Before I knew how to read and write I wanted to be a storyteller. I can remember sitting on the mat in nursery school telling stories to the other kids. So, in researching Charity I loved finding out about the tradition of storytelling and the fact that women are usually the storytellers in rural Kenya.
The first book I ever read was an abridged version of Lorna Doone when I was seven. My parents and teacher had given up on me learning how to read. I thought the Peter and Jane books we were given at school were so boring, what was the point? But I was taken to our local library every Saturday and one day I spotted a mobile shelf stacked with a row of small books. Something about the size and layout of these books appealed to me. I took Lorna Doone home and to my parents’ amazement read it from cover to cover.
I was the first person in my family to go to university, though it wasn’t a straight road. I lasted three days at Glasgow University, which wasn’t the right place for me at the time. I reapplied to university when I was twenty-two and living in Belfast. I went to Queen’s University and, having worked in a variety of jobs for several years, really appreciated being able to study. Being given permission to buy and read books was such a treat.
I completed an MA and PhD when my children were small and then went on to teach at the Open University. Because of my own experience of adult learning I understood the pressures on part-time adult students who may not have studied in years. I really feel for all those parents having to combine home-schooling with work and study during lockdown. And the burden tends to fall disproportionately on women.
I lived on the eighteenth floor of a tower block for two years which is why I put my character Lauren’s first home on the eighteenth floor.
My middle two names are Anna Abney. My family are the last in a long line of Abneys and I was given the name to preserve it. An ancestor, Thomas Abney, was lord mayor of London in 1700. His former garden is now the Abney Cemetery in Stoke Newington, London. My historical novel, The Master of Measham Hall, is being published under this name.
I love gardening. When I’m out in the garden I completely forget about time. My husband has to remind me to come in and eat. Our crazy border collie, Snoopy, has made a mud racetrack running loops around the veg plot. Again, researching Charity, it was wonderful to discover, not only how important their farms and vegetable plots (shambas) were to the Kikuyu people of Kenya, but also how they taught their children to garden by giving them their own plots of land.
Madeline Dewhurst’s debut novel Charity is out from Lightning Books on 26 April
I got so desperate for a haircut during lockdown that I asked my fifteen-year-old daughter to cut my hair and it was honestly the best haircut I’ve ever had. It wasn’t great to start off with – she kept taking photos of the (very uneven) back on her phone and asking if she could stop now and I kept saying no – but eventually, after two hours, she was done, and it was good! I’m wondering whether to stick with her as my new hairdresser or maybe just view it as a lucky one-off...