Shannon Olson, author of Welcome to My Planet, has taught creative writing and literature at the University of Minnesota.
How does it feel to be a published
About Shannon Olson
An Interview with Shannon Olson
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Really disarming. Writing is such a private activity,
you're on your own for such a long time every day. So for the past
years I've just been at home, wearing pyjamas and listening to the Girl
from Ipanima and Miles Davies and writing away. Then suddenly you're
in the open and you do feel a bit exposed. I think I'd never realized
how shy I am. I mean, with my friends and family I'm not really, but
when you're talking to strangers you suddenly realize that you're quite
a private person.
And I guess that must
be even more so as your book
at least appears to be so
autobiographical. Do people find it difficult
to separate the Shannon in the book from you the real
People who are writers themselves instantly get that
Shannon in the book isn't me. But for other people it can be harder.
can't really understand that you create composite characters and
and as well as drawing on my own experiences I've also used my friends'
stories and things. But the emotions at the heart of the book are all
me. I've had women tell me that it feels like Shannon is their new best
friend, which is just so nice.
not just you. Your mum really is called Flo,
like the mum in the book.
Is she okay with that?
Well, the main thing is that my mum is
really proud. And the Garrison Keillor quote where he says
one of the greatest mothers in American literature just made everything
fine. After that, she can't really complain! And, you know, her friends
have read the book and they just say she IS Flo, but also that they
so much of themselves in the book, too. So I guess Flo in the book is
really this archetypal mother. But they also recognize themselves at
I've had women of 70 say they see themselves in Shannon, which is
In the book, Shannon has this sort of
'grown up' life
which gradually she sheds and ends up moving back to
live with her mum.
Did you do that in real life, too?
Yes. I'm from this
generation when doing that was
really quite common. The American
economy is really strong at the moment,
so college graduates are walking into these great jobs, but when I left
university it wasn't like that. You had graduates who couldn't even get
the sort of jobs they'd had in their vacations. So quite a lot of
ended up moving back home. And I guess no one really wants to be a
up - until you go back to the life you had as a child again and realize
that maybe independence and standing on your own feet isn't so bad and
maybe you don't want to be mothered to within an inch of your life
You say that writing the book was
almost like a therapy,
a way of working through your twenties. Do you
think, as you knew your
mother would read it, it was also a way to tell her how you feel about
Well, I've always talked to my mum about
We're really close. Most people do their rebellion thing
at 13, but I
never really did - we just had this relationship where she knew
about me. So in a way the book was a way of working towards
and learning what to filter out from the things that people tell you.
At the end of the book, Shannon comes away with this lesson of not
her mum everything and I think that's true for me, too. So I don't
anything in the book came as a surprise to her, but, yes, I guess it
a nice thing.
But to your therapist, you
can still tell everything?
I suppose what you get from your
therapist is the
objective view. It's great because you can just get
everything out and
there isn't the same emotional involvement. There's this bit in the
where Shannon accuses her therapist of sounding just like her mother,
and the therapist is like 'and ...?' So I suppose it is a bit of an
of the mother-daughter relationship too.
Has your therapist read the book?
Yes - and
she's said things like 'I never said that!'
But the thing is that the
therapist in the book really becomes a sort
of inner voice for Shannon - like her alter ego. So by the end she's
things through for herself, and the therapy sessions are her commentary
on her life.
So, echoes of the Tracey
Ullman character in Ally
Well, she's never
given me a theme tune or
But you have
the Girl from Ipanema
Yes, but she's never sung to me -
she does just really go for me in that way. I love
that therapist character,
I think that one of the most
moving things about
the book is its honesty. Books like Bridget Jones
do strike a chord, but
at the end of the day it's written as a comic novel and you can keep
distance from it. Welcome to my Planet is witty and entertaining, but
when you put it down at the end it stays with you and I think that's
of the truth in it.
Yes, although even when I was
reading Bridget Jones,
I'm one of those people who looked at Helen
Fielding's photo on the jacket
and then imagined Helen Fielding running around doing all those things.
So is the book jacket image the same sort
Yes - I think of her as the
great. And you know, her t-shirt is the same
shape as a map of Minnesotta.
Juliet (my UK editor) says I'm really over-estimating the Brit
of American geography, but I love it! And I love the dog,
But no picture of the Kayaking guy ...?
No. In fact, the Kayaking guy wasn't in the original
manuscript but then my US editor said 'we need some romance' - and so
there he was.
And have you had guys
coming up to you now and going
'hey, I can Kayak, you
Yes, actually! I went out for a meal with this guy
and he got a bit drunk after a couple of margueritas and started saying,
I could come to London with you, I can Kayak, and all this stuff. And
I've had letters from people ...
he's out there!
I hope so! I think there's a part of me that
if you dream it, then they will come true.
So maybe one day you'll find a parking space for your
I think the thing with being an adult is that you
don't really get to park - you just have to keep moving. But, actually,
I do have a really great scooter parking space now!
And will Shannon be back, so we can find out if her
dreams come true?
Find Books by Shannon Olson
Yes - definitely!
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