We asked Hannah about her sister Camilla, the themes of grief and love and how her creativity from an early age helped her write this stunning debut.
Describe When Things Are Alive They Hum in just a few sentences.
HB: When Things Are Alive They Hum is a story about two sisters Harper and Marlowe. Harper lives with Down syndrome and when it is discovered that she needs a life - saving heart transplant but is denied one by the medical establishment because of her disability, Marlowe takes her on a journey in search of a heart. In so doing, she must answer the question of how far she will go to save her sister.
This book is a love letter to your older sister Camilla. Can you tell us why she is your inspiration?
HB: Camilla lives with Down syndrome. Growing up we were very close. She was always a charismatic presence in my life, a great performer, vivacious and full of life and soul. When she was sixteen she contracted encephalitis. Overnight, I felt I lost the sister I knew. This novel, has been a deep exploration of my grief and love for Camilla and everything that she has taught me.
You explore some big themes in the novel – grief, love and all that is between. How did you balance the emotion through the novel?
HB: This novel has come from a very personal place. It took me over ten years to complete and during that time I went through my own grieving process. This long gestation period allowed me to explore grief and love deeply.
The cover is gorgeous! How did butterflies work their way into the story?
HB: Thank you! I was very fortunate to have Alissa Dinallo design the wonderful cover. I write in a very intuitive way and never plan my work. Although butterflies have always fascinated me, I did not set out to include them in the novel. They appeared much in the same way as the other characters did on the page. Once I noticed them as a meaningful presence, I decided to research further. I spent a great deal of time with Robert Blackburn – an entomologist studying at The University of Sydney. My love for the natural world grew immensely during this time.
Photo of Hannah Bent
You have a creative background in fine art, screenwriting and directing. What made you explore writing a novel and how did your creativity in these areas help you?
HB: From a young age I have always written stories and plays, particularly for my sister to act in. My background in the visual arts has influenced me immensely. I think and create in a very visual way. Whenever I need inspiration I often draw from visual art forms such as cinema, photography and painting. They are like keys that unlock parts of my imagination and fuel my passion for storytelling.
What are some books that you have read recently and loved?
HB: I always keep a copy of the play Angels in America by Tony Kushner by my bed. I often re-read Grief is a Thing With Feathers by Max Porter and Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter. Some books I have recently loved are: Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet and Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar. I have just started Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous.
Pre-order your copy of When Things Are Alive They Hum by Hannah Bent - out 28 July 2021.