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In Conversation With: Dorothy Koomson

Author Editor - 4 minute read

Dorothy Koomson, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Ice Cream Girls, My Best Friend's Girl and The Brighton Mermaid has been deemed the 'Queen of the big reveal' and her latest novel promises to be full of twists and turns. We caught up with Dorothy to find out all about her new novel Tell Me Your Secret, her career to date and the inspiration behind her work.

What inspired you to be a writer?

I became a writer because I loved reading and wanted to make up my own stories. When I was growing up I used to read as much as I could. I would go to the library every day after school and read. I used to love watching all sorts of dramas on television as well. I would use the money I earned from my Saturday job to buy comics and magazines. That love of reading turned into a desire to tell stories. I was always daydreaming and making up scenarios in my head about imaginary people or the people I saw walking down the street, anyway, so I started to put it down on paper.

What are the main issues represented in your work?

I’ve always been fascinated by people and the way they think and the things they do. That’s what I write about – the things people do and why they might do them. Every book, even my earlier romantic comedies, have a serious edge to them. In my books I’ve tackled so many issues that ordinary people face including adoption, sexual assault, alcoholism, homelessness, love after bereavement, romantic love, bullying, sex. In my latest novel, Tell Me Your Secret, the main issues centre around what it takes to be a survivor of violent crime and how one person’s actions can have a ripple effect amongst a large group of people.

How important are strong female characters in your novels and what are the challenges they face?

More than strong, I think my female characters are real. It’s very easy, I think, to write people off if they are just seen as strong. People assume that you can handle anything. I like to show that you can be strong and vulnerable, that women particularly aren’t just defined by the things that happen to them and they have to endure, they are capable of so much. In Tell Me Your Secret, I try to demonstrate that there are different types of strength that help to carry you through life. Pieta and Jody are both strong but extremely vulnerable, like most of us are.

Juggling work and home life plays a big part in your fiction. Do you have any advice for women trying to achieve a better work life balance in 2020?

I think the best advice would be to not be so hard on yourself. So many of us spend a lot of time trying to do it all and do it all perfectly and then berate ourselves when we don’t manage it. I think in 2020 don’t strive for a work life balance, aim for a ‘I’ve done as much as I can do without burning myself out’ balance. If that means working less or not cleaning every week, then so be it.

Are there any other women that have inspired you and why?

There are so many. From my mum and my sister to my friends and the amazing writers out there who I’ve read for years And the ordinary women whose stories you never really hear but who have pain, and ill-health and sadness and mental ill-heath but keep getting up and carrying on because they have to. And those who’ve had their hearts broken but still have the capacity to love. I find all those people inspirational because it’s a reminder of the enduring nature of the human spirit.

What are the high points in your career?

Oh so many. From seeing my first book The Cupid Effect on the shelves for the first time back in 2003 (and every book from then until now) to finding a name check in Girl, Woman, Other the Booker Prize winner from 2019; from winning several awards to having someone email me to tell me one of my books had saved her from harming herself. I have been very fortunate that my books have touched so many people and I’ve been recognised for it.

Are there any exciting new projects on the horizon for 2020?

I’ve always got lots of plans and ideas on the go! None that I can talk about just yet, but I will be able to soon, I hope.

And finally,…do you think we can be doing more to encourage discussion around social issues? What would you like to see more of?

I think talking honestly is the best way to start to solve problems we have in society. From homelessness to racism, alcoholism to sexual assault, we can only benefit by talking about these things. By talking, I do mean listening and not talking over people or just dismissing what people who have direct experience of these things have to say. (There is a LOT of that going on at the moment.) I truly believe, talking about difficult subjects in a constructive, respectful way can only help us.

Tell Me Your Secret by Dorothy Koomson is on sale now. 

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