The story begins at Heathrow Airport. Lily arrives tearful and anxious, doing a bad job at putting on a brave face for the sake of her parents. Although overwhelmed and regretting the decisions she made that brought her here, she is determined to see her plans through and become the carefree and confident girl she wants to be.
Lily is embarking on a backpacking trip across South America. She is nineteen, travelling alone, and every bit a gringa girl. Her journal tells a story of love and heartbreak, failure and triumph, and all the bizarre, thrilling, humiliating and exhausting delights in between on the journey to finding herself, which is, of course, the ultimate goal of any Gap Year.
— Synopsis of Gringa Girl.
This week, one of our editors Nicole had the chance to virtually interview Cardiff University student and Quench contributor Lauren Dittmer, who completed her first novel, Gringa Girl, during lockdown. Gringa Girl is influenced by her own backpacking experiences in South America.
Had you ever started a novel before lockdown, or did the lockdown inspire you to begin a long-awaited project?
It was a few weeks into lockdown when I started writing the book. Having come home from Cardiff, I went to do a clear-out of my room and came across the journals I’d kept while backpacking in South America on my gap year in 2018. I hadn’t looked at them in two years. I wanted to read them back for fun but then got the idea to type them up to save a digital copy. After a few pages, I realised how well they could work in a novel. Being an author was never something I’d ever considered before, but the process came quite naturally. It took a few months but as I hadn’t been able to find any work in quarantine, it was a great way to occupy my time. I built on my own experiences and created a story I wanted to share. I got creative, reimagined scenarios, fit in new characters. I really enjoyed doing it. It’s pretty satirical, playing on the stereotype of the Gap Year Backpacker. I think it’s funny, too. Any part of it you find funny is definitely from an event that actually happened because I don’t think I’m a comedic writer. It’s really short, probably only just counts as a novel, because I wanted pace and frequent changes of scenery. It was also a chance for me to tap into a lot of the harder aspects of travelling and work with that. I think, despite the foreignness of the setting, it’s a relatable story, finding the strength to go it alone.
Gringa Girl is based on your experiences backpacking. How much of yourself do you see in the main character?
I didn’t write the main character with myself in mind, other than taking a similar route in South America and some shared experiences. I suppose Lily, the main character, is a shell of myself that I could fill with a made-up personality that would be interesting enough to read about. The name Lily is a tribute to my friend Lili, who is much more similar to the character than I am.
How are you finding the world of self-publishing during these uncertain times?
Self-publishing was hard, but only a little research taught me it would be my only option. The industry is hard to break into. I didn’t want to compromise on my style or my story either, and the one publisher I had read the start of the novel wanted to change it entirely. I thought I’d rather put out what I knew was authentically my work than create something that was going to appeal to the mass market, but not be what I wanted. I wrote it for myself, so I needed to like it. Self-publishing had its own challenges, but it meant I had complete control. It also meant I had complete responsibility, so I did feel the pressure of that. Thankfully, I had the help of family and friends willing to proofread over and over. Now it’s out there for people to read, I have the mindset of ‘what will be will be’. I don’t have any money to put into marketing, but it’s the amazing support from outlets like Quench that’ll hopefully spread the word. I think the only thing certain in this complicated world is that a book is never a bad investment. If you want to escape, if you want to travel South America by turning the pages of a book, then give Gringa Girl a go.
What genre is Gringa Girl?
It’s New Adult, a bit of a rom-com. I hope the book can be enjoyed by prospective and past Gap Year-takers, those who love to travel and like to learn a bit about new cultures, and anyone who is in the mood for a fun, short story with a touch of romance and a lot of drinking.
Do you have any more novels in the works that we can look forward to?
I’m not working on anything at the moment. I never thought there would be a first book, though, so who knows. My housemate has suggested I write a sequel called ‘Taly Girl’ and to be honest, I haven’t ruled it out. I would like to continue to write, I’ll have to finish my degree and see what the future of graduate job hunting holds.
More on Gringa Girl.