Hi Jessica! We hope you are well, and thank you SO much for doing an interview with us. Please can we firstly start off with a quick overview of what your new book is about?
The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside is an uplifting story about a homeless woman who is given a bed in a hostel before teaming up with fellow residents and staff to try and save it from closure, stumbling over her tragic past in the process. It’s about the importance of friendship and hope, and explores experiences of mental health issues, substance misuse and homelessness.
How did you create the character of Dawn Elisabeth Brightside? Were there any influences or people of inspiration?
Dawn Brightside came to me in a completely different way to any character I have ever written before. I was halfway through my creative writing MA and I’d been writing short stories and a ‘practice novel.’ Whilst working on all of that, I’d spent time creating characters, giving them backstories, thinking about their quirks and appearances etc. Dawn just came crashing into my mind, almost fully formed, whilst I was out for a walk in a local nature reserve, Samphire Hoe (a setting that made it into the book.) I hadn’t consciously been ‘looking’ for her at that time, although I did know by then that I wanted to write about a homeless hostel. I could almost see her, and I could hear her voice. I knew what her smile looked like and that she had an almost unwavering ability to look on the ‘bright side’ and help those around her, even when life kept throwing her so many challenges. It was an experience I hadn’t had before (or since,) but as soon as I got home from that walk, I opened my laptop and wrote the first five chapters – I knew I needed to get her out of my head and onto the page while everything was so fresh in my mind.
Has the publication process been at all affected by the Coronavirus pandemic? If so, how has that been for you?
The novel was initially scheduled for publication for 28th May this year, but the date was pushed back to the 26th November due to Covid. It was disappointing to have to wait, especially after all the build up and having just arranged a launch party at my local Waterstones, but I was very grateful to my publisher for making that decision, as it means that the book can now be launched in bookshops as well as online (and I get to be excited about it all over again!)
As a former homeless resettlement worker, did you draw on these experiences to create St Judes Hostel?
As a former homeless resettlement worker, I have worked for many years in homeless hostels. All of the characters and storylines in the book are completely fictional, but I was able to draw on those experiences in terms of the social and economic issues and the marginalization that people living in homeless hostels are often facing. My time in the hostels also meant I was able to apply my knowledge about how funding works and about how cuts and bureaucracy affect the running of them, causing challenges to the staff and residents.
Finally, what would you like readers to experience when reading your novel?
When reading the book, it is my hope that people enjoy getting swept up in the story and grow to love the characters as much as I do. I hope readers are inspired by Dawn’s tenacious resilience, and that they are given some pause to reflect on the realities that homeless people face on a day to day basis. Some of my favourite advanced reviews have been from readers who have said that the book helped them to change their perceptions of homeless people and to be slower to judge. One reader told me she was inspired to make a donation to her local homeless charity – that really made my day.
P.S. We love to get an insight into how authors write their books. What is your favourite writing environment?
My writing routine is far less glamorous in real life than I envisioned when I used to dream of being an author. Rather than writing by roaring fires in log cabins by shining lakes, I tend to write from the corner of my sofa with my springer spaniel sprawled across my lap, occasionally pressing the keys of my laptop for me! I do most of my thinking and planning when out for long walks on the cliffs or in the woods, and I often text myself ideas so I can read and remember once I’m home.
Thank you for such an amazing insight into your writing life and your new book. We hope that everyone enjoys reading your book (which you can buy here), and that you have many more books for us to enjoy in the future.