Charlotte Lobb was born and raised on a lifestyle block just out of Hamilton, in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Charlotte completed a Bachelor in Speech and Language Therapy (Hons) at the University of Canterbury. She now lives in Tauranga, in the sunny Bay of Plenty, with her husband, two children and their fluffy cat. Along with her passion for words, Charlotte has a desire to bring mental health topics out into the open, and to provide hope for those in need. Charlotte talks to NZ Booklovers about her debut novel.
Tell us a little about Hannah & Huia.
You first encounter Hannah on a mental health unit following the death of her husband and baby son. All Hannah can focus on is the unbearable present…until she meets Huia, a long-term resident on the ward who lives entirely in her own inner world.
Huia sits in the far right-hand corner. She picks and rubs at her left wrist, never her right, and she speaks in strange sequences of three unrelated mutterings: “Sunscreen, helipad, cuddly koala. Catapult, pōwhiri, snakebite…” No one knows what any of it means, especially not the enigmatic words, “Sun, rain, bye-bye.”
Drawn out of her own misery, Hannah slowly interprets the meaning of some of Huia’s seemingly random words and begins to piece together the story of Huia’s heartbreaking past. Although Hannah & Huia deals with some emotional topics, it’s ultimately a story about hope, friendship and love, all intertwined with perfectly judged humour.
What inspired you to write this book?
For a long time, I’ve held unwarranted shame about my own journey with mental illness and time on mental health units. I’ve kept it secretive—some who know me may read it here for the very first time—because I feared rejection, judgement, and societies unjust stigma. I wrote Hannah & Huia with a hope of trying to normalise and demystify the experiences of those in the mental health system.
No one should ever be made to feel invisible or alone in their struggles, and the story of Hannah & Huia shows that it only takes one person to reach out and change someone else’s life for the better. It also reminds us that everyone has a story behind who they are, and if we learn to understand that story, maybe as a society we’ll learn to be more accepting and supportive of those around us.
If the story of Hannah & Huia impacts just one person, then it’s done its job. But if it opens up conversations around mental health units, trauma, PTSD, depression, and any number of other needed to be talked about topics, then putting a little of my own painful journey into its pages has been the best decision I could have ever made.
What research was involved?
A lot of what went into the story, I drew from personal experience. For Huia’s story, I researched pertinent topics that related to the experiences of a Māori girl living within the sixties.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
I started writing Hannah & Huia 10 years ago when my son/youngest was just a baby. It took six years to complete, mostly when both children were sleeping. Some weeks I’d write/type every evening, other times I could go months without writing a single word. Six years is a long time to live with the same characters floating around your head, but writing has always given me a sense of escape. Most of it was written from a desk in hubby’s office. Some was jotted in notebooks while on family bush walks. A few chapters were actually written during my last admission in a mental health unit.
The whole story began with three words that popped into my head in the middle of the night: “Sun, rain, bye-bye”. I had no clue what the words meant until well into writing the book. I’m not a planner, so I just let the characters and words guide the direction of the story.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
The first song that comes to mind is ‘Rescue’ by Lauren Daigle, which was actually sent to me by a friend during a pretty rough relapse with PTSD. A second song would be ‘Angel’ by Sarah McLachlan. There’d also be some upbeat songs like Pitbull’s ‘Timber’, especially to fit with Tyler’s personality (a minor but crucial character).
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
Hmm, this is a good question. I think I’d definitely have to stick with New Zealand talent. I’m thinking Tanea Heke (who played Mata in the movie ‘Cousins’) for the role of Huia, and maybe Anna Paquin or some fresh-faced talent for Hannah’s role.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
It’s so long ago now, but if my kids had had a say in it, it would have been something like takeaways followed by triple-scoop ice creams!
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
Oh, there’s been so many it’s hard to choose. I’m currently two-thirds of my way through Anne Tiernan’s The Last Days of Joy. Similar to Hannah & Huia, it brings up some powerful topics around mental illness, family, and friendships. I’m also really looking forward to reading Josie Shapiro’s Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts which is next up on my ever-growing reading pile.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I’ve already completed manuscript #2 which, although a little different from Hannah & Huia. I hope a publisher might one day be interested in. It’s about a young boy with autism who gets kidnapped, and his mother’s journey to find him again. I’ve also made a start on project #3, which again has a focus on mental illness but incorporates a story of love, friendship, and self-acceptance.
Quentin Wilson Publishing