Writers & Artists speak to Kerry Hudson about the release of her second novel, Thirst, what inspires her writing and the best advice she can give to aspiring authors.
Lovely to speak to you again! Can you tell us a little about your new novel, Thirst, for those who may not know?
Lovely to be spoken to again! Thirst tells the story of a fragile love affair between Dave, a South London council estate lad, and Alena, a young woman from Siberia. Both have secrets, both are a little broken by their pasts and the question is whether their love for one another can mend them somehow.
Your debut novel (Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma) was really well received. Did you fear suffering from second novel syndrome when writing Thirst?
I did very much. But I'll probably also fear third and forth syndrome too! The truth is (as I said in this guest post I did for the author Shelley Harris) I've come to believe that fear is what keeps the words alive on the page.
You drew on your own experiences for your debut. What inspired Thirst?
It started by watching a big burly guy in the council block opposite my flat in Hackney watering a sad little rosebush each day. He cut such a lonesome figure and he became my 'Dave'. I've still no idea where Alena or Siberia came from – I guess that's where the alchemy of imagination took over – but I've always been interested in love and need and how those two things can make or break people.
One of the reasons we enjoyed both books so much is because your characters give a voice to those who might otherwise go unheard. What draws you towards writing these sorts of characters?
Well it's my world. I'm a working-class writer, I grew up on what would be called 'the margins' – though for me it was my centre – and so I think it's natural to return to that in my novels. It's also because I find people fascinating and the more they have lived, the more struggle they've faced, the richer the character often is, I think.
When writing from these sorts of perspectives, did you feel you had to sidestep certain stereotypes? How do you make their situations recognisable without turning them into caricatures?
It's very difficult but I hope that what I've done is portray real nuanced people. You know, there's not one type of prostitute, one type of cruel co-worker, one type of thug – the key is finding what makes them unique within that role.
At the beginning of Thirst your protagonists are lost and the novel follows them as they try to get to where they’re meant to be. Did your experiences of living in London and travelling around inspire you to write your characters in this way?
I grew up moving from town to town and that is something I've continued, albeit more happily, in my adulthood. When I have settled it has always been in London which is arguably the most transient city you could live in. All of my novels, Thirst, Tony Hogan...and my third book which I'm working on now, look at emotional journeys in parallel to geographic ones. How does where we are impact who we are and what we feel and vice versa. I only recently found out there's a word for that: dérive - it's good to have some context for my strange thoughts.
We travel from Hackney to Siberia in the novel. How important was the research process to getting this right?
I was lucky enough to get an Arts Council England grant to travel across Russia by train to rural Siberia. Honestly, I could never have conjured that world, captured the minute detail I think I need to weave through prose to make it feel 'real' without that trip. The book wouldn't have ever been finished without that research.
Your endings are interesting. In spite of the heavy (and sometimes dark) themes you deal with, we finished the last page feeling uplifted, even though the ending might not be ideal for your characters. How do you do that?!
I'm resisting the urge to use the term 'lol' but I did just have a wee chuckle. Perhaps it's that I'm a hopeful person, I believe (with good reason I think) that good things can be borne out of hard things. I suppose I was writing this book with that belief in mind.
Talk to us a little about pre-Tony Hogan. Did you have to deal with rejection?
I was really only writing short stories before Tony Hogan but yes, I got rejected from magazines quite a bit (I had a spectacularly unkind rejection once that still stings a little!) and often didn't place in competitions I'd entered. But I went into writing knowing full well that that's part of the job. If you put your work in the public forum it will be judged. Rejection and criticism is the price you pay for also having readers who love and appreciate your work. I still think that.
Could you describe your typical writing day for us?
I travel so much (this year Budapest and Berlin and I'm about to head to Croatia, Bosnia and then South America) that a typical day tends to depend on what city I'm in. But loosely: sleep too late (always but surely one of the benefits of being a writer, unstable income and all) coffee, urgh, more coffee, admin for about two hours, a run/swim/cycle, lunch, real writing, something vaguely social or relaxing and then writing till the wee hours. One of the surprising things about going full-time has been that I pretty much never take a day off and I feel like I work less but actually I'm just spreading the work day from 10am until 2am!
What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
When I was riding a fairly rackety rollercoaster of anxiety before Tony Hogan came out a very good friend said to me 'you can always give up. Just stop if you want.' Writing is a choice and a real privilege – there's lots about it that isn't always easy but I wouldn't give it up for the world.
And finally, do you have any advice to give writers looking to get published?
Can I have two? I know, greedy. The first is to ask yourself why you are writing about what you are...why is it important to you and why will it be important to others? Understand your intention. The other is the one I remind myself of every single day: 'Work hard, be kind, don't be an a**ehole'.