Hope Nicely's Lessons for Life is Caroline's debut novel. It was published by Zaffre on 22 July and is available to borrow from our Suffolk Libraries catalogue.
- Who were your literary heroes and influences as you were growing up and when did you first realise that you wanted to write?
As a child in a pre-internet world, I read all the time. Library trips were an essential part of my childhood and inspiration was everywhere from Mog The Forgetful Cat to The Owl Service, from Agatha Christie - every single book - and Stephen King to The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4. I devoured Enid Blyton when I was young - then returned to the books in my teens with a highlighter pen, highlighting everything I found socially offensive. I loved poetry too - and thought of myself as something of a primary school bard. I think I always wanted to write.
- You are a graduate of the Curtis Brown novel writing course. How did that help shape you as a novelist?
I had been a journalist telling other people’s stories for more than twenty years, but fiction is a different skill. The course - taught by Charlotte Mendelson - helped me to find my focus and identity. Being in a class of fifteen writers, every one of whom had the talent to create work of real value, also made me realise that excellent writing alone is not enough. You have to know what is at the very heart of your story - and you need a lot of luck!
- Hope Nicely's Lessons for Life is your debut book, Can you tell us a bit about it?
Hope Nicely’s Lessons for Life began life as a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) exercise - essentially a challenge to write 50,000 words in one month. It tells the story of Hope Nicely, a young woman who has joined an evening class in the belief that writing her autobiography will help her to find the birth mother who abandoned her as a baby. Hope has FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) and other people have not always been very kind, so she is wary of friendships. But when her life takes a sideways turn, Hope will have to learn about more than just the ‘rules’ of writing.
- Your writing allows us to get directly into Hope's mind. What was it like sharing Hope's every thought as you wrote the book and how did the story begin to take shape?
It was surprisingly easy because Hope felt so fully formed and raring to go from the very first page - her existence was very real for me and I just had to take my lead from her. It was actually very exciting. It felt as if it was Hope writing the novel.
- Your book raises awareness of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. What made you choose this subject?
I didn’t write the book with any agenda. Hope’s voice came first - and her having FASD was something I ‘discovered’ about her. I had previously written about the condition as a journalist. In writing Hope Nicely’s Lessons for Life I have been lucky enough to benefit from the help of the wonderful group, FASD Awareness. I have learnt a huge amount from them and I’m proud to now be one of their volunteers.
- Is there anything you can share with us about your latest project?
I’m far too superstitious to go into detail but my next book is essentially written. It did not write itself as quickly as Hope Nicely, perhaps because my main characters took longer for me to fall in love with - although I have absolutely done so now. I think, for me as a reader and a writer, character and voice will always drive everything else.
- What is the best thing about being a published author?
Lots of authors talk about ‘imposter syndrome’ - because why would other people choose to read, and even pay for, something you have simply made up in your own head? The very act of writing is creating something from nothing, and I think publication is an acknowledgment that it was worth doing. But I’m very aware that I’m so lucky too. There are many, many brilliant writers, writing brilliant - unpublished - books.
- Is there a book you have read that has changed your life or made you think differently?
I think everything you read allows you to see the world in a slightly different way. For me, coming across Surfacing by Margaret Atwood at around the same time I had been reading the feminist literary criticism book, The Madwoman in the Attic, by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, whilst studying Jane Eyre at A’Level, stoked a huge interest in both literature exploring mental health issues and in Postcolonial women’s literature. But so many other writers have given my view of the world a little shake too: Kate Atkinson, George Saunders, Buchi Emecheta, Angela Carter…
- What is the best advice you were ever given?
General life advice: do not compare yourself to other people.
Reading advice: there is no such thing as too many books.
Writing advice - and Hope Nicely would tell you this: show, don’t tell.
- Can you tell us one thing about yourself that your readers may not know?
At the age of seven years old, I won 2,221 Smarties in a “guess how many Smarties are in the jar” competition at my school’s summer fair. My guess was out by one Smartie.