On Writing Henry Hoey Hobson
The more I tried to push it away, the more it hounded me. It was like a half-starved pup, all eyes and ribs. Sad history, but heaps of potential, you know? Could be really beautiful if someone gave it a chance.
The story kept sniffing round me, pressing its wet nose through the gaps in my defences. Begging me to take it in and give it a home. It didn’t care that I was otherwise committed; it just wanted to be let in and given a chance.
When I started dreaming about Henry, I knew I was in trouble. I’d lie in bed with scenes unravelling in my head that made me laugh out loud. When I started blinking back tears, I knew that Henry had won. I got out of bed and started writing his story.
The inspiration came from disparate elements in my own life: the local swim club, lovely, talented friends who are Goths, and the little Catholic school at the end of our street. These groups, while outwardly dissimilar, each enjoy a remarkable level of community. They engender the connections, the sense of belonging, that lies at the heart of so much of what makes us happy as human beings.
The story came together in my head as a three-way collision between close-knit groups with seemingly nothing in common, and a boy who doesn’t fit in.
How children deal with issues, and build resilience in the face of adversity, interests me. Henry interested me. He had never been anywhere long enough to put down roots, so he needed a secret weapon against the loneliness and upheaval of his life. I gave him a passion for swimming to smooth the rough edges of his life and provide a much-needed constant in an otherwise uncertain existence.
I’ve never been a swimmer, myself. I can manage a stately breaststroke in a flowered bathing cap, and am a dab hand on the megaphone at our neighbourhood swim club meets, but the rest of my family has gills. Because I love them, I have spent the best part of the last fifteen summers, poolside.
The mesmerising drills of swim training work a kind of magic with some kids. It’s not about winning, but about learning to be the best that they can be. They shine with enthusiasm, inspire others and have such courage, taking on challenges that would spook many adults. They remind me every day that anything is possible.
I wanted Henry Hoey Hobson to capture some of that magic, that determination, and that sense of empowerment that comes from applied effort, from learning to believe in yourself and from having people around you who believe in you too.
I wrote Henry Hoey Hobson for the same reason that I hope others will read it. I cared about Henry and I wanted to know what happens next….