Cailean Steed – Q&A

Home by Cailean Steed was published by Bloomsbury on 19 January 2023.

Cailean kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Home.

‘Home’ follows Zoe, who escaped from a repressive cult as a child. Now an adult living in hiding, she is visited by a figure from her past who convinces her to return to the cult in an effort to rescue her sister. But confronting newly resurfaced memories of her childhood means that finding her sister could lead to Zoe losing herself.

2. What inspired the book?

I have always been fascinated by cults, and religion more generally, and an isolated cult compound seemed like a fantastic setting for a story. I also love exploring characters who are wrestling with memory and identity, both of which Zoe has to reassess as her life changes drastically – first when she runs away from the cult, and then again when she returns.

3. Do you plan before you start writing or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

For ‘Home’, I didn’t plan the story until I was around 50,000 words in. After reading Scarlett Thomas’s creative writing guide ‘Monkeys With Typewriters’, I planned out the remainder of the story using the three-act structure she discussed. A fair bit of the plan changed as I was writing the first draft, then in subsequent edits, but it was still helpful to have! For my second novel, which I’m writing the first draft of now, I had much more of a plan before I began this time.

4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that surprised you?

I hadn’t expected the process to be so collaborative, and I was pleasantly surprised! My agent helped with initial edits before going on submission, and then I worked closely with my editor at Raven as well. Some of the edits were initially a bit daunting – she wanted me to cut 20,000 words from the opening! – but ultimately made the book so much better. I really like bouncing ideas off of people, and having fresh eyes on your manuscript is so helpful. I also had an amazing sensitivity reader, Paula Akpan, whose input was invaluable.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I am a sucker for an extremely long bath! I like reading, as you’d expect, and watching films and series to relax in my downtime.

My day job is as a secondary English teacher, and I have a young son, which keeps me fairly busy. I think mostly what I do in my spare time is nap!

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

This is SUCH a hard question! I am going to cheat and say David Mitchell’s books, because they are all linked with recurring characters and motifs. I am going to claim them as one giant meta-narrative! I absolutely love his writing, and he was one of the first writers – along with Scarlett Thomas and NK Jemison – who really blew my mind with the scope of what you can achieve in fiction.

7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

When people find out that I’m a teacher, they often assume I’ll want to drop the day job and concentrate solely on being an author. So far, no one has asked how having a day job helps with writing! Although it can be challenging to juggle it all, I like the routine it gives me – I think I’d struggle to manage my writing time if I had endless time to do it in. It also means I interact with lots of people (about 150 a day sometimes!), and I think all that experience feeds into my stories as well. That being said, it would be nice to have a bit more time for writing as well – just a few extra hours in the day would do!

About the Book

Someone has broken into Zoe’s flat. A man she thought she’d never have to see again. They call him the Hand of God. He knows about her job in the cafe, her life in Dublin, her ex-girlfriend, even the knife she’s hidden under the mattress.

She thought she’d left him far behind, along with the cult of the Children and their isolated compound Home – but now he’s found her, and Zoe realises she must go back with him if she’s to rescue the sister who helped her escape originally. But returning to Home means going back to the enforced worship and strict gender roles Zoe has long since moved beyond. Back to the abuse and indoctrination she’s fought desperately to overcome… Going back will make her question everything she believed about her past – and risk her hard-won freedom.

Can she break free a second time?

You can buy a copy of Home here.

(This is an affiliate link so I may make a small amount of money if you purchase through it. You can also buy Home from your local independent bookshop).

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