Fran Hill – Q&A

Fran Hill’s novel, Cuckoo in the Nest, is published by Legend Press on 26 April 2023.

Fran kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Cuckoo in the Nest.

‘Cuckoo in the Nest’ is set in heatwave 1976. Teenager (and wannabe poet) Jackie Chadwick moves in with a foster-family, the Walls, and meets opposition from their daughter Amanda. Amanda doesn’t exactly conceal her antagonism and her attempts to ostracise Jackie lead to plenteous trouble and potential tragedy. Also, Bridget and Nick Wall turn out to have secrets which they hoped Jackie’s arrival might mask. How wrong they are!

We hear the story from Jackie’s witty, observant and acerbic perspective, and early readers are falling in love with her voice, exactly as I did when I first heard her in my head.

2. What inspired the book?

I was in foster care as a child and remember one temporary placement in the home of a couple with a daughter of their own. I was perhaps 11 or 12. Apart from this, and the fact that they owned a Dalmatian who had to go straight into my story, I remember very few details of the placement. I’m not sure how long I was there or why I left. I don’t remember their names or where the house was. The events and characters in ‘Cuckoo’, therefore, are completely fictional.

But my vague memories made me wonder. How did that girl feel when I arrived? When people sign up for fostering, what do they hope for? What happens if the foster child not only turns out the least dysfunctional one in the household but can offer the foster family as much if not more than they can offer her?

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

Although ‘Cuckoo’ is my debut full-length novel, I had a memoir published in 2020, called ‘Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?’ which tracks a year in my life as an English teacher. I wrote that chronologically, structuring it around the school year.

‘Cuckoo’ emerged more organically. During lockdown, I met often on Zoom with a writing buddy (Hi, Lisa!). The idea and themes for ‘Cuckoo’ were burbling away in my mind. Lisa and I gave each other prompts. One week it was the colour yellow. That week, ‘Cuckoo’ began as one scene in a freshly-painted sunflower yellow bedroom, with Bridget, the foster mother, showing Jackie her new room. First, I wrote it in Bridget’s voice but as soon as I changed it to the teenager’s, out popped Jackie, as sarky as heck.

This became the opening scene on the advice of another friend (Hi, Deborah!). Then, week by week, the novel grew, scenes often written out of order from buddy-meeting prompts such as ‘paper’ or ‘kitchen equipment’ or ‘a birthday’.

Next, the challenge: to join them all together, a bit like a jigsaw, only I still had to find a lot of missing pieces.

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

What’s so exciting about this (‘don’t call it a journey, don’t call it a journey’) adventure is that many of the emails I receive from Legend Press are lovely surprises, such as news that an author I admire has endorsed ‘Cuckoo’, or that it’s going to be made into an audio book. Other surprise emails have been about changes to the cover and the title but Legend has involved me at every stage, which I’ve hugely appreciated, and any changes have been so wise and right for my story.

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

You’d think that someone whose profession was English teaching for nearly 20 years would have read hundreds of books but teaching left little time to read anything but ‘Lord of the Flies’ or ‘Macbeth’ forty-one times over. I am catching up big-time, so reading novels or memoirs and chatting about them online is a favourite pastime. I belong to a Baptist church, enjoy hanging out with friends there, and play adequate guitar in the band. I also have three grown-up offspring and two grandchildren, and spending time with them, cooking, eating, and cheerfully insulting one another, is a key part of my non-writing time. I also watch far more episodes of ‘Homes Under The Hammer’ and ‘Richard Osman’s House of Games’ than is healthy.

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

This is like ‘Desert Island Discs’ when the interviewee gets the Bible and all of Shakespeare’s plays to take on the island. I would accept both of those gladly but would add ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J D Salinger. The main character, Holden Caulfield, is so unintentionally funny but, also, I taught the book to a class of 30 boys at one of my first schools and we had the best term ever. Here’s to you, 4G! In ‘Cuckoo in the Nest’, Jackie Chadwick reads ‘Catcher’ and falls in love with Holden immediately, finding Huck Finn, in the next book she reads, a disappointment in comparison. Apologies to Mark Twain.

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?

So many questions I wish I’d been asked. What do you do with the millions you earn through royalties? How do you cope with all the paparazzi? Why do you look so uncannily like Kate Winslet?

But I’ve also never been asked if I would like that essential writer’s accessory: a cute dog. The answer is ‘Yes, with all my heart.’ We live in a rented house and have a no-pet clause in our contract. I believe the laws are changing and I can’t wait to go and choose the curly-haired, melty-eyed terrier that will lie on my feet while I write, come for walks with me when I’m procrastinating, and pose obediently for social media photographs.

About the Book

It’s the heatwave summer of 1976 and 14-year-old would be poet Jackie Chadwick is newly fostered by the Walls. She desperately needs stability, but their insecure, jealous teenage daughter isn’t happy about the cuckoo in the nest and sets about ousting her.

When her attempts to do so lead to near-tragedy – and the Walls’ veneer of middle-class respectability begins to crumble – everyone in the household is forced to reassess what really matters.

You can buy a copy of the book here.

(This is an affiliate link so I may make small amount should you purchase through it. You can also buy Cuckoo in the Nest from your local independent bookshop.)

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