells you a lot. But underneath it all, I still wanted to write novels, so I came back to that passion in the end.
3. Can you tell us a little about She Lies in Wait?
She Lies in Wait is the story of seven teenagers who went camping back in 1983. When they woke up in the morning, one of the girls was missing. At the opening of the book, her remains are found, some thirty years later, in a place only those teenagers knew about.
It’s up to Jonah Sheens, who was once at school with them and who is now a DCI, to unpick thirty years of lies and find out what really happened that night.
4. Will Jonah Sheens be returning in future?
Yes! I loved writing him in the first book, and he returns again next year in Watching from the Dark. His team returns along with him, and it’s been such a pleasure to delve more into their stories.
5. What is on your ‘to read’ pile at the moment?
It’s fairly intimidating in a great way. There are so many things I want to read. I’ve just begun Scrublands, by Chris Hammer, and it’s WONDERFUL. Beautifully and compellingly written. I am also dying to start Bridge of Clay, by Markus Zusak (The Book Thief is probably my all-time favourite book).
6. Has a book ever changed your life or made you think differently?
I think there are too many to count. I feel like I’m made up of all the life experiences of the characters in books, as well as my own.
I remember being profoundly affected as a teenager by Jane Eyre, as I think a lot of people are. There suddenly seemed to be value in being the plain one, instead of the beauty, and it was incredibly appealing. Though in later life, I’ve certainly come to question the nature of Mr. Rochester’s relationship with Jane…
7. Do you have a message for your readers in Suffolk libraries?
Perhaps I have one more for those who want to write. I’d like to say to everyone out there who wants to make a career from writing to just keep on going. I’ve spent twenty years trying to reach this point, with a long way still to go, and I’ve failed a lot on the way (failing to get agents, failing to get a first book sold to publishers…) and it’s actually ok once you’ve picked yourself back up and slogged onwards. Just don’t stop writing.
8. Can you tell us one thing your readers may not know about you?
I have a few shameful addictions to tea, cryptic crosswords, and anything that’s been dipped in yoghurt. I would probably eat pretty much anything if you yoghurt-coated it (though I’d appreciate people not testing this theory to its limits).
Contrastingly, I hate it when bakers put flour on top of rolls. It’s an almost pathological problem.