In conversation with Helen Trevorrow, author of 'New Brighton'
We are grateful to Red Dog Press for giving us the opportunity to review New Brighton and putting us in touch with Helen Trevorrow. Thank you to Helen herself for chatting to us. You can purchase the novel on Amazon and Waterstones .
1. When did you discover you wanted to be a writer?
I started writing when I was eight years old. I finished my first novel in my twenties and sent it out to agents and got so many rejections. I had one well known agent write, “I do not love your writing.” So, I put my manuscript in a drawer and didn’t take it out again for ten years.
2. Could you tell us a little bit about your experience with the Faber creative writing program, and how you got involved?
I always lusted after writing but resolved to have a career elsewhere, which I did. I had an acute illness seven years ago, and it was very serious, and I thought that if this was it, that I had wasted my life and not done what I was really passionate about. I was very fortunate and when I got better, I resolved to take my writing more seriously.
As if by magic, a friend of a friend posted on FB about Faber, and I applied. Luckily for me I got onto Richard Skinner’s Write A Novel course which is legendary and has produced so many great writers. It was like going back to Uni and starting over. I made great friends, including Richard and I learnt the technicalities of writing.
3. What was your experience working with Red Dog Press? How did they come to be the publishers of New Brighton?
I am very fortunate to be part of Red Dog Press, one of the UK’s most exciting indie publishers. They have a fantastic list of writers in thriller, crime and science fiction. They give writers a lot of freedom and take risks with books that are inclusive and break the mold. I was introduced to them by another writer specifically to publish, New Brighton.
4. There are a lot of dystopian aspects to New Brighton. What inspired these? Are you a fan of the ‘dystopia’ genre?
Yes, I love science-fiction and I love speculative fiction like Margaret Atwood. But most of all the book was inspired by the times we are living through right now. With privatised space exploration I started to wonder where we are going with this? What is going to happen in a century, or in two centuries if governments continue to allow unregulated space exploration. The power of billionaires to play with science and technology is scary. It was this concept that fuelled the main plot of New Brighton.
5. What was it about Brighton that made you want to use it in your novel?
I love Brighton and I love the values of the people that live here. The city’s tagline is, ‘Never Normal’. I wanted to celebrate that and write about the diversity that we champion here so I put that front and centre. I was also inspired by images of the Athina B; a cargo ship that ran aground in 1980 in the centre of the ship. Eery old footage of the event is so compelling and so mysterious that it acted as a massive trigger. I am very lucky to have a view out to sea and have become obsessed with looking at ships coming into Shoreham harbour. It was a lot about the changing vista of a busy sea and looking out on that and having something rather unexpected arrive that created the setting.
6. There’s a lot of mothers and daughters in New Brighton. How did your identity as a mother contribute to the writing of the novel? What does your family think of your writing?
When I was pregnant with my daughter my mother died. I went from one hospital, where I had my three-month scan showing everything to be in great shape with my baby, to another hospital where my mother died that night. I was an embodiment of the place in between life and death. I have a strong sense of continuity. We are ourselves, but also those who have gone before us, and those who come after us. My mother loved to read, and I think she would be very proud.
Sadly, my father died in 2021 of Covid-19. I am still grieving. It doesn’t seem long ago that I would have worried about what my parents would have thought about what I was writing but I don’t anymore. I don’t let any of my close family read my books before they come out! I know writers who consider what their parents might think about their writing, and you must dispense with that! As a rule, if you think it's something that might make your parents go crazy then you are writing on the right track.
There are (dead) mothers in all of my stories, and I’m just thinking about my Dad too and how he might make an appearance in my future writing. The characters won’t have their names or look like them but to me they are in everything I write. I’m just really writing about my mother over and over again, but only I can see that. I know that I have experienced lots of pain and I’m not sure how much I want to relive that in my writing right now, but probably I will return to it in the future.
Being a mother myself does make me approach writing differently and it did inspire New Brighton. My daughter is donor-conceived and that made me consider donation, biological parentage, genetics, and other themes that I wrote about in New Brighton.
7. What are a few of your favourite books?
There are so many but close to hand I always have:
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver - Beautifully evoked world featuring Frida Kahlo and blending historical facts with fiction and political subtext
The Power by Naomi Alderman - A simple premise, what if women were physically stronger than men? Wonderfully delivered. A fabulous modern classic
Tipping the velvet by Sarah Waters - this book blew my mind when visibility was not what it is now. Inspiring to see gay people in historical settings. (I also really love the Night Watch by Sarah Waters)
8. Now that New Brighton is published, what are your plans for the future? Do you have more ideas for the characters, or ideas for new books in the works?
I write alternative thrillers. My books follow the plot twists and fast pace of the thriller genre but have a weirdness about them. I always write a lot of queer characters but I don’t focus on their coming-out stories.
My first novel, In The Wake, is being republished by Red Dog in the Summer. You can currently get it as a free download on Audible. It is a feminist crime thriller set in contemporary London. I am currently halfway through my work in progress. It is a thriller set in London and Ireland and I am very excited about it.
9. If you could give young writers advice, what would it be?
You can do it. Don’t give up. Carry on. There is no right and there is no wrong. The question that writers get all the time is, ‘how do you find time to write?’ and that is the secret. I write in google docs - on my pc, my phone, ipad, and macbook on the train. I try to ‘stay-in’ my writing and that means I keep it in my head all the time when I am doing other things. I make Spotify playlists for my characters and play these to trigger me back into character.
My favourite part of writing is… the writing itself. It's the closest I get to being a child at play. I watch my daughter playing an imaginary game and I think, ‘that’s what I am like when I am writing.’
In practical terms you should share your work by joining a local, or uni writing group. Get into the habit of people reading and critiquing your work. Get some negative feedback and learn to brush it off. You must read all the time. I read everyday - at least a few pages at night if nothing else. By reading you are learning, and by sharing your work with a group you will learn by critiquing others. Richard Skinner’s ‘Writing A Novel’ is a guidebook to writing and is a real help. I know several bestselling authors who have this by their side.