Jess Kidd’s debut novel, Himself, was published in October 2016 and quickly became a firm favourite among Suffolk Libraries’ readers. Her second novel, The Hoarder came out in February and is also very popular.
1, Who were your literary influences as you were growing up?
I was particularly influenced by Angela Carter, who continues to be one of my favourite writers. I also loved Toni Morrison, Charles Dickens and William Kennedy.
I’d long been writing stories with a magic realist feel to them, so I was delighted to discover Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel. Inspired by these writers I wanted to develop my own brand of Irish magic realism!
2. A lot of readers here will be familiar with Himself, which was a joy to read. What was it like to write?
I’m very happy to hear the book was a joy to read! In parts, it was great fun to write, especially the exchanges between Mahony and Mrs Cauley. And I did fall in love with Mahony as I wrote him. It was far harder to write Orla’s story but I knew I needed to tell it when this character presented herself to me.
Himself was pretty experimental at the start so it was great to work with my agent and publishers who helped me shape a mad and meandering story into a more streamlined book for publication.
3. Your latest book is The Hoarder. How did you come up with the characters of Maud and Cathal?
I used to work as a support worker and so I was fascinated by that relationship between the carer and the supported person, which can be very challenging but also rewarding. I knew I wanted to use this relationship as the basis of what becomes an uneasy friendship between the two main characters in this book.
Maud is very much an ‘everyday hero’ – she’s not perfect and has her own set of baggage but she’s utterly invested in the people she cares for. I love this in Maud. With Cathal I set about writing a really unlikeable character but I did want to show other facets to his personality. He’s a complicated mix of hostility and charm, anger and vulnerability, which is great to write.
What fascinates me is how people work on each other – to open each other up and bring each other to life. Maud and Cathal share a love of storytelling and an anarchic sense of humour and I loved exploring this. I have also worked with older people in the past and so the idea of intergenerational friendships and older people being vital, passionate and important members of our community really chimes with me.
4. Is there anything you can tell us about your latest ‘work in progress’?
I’m currently editing my third book, which is a magic realist detective story set in Victorian London featuring a female protagonist (not unlike a young Mrs Cauley for readers who loved the anarchic old biddy in Himself). This has been terrific fun but also fairly challenging as it has a full plot, a big cast of characters and a clash of some very strange worlds.
I’ve also recently finished writing my first children’s book, so I’m looking forward to shaping that a little more as it was huge fun. I loved reading with my daughter as she grew and I miss that now she’s an adult!
5. Do you have a message for your readers in Suffolk Libraries?
Thank you for your support and for spreading the word about the books. I hope to come and meet you all in person one day. One of the biggest thrills about being published is getting a chance to go out and talk about books with readers like myself!
6. What’s on your ‘to read’ list at the moment?
I’ve just started His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet and I’m looking forward to Under the Knife: the history of surgery in 28 remarkable operations by Arnold Van De Laar. When I’m actively editing I tend to concentrate on work that feels part of that world so that I keep in the mind frame. In the case of book three it’s murder and medical mayhem.
7. Can you tell us one thing that your readers may not know about you?
I have a big ambition to live self-sufficiently, having been obsessed with The Good Life TV series for most of my childhood. I would love to have my own corner to plant things and grow. But I would love to live somewhere quiet and remote (rather than Surbiton like Tom and Barbara!).
Alternatively, I could happily live in a lighthouse. I am a natural hermit and although I love people I never get lonely and can talk endlessly to myself.