What Ends: An Interview with Andrew Ladd
Not to toot my own horn, but I have some pretty incredible and talented friends. One of them just published his first novel, What Ends, after winning the AWP Prize in the Novel. So yeah, you could say Andrew Ladd is kind of a big deal. But besides being a spectacular writer, Andrew is a great editor–not only does he edit the Ploughshares blog, which has grown in leaps and bounds since he took over, but he’s edited more than his fair share of my own work, having been a member of my writing group in New York.
Although I’ve never had the privilege of traveling to Scotland, I can tell that What Ends perfectly captures the essence of life on a tiny island in the Hebrides. For the McCloud family, the island has been their home and livelihood all their lives. They run an inn and pub that’s considered the center of island life, both during the height of tourist season and during the winter, when the locals spend lonely winter evenings telling stories in the pub. What Ends follows the McCloud family as they are left as the island’s sole year-round inhabitants, all of their friends and neighbors eventually disappearing to the mainland. There’s George, the earnest innkeeper who adores crosswords; his wife Maureen, a morose woman obsessed with filling freezers full of meals; and their three children–Barry, Flora, and Trevor. The novel navigates the difficult waters of the intimate relationships of a family trapped together, forced to confront both themselves and their environment as the world moves on around them. It’s sad, yes, but it’s also a reminder of how even daily routines can be astoundingly beautiful.
Andrew was good enough to answer some questions about the novel, publication, and expectations.
L&B: Though you’re originally from Scotland, your experience was much different than those of the McCloud family and the other island residents. What do you think was the major difference between growing up in mainland Scotland versus a tiny island? What was your favorite part about growing up in Scotland?
L&B: One thing I couldn’t quite figure out about the story was why Michael wanted to stay on the island when everyone else was leaving. What did you see as his motivations?
AL: This was actually a question a lot of readers had in the early drafts, and it was a tough one to address because to me it never seemed that remarkable — especially after moving to New York, there were plenty of times when I would fantasize about moving to the middle of nowhere with nobody else around. And there are, in fact, lots of other people who *do* want to move from their city lives to these small declining islands. Canna, on which the island in my book is roughly based, had a public competition a few years ago to attract new residents, and they had 350 applicants — there’s a super interesting article about it here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
Of course, I appreciate that me saying “but people actually feel this way” doesn’t automatically translate to clear motivations in a fictional character. But for me it really didn’t seem like a stretch that Michael, who works one of those grueling finance jobs in London, would just kind of snap one day and fall in love with this tiny remote place where he can potter around and do what he likes most of the time.
L&B:You mentioned at the event at McNally Jackson that you felt pressure to portray Scotland faithfully, and feared you’d be labeled an impostor if you didn’t get everything exactly right. Now that the novel has been out for a little while, do you feel better about that? Have you gotten any negative feedback from Scottish natives?
L&B:Speaking of negative feedback, writers have to develop some pretty thick skin to deal with the amount of rejection and criticism they get. Have you experienced any bad reviews yet? What’s been your favorite feedback?
I haven’t had any bad reviews yet, though a couple of the agents I pitched it to pulled no punches when they rejected it. You’re not kidding about that thick skin.
L&B:This is your first novel. What’s been the most surprising thing so far about being a published novelist?
That said, when I moved to New York I almost immediately started working on a short story collection, and that was the first time I had really enjoyed writing short stories. Until then they were always these things that I kind of reluctantly tiptoed around, because I knew I had to write them if I wanted to get published in lit journals, but I didn’t really feel like I got them or was very good at them. It was a real slog.
L&B: Similarly, does what you’re reading impact what you’re writing?
Other than that, though, I wouldn’t say there’s much other conscious connection between what I’m reading and what I’m writing, other than that I obviously read and write about things that interest me — so there’s inevitably some overlap. Hopefully that will keep being interesting to other people, too!