London-based illustrator and children’s book author Lizzy Stewart’s graphic novel debut ‘It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be’ (Fantagraphics) is a poignant coming-of-age story which follows several young women on their paths to adulthood. In a series of interconnected vignettes, the book explores the circuitous paths lives can take and the changes in perspective gained along the way. Drawn in a variety of different styles, from watercolor to colored pencil to pen and ink, the style of this book echoes the evolution of the characters within.
A young girl imagines a grand future for herself, far from the drab British suburbs. Two friends, once inseparable, find their connection gradually slipping away. Three women discuss how life in the big city makes them feel seen — or invisible. Lizzy focuses on ordinary, slice-of-life moments and charges these scenes with a quiet intensity. Through keen observation and an ear for naturalistic dialogue, she reveals the complex natures of her characters, from their confidence to their insecurities, as they experience the joys and pains of growing up.
We had the opportunity to interview the author herself and learn more about the book, her writing process, and what she hopes readers will take away from the stories in this collection.
How did the idea for this graphic novel first come about?
It’s actually a collection of stories that I’ve written, at intervals, over the space of five years. So it isn’t really a single narrative nor was it ever really envisaged as being one book. They were all self published as little comics. A fantagraphics editor approached me a few years ago about collating them into a book and here we are!
What was the process of writing the stories? And did you draw on any real life stories?
I guess I drew on real-life feelings but not real-life events? Which, I assume, is what most writers are doing. There definitely seems to be a temptation to assume that fiction must be based, directly, on truth. The reality is more muddled than that. There are all these threads that you take from all over the place- that specific feeling plus that setting that you drove through once plus someone who behaves a bit like that person you know smushed with that other person you know. I could pick out every single thread and asses the level of truth that exists within it but when its all mixed together it becomes fiction. Does that makes sense? So nothing in this book has happened (with the exception of the very short story ‘Blush’ which is all 100% true).
We’ve typically been saturated with so many male gaze coming-of-age stories. Why do you think it is important to see more from the female perspective in our culture?
I think, yes, that was the case up until the nineties or early noughts, certainly in pop culture. Certainly the books and films I grew up on were all filtered through a male-gaze in a way that reads as quite shocking and inappropriate now!
Increasingly, however, there’s actually quite a lot of coming-of-age stories centre-ing women, usually white women. Maybe they don’t yet match the sheer quantity of male stories from the twentieth century but white women are pretty well represented at present (and that includes my own book). It’d be nice if that broadened out a little (or ideally a lot) further, we need more queers coming of age stories, more trans stories, more from non-able bodied writers, more stories from diverse ethnic backgrounds, more from countries outside of ‘the west’. It’s important to have stories from women in as much as it’s important to have stories from anyone we haven’t heard much from. It broadens understanding, it raises empathy and on a basic level it’s nice to get outside of your own head.
Can you share more about the meaning behind the title?
’It’s not what you thought it’d be’ is kind of applicable to most things, in my experience. Whether you choose to apply that to growing up, or being a young woman, or living in a city, or getting a job or just life as a whole. Most things don’t end up being quite what you pictured and that’s okay.
Without realizing I had written a series of stories about people who’s expectations don’t really match up to their experiences. It wasn’t a conscious theme but it’s clearly something that was on my mind when writing them (which makes sense as I was in my mid-late twenties to very early thirties which is peak time for unmet expectations!). One of the stories was called ‘it’s not what you thought would be’ and it made sense as the title for the whole collection. It’s definitely a good fit for the book but a very bad decision in terms of it being something I have to say/write over and over again!
What do you hope readers, especially young female readers, will take away from ‘It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be’?
I keep getting asked this question and I don’t really know how to answer it! I think the minute you release a book or any creative project into the world your role in it is sort of done. I have to let it go and let people get whatever they want out of it.
That’s my totally zen answer, anyway! Obviously its very hard to let something go entirely. So, I’d like people to get some enjoyment from it. But I’d also hope that there’s maybe some reassurance that feeling muddled and getting things wrong is OK? I think that applies to everyone, not just young women.
‘It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be’ is available for purchase now, by clicking HERE.