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30 March 2020

Kirsty Capes: ‘I wanted to capture the nuances of female friendship’

Kirsty Capes, author
by Katie Smart Author Interviews, From Our Students

It was only in January this year that we celebrated 80 deals for our creative writing alumni – and now, less than three months later, we’re thrilled by the wonderful news that Kirsty Capes is our 90th former student with a major book deal!

Kirsty was awarded the HW Fisher Novel-Writing Scholarship to join our London course in 2017, and is our third HW Fisher scholar to receive an offer of publication. Her darkly funny feminist debut Careless is set to be published by Orion in 2021.

We caught up with Kirsty to find out about her time on the course as well as her approach to writing and creating believable female characters …

Congratulations on your amazing deal with Orion for your debut novel Careless – what was the first thing you did when you found out your novel was going to be published?

I texted my mum, and then after work I had a gin and tonic and some chicken nuggets, then I spent weeks trying to keep the secret and failing miserably(!).

You were awarded the HW Fisher Novel-Writing Scholarship to work on your novel on our London-based course in 2017. What did this scholarship place mean to you?

Without the scholarship I wouldn’t have been able to afford the course that I took at Curtis Brown Creative, so that opportunity would have been completely closed to me. Being able to study at CBC with Charlotte Mendelson had a hugely positive impact on the development of my novel.

How did your time on the course impact your approach to writing?

The main thing I took away from the course was the workshopping element. Writing is such a lonely undertaking, and it can be difficult to know what’s good in your work when you’re working in isolation. Being part of a community of writers, and having guidance from an established author, was extremely valuable to me.

Many of our students find their community of writers on our courses – are you still in touch with any of your course mates?

Yes, we are in touch on email and a few of us occasionally meet up and share work (much less frequently than we would like to!). It’s been beneficial to continue the networks that we established on the course. We encourage and motivate each other, and celebrate one another’s successes.

Careless portrays teenage girls in a refreshingly honest, dark and funny way. Can you tell us a bit more about your novel and the inspiration behind it?

Careless follows Bess, a girl in foster care who falls pregnant at 15; and her friend Eshal whose parents want her to participate in an arranged marriage. The novel is about their friendship, but also about how they must carve out paths for themselves and develop agency in the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition.

A lot of the novel is drawn from my own experiences of being a teenage girl growing up in the suburbs (which is dark and chaotic in its own ways). I wanted to capture the nuances of female friendship in the face of a system that is built to make girls minimise themselves, their bodies and their aspirations. In fiction, female friendship is often toxic and combative and I wanted to show another side of it that is supportive and nurturing. The novel’s main character Bess is in foster care, so Careless also looks at how girls are treated in the care system.

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

I don’t really have a ‘typical’ writing day to be honest. I work full-time and am still studying so I try and snatch a couple of hours wherever I can – usually on weekend mornings or late at night if I’m in the mood. I make notes on my phone if I don’t have anything else to hand, and then write things up later. I feel like a lot of my writing is done in my head when I’m commuting or walking the dog or driving.

Do you have any advice for writers who are just starting out?

In my experience, it took a long time – and many, many drafts – so don’t ever give up, and don’t feel downhearted when you meet roadblocks. Take any advice you can get, even if it’s off the back of a rejection. Find the people who understand your work and will champion it. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Always edit everything (at least twice) before you send it out.

Finally, what’s next for your writing journey – what are you working on now?

I’m starting work on a second novel and finishing my PhD, so I’ve got plenty to keep me busy until Careless comes out next year!

Get your hands on a copy of Careless.

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