Friday, March 27, 2020

Q&A with Jessica Andrews

Jessica Andrews is the author of the new novel Saltwater. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Guardian and The Independent. She is coeditor of The Grapevine, and she's based in London.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Saltwater, and for your character Lucy?

A: Saltwater is semi-autobiographical. At first, I tried to write a version of the story that was more fictionalised - with a third person narrator and a different protagonist, but it didn't have enough life in it.

I wanted to write about my experiences of social class and the ways in which I felt my mother and my female friends were not protected by the world around them, but I think I was afraid.

I am learning that's part of the process of writing a novel - you tend to skirt around the issues that are central to your world for a little while, and it is only when you address them directly that everything begins to come together.
Q: A review of the book in The Guardian says, "It’s a standard coming-of-age narrative, but also features something very rare in literary fiction: a working-class heroine, written by a young working-class author." What do you think of that description?

A: I grew up working-class, but didn't have the vocabulary to understand the complexities of class structures until I was much older. It took me a long time to realise that the ways I felt wrong among friends at university came from the world outside of me.

I wanted to write about those feelings in order to pull them apart. It felt important to me to write about the joy and the poetry inherent in working-class life, without romanticising the struggle.

Q: The novel is told in short fragments. Why did you choose that method to structure the book?

A: I am interested in exploring the way that we carry all of our experiences inside of us all of the time, and a non-linear narrative seemed like the best form to reflect that.

I wanted to explore the way that dreams or responsibilities are passed down through generations of women, and the fragmented structure allowed me to piece parallel images together across time.

I also wanted to reflect Lucy's experience of inhabiting a body as a young woman in the contemporary world, which, to me, feels fractured.

Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: The book moves through settings that are linked by the water; cities and towns by rivers and seas. It is also a metaphor for bodily fluids; sweat and tears and blood. It represents the threads that run through places and bodies, the things we carry with us.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on a new novel, exploring denial and desire.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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