During the COVID-19 pandemic, rough sleeping has fallen by 37 per cent after lockdown pushed the Government to take action on street homelessness. But with a roadmap designed to end current restrictions in place, this figure looks set to rise again once certain protections, including the ban on evictions and the temporary housing of rough sleepers, are taken away.
Here, author Amy Stone writes for Northern Soul about the difficultly of completing a second novel and why she’s decided to donate the proceeds of her latest book, Strong Stuff, to Roundabout, a Sheffield charity working to prevent youth homelessness.
I spent years terrified of even admitting that I had ambitions to be a writer, let alone sharing my work with anyone other than the cat/dog/sympathetic relative. When I finally decided to seriously pursue writing a novel, it took me 10 years and two books before I finally became a published author. The first book was starting to melt my mind, so I began a second and pursued the story through to the end. That book was The Raven Wheel, and I’m proud of it.
“I’m proud” is not something I’m generally comfortable saying. Given my horror at the thought of people discovering my dark secret (not only did I write, but I had delusions of grandeur far advanced enough for me to think others might also enjoy my writing), you can see that the leap between that and having a book in Waterstones is quite a chasm. I was nervous as hell when it came out, but beyond-belief-bowled-over when I made the longlist for the Arnold Bennett Literary Award. Maybe I could call myself a writer, after all. Maybe.
I was already halfway through a third manuscript when The Raven Wheel was published. While I won’t bore you with the details, I will say that once that MS was finished, I realised I had to step away from it. So, I returned to manuscript number one. The one that nearly killed me. The one where I learned many harsh truths regarding the painful submission process alongside the difficulty of approaching agencies and publishers. This is the book, my book, that’s coming out in April 2021.
Strong Stuff means a great deal to me and, because the story had been with me for so long, I was convinced that my judgement couldn’t be trusted. I still am. So, I’ve had to trust my publisher and brilliant beta readers to be honest with me instead. And they have. It’s not perfect, but neither are a lot of my favourite things. My favourite people, books, places, they’re all delightfully broken in one way or another. But they mean the world to me.
There are some intense moments in The Raven Wheel, which made it easier to hide behind, in a way. By contrast, Strong Stuff is younger and lighter, with touches of fuzzy warmth now and then. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still my book, so of course the walk is a bit gritty underfoot. But nobody is entirely consumed by swamps of sadness like that poor horse in The NeverEnding Story. I’m still not over what happened to Artax (mainly because I only saw it for the first time at Christmas with my pre-schoolers and wasn’t expecting to have to explain death to them when I’d only put the film on as a cop-out, enabling me to lie on the sofa nursing my hangover in relative peace).
But back to the point. Strong Stuff is a different kind of book, where there’s far less to hide behind. Nothing spectacular or shocking happens – it’s the story of one kid’s strength in difficult circumstances. A lot of young people face some really tough challenges and when the support structures around them are tested, sometimes they break. Sometimes these structures were never there to begin with. My protagonist, Ruby, faces similar challenges, which is why I decided to do something (in my own small way) to try to help people tackling these issues in their own lives.
That’s why I’m donating my author proceeds from sales of Strong Stuff to Roundabout, a Sheffield charity working to prevent youth homelessness. I’m incredibly grateful to my publisher, SRL Publishing, which has pledged to match whatever I make. There are lots of reasons why a young person might find themselves facing homelessness and, if you believe in a level-playing field, then none of these justify having nowhere to call home.
By Amy Stone, author of Strong Stuff and The Raven Wheel
Strong Stuff is published by SRL Publishing and will be available on April 27, 2021