Watch Janet Hoggarth introduce THE SINGLE MUMS' MANSION

My writing journey

I will never forget being handed back my creative writing paper in the first term of my second year studying a Creative Arts degree. I was majoring in fine art, but also studied creative writing alongside it. I preferred art because I found writing difficult. Everyone else appeared to conjure up these effortlessly clever pieces of work that managed to garner grade As, and I would sit there feeling thick because I just didn’t understand how they knew so many long words. Well, this particular task we had been set had been more my cup of tea. We had to write about what we knew, a real incident that had maybe happened in the summer break, or something from the recent past and we could write in any style we fancied. This was 1990 and Bridget Jones was still six years away but I knew I wanted to write something comical that I would like to read for pleasure.

At the time I was fixated on the Liverpudlian play write, Willy Russell, and had read everything he had written. I was a northerner by birth and my parents were Scousers, so Willy Russell was like a saint in our house. My Mum had seen his plays at the Everyman theatre in Liverpool before he was really famous. My stand-out favourite had been Shirley Valentine, and a shorter play called Stags and Hens. I decided on fictionalising a disastrous girls’ night out and I’d based it on a crazy evening some friends and I had experienced in Liverpool during the summer. I decided to take a chance and write the entire thing in colloquial language with a nod to Stags and Hens, and peppered it with profanities, ribald humour and some compromising situations that culminated in a risky scene of nakedness on a building site. I showed it to my friends and they roared with laughter, one of them eventually using it as a basis for one of her plays in a drama module.

However, my tutor was not amused. My paper came back covered in red pen, his snide comments scrawled all over it. This middle-aged unpublished man had barely contained his contempt for a tale about young women behaving like ‘lads’ while having a totally brilliant time. Of course, if I read the piece now, I am certain I would cringe at the clunky writing, the clumsy metaphors and the shortcomings of the characters. I remember the word ‘puerile’ and the sentence, you cannot write in such a colloquial manner as this. I wonder what he thought of Trainspotting? I dropped the writing module immediately and never looked back until years later my boss at Bloomsbury Children’s Books offered me a book deal on the strength of my back cover copy. 

So I will be doubly rejoicing on June 1st when The Single Mums’ Mansion is published. I will raise my first glass of fizz to Barry Cunningham who had total faith that I could write an entire book. If it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t be here now, about to set sail with my first adult novel, based on my true-life story of single mums living in a commune with all their kids. Is it puerile? Of course it is! Swearing is funny. Is it written in a colloquial manner? No, I wrote it in Queen’s English with each sentence having a beginning, a middle, and an end. Actually, that’s a lie, but who cares? The book is very honest, it doesn’t shy away from tough emotions, stressful situations and women candidly expressing how they really felt left holding the babies. On the other hand, it’s also uplifting and a celebration of solid female friendship flying in the face of adversity. So that’s another reason to raise a glass and toast the women who accompanied me on the crazy journey in The Single Mums’ Mansion. Thank you Aria for giving me the space to be myself, by not judging, just guiding and making the book even better than I thought it could be. It takes a village to tell a story, and I’m very grateful to mine.

Janet x

Check out Janet introducing her book on YouTube: