FWF Q&A: Leanne Hall

Leanne Hall is an award winning author of young adult and children’s fiction. The Gaps is a moving examination of vulnerability and strength, safety and danger, and the particular uncertainties young women face in the world.

What does feminism mean to you?

My own feminism feels like an ill-defined low level of rage that follows me around, and isn’t something that I’m able to be articulate about very often! Feminism to me is about understanding what binds me together with other women, and what sets us apart from each other. Intersectionality and understanding complex layers of power and privilege is what matters to me most. I feel a great responsibility to understand other people’s experiences and how they differ from mine, or perhaps it’s just a writer’s natural curiosity – always wanting to get inside other perspectives.

This is a really political work. How did you come about writing about it – from the ‘need’ to address this issue, to actual research and even self-care?

It didn’t feel like I was writing a political book; it just felt very personal. It came from anger and disbelief that violence against women continues, year after year, without ever being eradicated or reduced in any meaningful way. I started writing The Gaps seven years ago, after a young woman went missing from a street very close to my house. I didn’t leave my house for three days, and wondered why I was feeling so scared. I had a lot of conversations with friends that went something along the lines of: that could have been me. It took me back to the fear I felt as a teenager, when a crime similar to the one depicted in The Gaps occurred close to me. I knew I couldn’t back away from exploring it, at the same time that I knew it had to be done with great caution, for myself and for others. It was a difficult book to write, I had to take my time, with lots of breaks from the project to work on other lighter things.

Overall The Gaps has a dark and ominous air about it, but there is also great levity – mostly from the teenage girls. How important was this to you for the storytelling and how did you capture the teen voice so well?

There’s a whole bunch of unruly teenagers living inside my head, apparently! I’m not quite sure how I do a teen voice, other than just channeling very vivid memories from my own teen years – not specific memories per se, more the emotional shadows cast. My characters do tend to start talking non-stop to me, after I’ve gotten through the difficult getting-to-know-you stage. I wanted the book to be balanced, to show how brave and strong teenage girls are, as well as vulnerable and fearful. I think difficult situations can throw up a kind of dark or desperate humour, or the mind turns to lighter things to protect itself, to take a break. I also happen to think teenage girls are amazing – they’re funny, smart, passionate, creative, principled – and they don’t always get credit for that. I wanted to depict girls in all their glory (and flaws), and not just as helpless victims.

Could you share some feminist recommendations; which authors, books, podcasts, social media, are you reading, listening to and/or following right now?

I have been reading, listening to, watching and paying attention to a lot of women of colour. I adore Phoebe Robinson, discovering her through the podcast 2 Dope Queens, and now listening to her on Black Frasier – Black Frasier is like a social isolation fever dream, recorded at home with her partner. It’s extremely anarchic, some would say undisciplined, but that’s exactly what I like about it. Robinson is also a big book recommender on Instagram, which I appreciate.

I can’t stop thinking about Michaela Cole’s TV show I May Destroy You, which blew my mind for many reasons and was probably my favourite show of 2020. It’s outrageous that Cole is so talented, as an actor, director, writer, creator, and she’s so fearless in where she goes in her work.

And I’m in constant awe of artist and activist Charlotte Allingham (@coffinbirth on Instagram) for her stunning and powerful illustrations. I feel like these three women have something in common, an unapologetic taking up of space, and an unapologetic expression of their individuality. I’d like to be like that myself, one day. 

The Gaps is published by Text Publishing on March 02; headshot by Paul Philipson.

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