Together with the Women's Prize for Fiction, we’ve launched Futures to highlight the talent of the next generation of female writers and support them to have the long and illustrious careers we think they deserve.
Jessica Andrews, 29, grew up in Sunderland and has spent time living in Santa Cruz, Paris and London. She began writing her debut novel Saltwater after her grandfather died, leaving an empty house in Donegal in Ireland which she moved into. It was published in 2019 and won the Portico Prize, known as the Booker Prize of the North. Her second book, Milk Teeth, is out in July 2022. She also runs arts magazine, The Grapevine, which helps give a voice to underrepresented writers and teaches creative writing at Roehampton University.
What was the inspiration behind your novel, Saltwater?
I wrote Saltwater because I wanted to explore the hot, sticky knot of a mother-daughter relationship and the way that hurt and responsibilities are passed down through generations of women, in order to question whether or not we ought to carry them. I wanted to give a lyricism to ordinary, working-class experiences that are not often deemed worthy of poetry and to find a language for feelings I found shameful and difficult to articulate, around my own class background and family complexities.
Tell us about your journey to publication.
I was living in London, juggling bar work with tutoring jobs. I wanted to write a novel and when my grandfather in Ireland passed away, leaving an empty, run-down cottage on the west coast of Donegal, I decided to go there to write. It is a remote place and I can’t drive, which was challenging in different ways, but I had plenty of time and space for writing. While I was living there, I got an email from an agent who had read a short story I had published in an anthology and was interested in my work. I sent him Saltwater when it was finished and we edited it together and then sent it to publishers. I decided to go with Sceptre because my editor also writes poetry and this seemed like a good fit for my novel, as some of the short chapters are almost prose poems.
What motivates you as an author?
I love language and reading a brilliant sentence by another author makes me excited about writing. Sometimes I picture a good sentence like feeling along the words for the most tender place to stick in a knife (or a word) and then twisting it until it hurts. I am also drawn to the power of claiming a narrative. Manipulating the world on your own terms, or naming things for yourself can be a powerful act, particularly if you don’t hold a lot of power in reality.
What is your favourite book by a woman and why?
I love The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride. The way she uses language feels close to the core of what words can do, or the feelings that the words represent. I’m interested in bodily writing and the body is so present in this novel, through the messy, painful love story and in the words themselves; you feel it in your gut.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
I had a writing teacher who wrote ‘trust yourself’ in the margins of my work and that stuck with me because I think the biggest obstacle for writers is self-doubt or giving up because you feel like your work isn’t good enough. Writing is so solitary and writing a novel is about perseverance as much as anything else. You really have to believe in your own work and that can be especially difficult if you are feeling small or like you don’t have much worth.
What do you think you’d be if you weren’t a writer?
I would really like to be a hairdresser. I love the intimacy of it; touching someone and talking to them, the power of transformation, watching someone change over the years.
Which female author do you find most inspiring and why?
I’m really inspired by the writings of the visual artist, Louise Bourgeois. I like the way she returns to the same themes over and over again in her work, as though she is constantly trying to find new ways to articulate the feelings she holds in her skin. I love the way she renders the body; tender, delicate, painful and grotesque because the body can be all of these things at once.
Do you have any writing routines or ticks?
I always write in my journal before I start, to clear my head. Sometimes I re-read pages from books that I love which makes me feel excited about writing and ready to begin my own work.
What’s your favourite Women’s Prize winning book and why?
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride introduced her to me as my favourite author and I had never read anything like it before. She uses words fearlessly and I feel that the Women’s Prize introduced her work to readers who might not have discovered it otherwise. There is a rawness to it that almost sets my teeth on edge.
What do you hope to have achieved as a writer in ten years' time?
I believe that writing novels is about connecting with the world outside of them and I hope my work contributes to conversations around class, the body, agency and gender and that the circumstances my characters find themselves in say something about the societal structures we all navigate.
Alongside my writing, I co-run The Grapevine, a literary zine aimed at platforming under-represented writers and I would love to turn this into a small feminist press one day. I also co-host a literary podcast, Tender Buttons, which attempts to demystify the writing process as a way of pushing back against the elitism of the literary world and in the coming years, I hope that I will continue to reach for openings.
Vote for the Futures winner
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