Read a Q&A with Hannah Bent | When Things Are Alive They Hum

by |July 28, 2021
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Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hannah Bent completed her Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art and Film from Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design in London. She undertook further study in both directing and screenwriting at the Australian Film Television and Radio School and has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney. She was the 2013 recipient of the Ray Koppe Young Writers Award for her novel as a work in progress.

Today, Hannah Bent is on the blog to answer a few of our questions about her debut novel, When Things Are Alive They Hum. Read on …

Hannah Bent

Hannah Bent

Please tell us about your book, When Things are Alive They Hum!

HB: When Things are Alive They Hum is a story about two sisters Harper and Marlowe who share a deep bond shaped by the loss of their mother in early childhood. Harper lives with Down syndrome and a congenital heart disorder. When she discovers she needs a heart transplant but is denied one because of her disability, Marlowe takes her on a journey in search of a heart. In so doing she must face the question of how far she will go to save her sister.

Can you share some of your inspiration for this book? Why was it important to you to write it?

HB: The inspiration for this novel came from my relationship with my sister, Camilla. Camilla lives with Down syndrome and has an otherworldly quality to her that I always found captivating. When she was a teenager she contracted encephalitis. She became incredibly sick and lost her ability to walk and talk. Overnight she went from being a vivacious person and a wonderful performer to someone I no longer recognised. I realised a few years into writing this novel that I was on some level exploring the grief I had for the sister I knew before she became ill. In many ways this novel was important to me as a deep exploration of love, grief and also hope – something which I feel is important for the times in which we are now living.

What appeals to you when it comes to writing about a deep sisterly bond like the one between Marlowe and Harper?

HB: I think deep bonds, especially those between siblings, often encompass universal themes that can apply to us all. Additionally, growing up, I felt it was hard to find literature that spoke to themes related to being a sibling to someone who lives with a disability. What I could find seemed to depict a very stereotypical relationship, when actually I felt this is a much more nuanced experience and differs immensely from person to person – as any sibling relationship would.

You won the Ray Koppe Young Writers Award back in 2013 (congratulations!). How much did this help you when it came to writing When Things are Alive They Hum?

HB: It was such a privilege to win this award. I found that it connected me with other writers and gave me the confidence to continue to write. It was also wonderful to have a two-week stay at Varuna, The Writers’ House. It was invaluable to have the time and such a peaceful place to write. I also made connections with other writers, which I cherish.

‘I think deep bonds, especially those between siblings, often encompass universal themes that can apply to us all.’

You have a background in screenwriting and film. Do you find novel writing to be a very different process, creatively speaking?

HB: Yes! At one point I was writing the novel and screenplay at the same time. I had to stop and work on each one separately. They are such distinct art forms. For example, in a script, actions and dialogue are paramount and the main way to access a character, but a novel relies more on description and internal dialogue. When writing a script, I am also thinking of the other aspects of filmmaking and the filmmakers/actors that will play a major part in the finished product; i.e. how much information to give them and when to be respectful of their input and pull back. The process of scriptwriting is not as solitary as novel writing in this respect.

What is the last book you read and loved?

HB: I just finished Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I loved this book and was particularly drawn to the character of Agnes. I loved how she related to the earth and saw space and time in the novel. I am now reading Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar and so far loving this too.

Who did you write this book for? Who do you wish would read it?

HB: Essentially, I wrote this novel as a love letter for my sister Camilla. I hope this book attracts a diverse readership of many ages and backgrounds.

What do you hope readers will discover in When Things are Alive They Hum?

HB: I hope this novel will move readers and speak to their own unique experiences. I also hope they will find it uplifting and that readers will be able to hear ‘the hum’.

And finally, what’s up next for you?

HB: I am working on my second novel, which is about a mother–daughter relationship. I have also nearly finished a work of non-fiction that explores my journey with endometriosis.

Thanks Hannah!

When Things Are Alive They Hum by Hannah Bent (Ultimo Press) is out now.

When Things Are Alive They Humby Hannah Bent

When Things Are Alive They Hum

Limited Signed Copies Available!

by Hannah Bent

Marlowe and Harper share a bond deeper than most sisters, shaped by the loss of their mother in childhood. For Harper, living with what she calls the Up syndrome and gifted with an endless capacity for wonder, Marlowe and she are connected by an invisible thread, like the hum that connects all things. For Marlowe, they are bound by her fierce determination to keep Harper, born with a congenital heart disorder, alive.

Now twenty-five, Marlowe is finally living her own life abroad, pursuing her studies of a rare species of butterfly...

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