Dorothy Koomson talks to Denise Tyler about her love for Brighton, creating her tough talking novels and Little Green Pig
You’re known as ‘Queen of the Big Reveal’ and My Other Husband certainly delivers on that front. Does it add an extra layer of pressure when you know how high people’s expectations are?
I try very hard not to think about other people’s expectations while I’m writing a book. I tell the story to the best of my ability at that time, I take the characters (and thereby the reader) on a journey and the ending should always be satisfying even if it’s not the ending people want. And, to be honest, no-one can have higher expectations of me than me, so if I don’t believe in the twist, I know no-one else will.
You have a successful podcast, The Happy Author, where you talk about all things writing and publishing. What inspired that?
The podcast was something I started because I wanted to give writers who were just starting out or trying to get published an insight into what goes on behind closed doors. It can be very frustrating trying to find information on how things work if you’re on the outside of the book industry, so I tried to demystify that for people. I’ve had an extended break from the podcast, but I am planning to bring it back as well continuing the weekly writing advice lessons I share via my newsletter.
This year you were a judge for the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction. How was that as an experience?
It was like a dream come true for me! Honestly, I love reading and the Women’s Prize gave me the excuse to read 24/7. I mean, it was difficult having to narrow down all those wonderful books to a longlist, shortlist and then winner, but I loved every minute.
What was it that brought you to Brighton and Hove?
The first time I remember coming to Brighton was on a protest march against student loans when I was in sixth form. I had the best time and couldn’t believe the sea was right there by a city, but I didn’t dream of living here until I came back from two years living in Australia. I was looking around for somewhere to live instead of London and thought of one of my friends who lived in Brighton, who had a nice place. I thought I’d look and see if I could find somewhere that nice to live down here. I eventually found a place to rent right on the seafront and knew I’d found my next home city. (My friend eventually became my husband, but that’s a story for another time.)
Where are your favourite places to go in Sussex?
I’m generally a city person because that’s where my events and life tend to be. But I’ve been to various places around Sussex including Alfriston, Bournemouth and Rye and have enjoyed my time there. I especially like Drusilla’s, the animal park.
Children’s literacy is something you are passionate about. Tell us about your involvement in children’s charity Little Green Pig…
Little Green Pig are a wonderful organisation that help bring literacy, writing and other creative activities to disadvantaged children in Sussex. I think the most important thing they do is to show children from all sorts of backgrounds that the creative arts are for them, too, and that they can become authors, journalists and performance artists. Little Green Pig through their workshops and outreach programs help make that a reality. As a child I loved reading. My mum taught me to read and write from an early age, and my older brother used to read to my sister and me. I used to go to the library after school almost every day to read. When I first decided to write a book, I would write a chapter every night and pass it round my school friends in the morning. No-one apart from my school friends knew what I was up to!
You’re not afraid to tackle big subjects in your books – infidelity, surrogacy, adoption to name a few. What’s next?
I don’t tend to think of writing books in terms of subjects – none of the books that I’ve written started out as ‘I think I’ll write about x’, it’s pretty much always, ‘Oh, I have this idea for a book, and to write it, I need to do research and the research has shown this book will have to include x’. For example, ‘I want to write about two women who were both accused of the same crime when they were teens and then were reunited as adults after one went to prison. Now the one who went to prison is trying to clear her name and the other is trying to pretend none of it happened. As a result of my research I’ve found that most women are sentenced to long jail terms for killing an abusive partner. OK, now I need to research abusive relationships.’ At the end of that process, I came up with The Ice Cream Girls.
My Other Husband by Dorothy Koomson (Headline Review, £16.99) is on sale August 2022; dorothykoomson.co.uk