An interview with Kirsty Capes

Interview

This year Penguin Random House UK will host three new WriteNow events in London, Liverpool and Nottingham, a UNESCO City of Literature, in September 2018 as it continues to champion the discovery and development of new writing talent from communities under-represented on the nation’s bookshelves.

Spread the Word is partnering with the WriteNow scheme, in which the publisher will seek out and invite aspiring authors and illustrators from across the country to learn more about how to get their book published, receive personalised one-on-one feedback from an editor, and have the chance to join a year-long mentoring programme.

One of the mentees is Young Adult fiction writer Kirsty Capes, who is 24 years old and lives in South West London. Kirsty is a care leaver. Her book is an account of growing up in care, and the many ways in which kids in care can feel inadequate, insufficient or simply ‘other’. The Hatchling is a working-class suburban novel following two young girls as they come of age with all the odds stacked against them.

We caught up with Kirsty to find out more.

Your book is an account of growing up in care – do you think that this is a topic that needs more exposure?

Yes. While there have been some brilliant stories about the care experience in recent years (My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal is fantastic), every child in care has a completely unique experience of being ‘looked-after’. Despite this, the way popular culture portrays care kids is still very narrow and stigmatised. Children in care are expected to fail, and the stories we read and see on the screen often reinforce this. I think it’s vital that writers and artists make a concerted effort to change the narrative, otherwise the harmful tropes will persist – not just in books, film and TV, but also in society. If more care leavers share their stories, society will get a more nuanced picture of what it’s like to grow up in care, and maybe some of those harmful stereotypes will start to change.

Publishing and writing is notoriously middle class. Have you had challenges?

The main challenge for me has been the constant push and pull between having enough time and having enough money! Being able to write whenever you want is the dream, but if you don’t come from an affluent background you must make sacrifices on your time to earn enough money to live. At one point last year I was working three jobs while trying to finish the first draft of my novel, which was horrendous. Having said that, I’m very fortunate to have a supportive family and friends, and to live so close to London where many of the opportunities are for writers.

Why is the WriteNow scheme important for writers?

It’s hard enough to break into the industry as it is, without all the additional barriers that writers from marginalised groups face. WriteNow doesn’t just break down some of those barriers, it also shows a demonstrable commitment to getting underrepresented voices out into the world. Everyone on this year’s WriteNow scheme has an important and unique story to tell. WriteNow gives them the space and the tools to develop their voices, and then the platform to get their stories heard. And the scheme has a proven track record of success – many of the mentees on the 2016 intake have already got contracts to publish their books.

How do you hope that the scheme will help you develop your work?

It’s already helped me immeasurably! The WriteNowLive Day I attended in Bristol at the very beginning of the process was an invaluable insight into the publishing industry. Since getting onto the scheme, my mentor has been incredible: he’s given me all the practical tools and advice I need to write the best book I can, and he’s also been on hand to give me advice on all the nitty-gritty stuff, like how getting an agent works. I feel so much more confident in my own ability as a writer. Having an external validation of your work is a very powerful thing. It really, truly has been a life-changing experience.