How would you describe Mobile Library to a reading group?
Mobile Library is a book about a young boy and an older woman who find each other when they need each other most, and escape the awful realities of their lives to run away together – a road trip, and a chase, that runs the length of Britain in a stolen mobile library. It’s about family, the human need to be loved, and how stories shape us.
We understand you have fond memories of mobile libraries from your childhood. When did you have the initial idea for the novel?
My mother was a cleaner in a mobile library, and we had the keys so I used to have the whole thing to myself as a child at weekends. I guess that’s where the idea came from – when I was a boy, it seemed like quite a romantic place to me, and I loved it. The story itself came much later. I was interested in the idea of a woman and a boy who aren’t related coming together to find a familial love despite them not being of the same blood. About unlikely people looking out for one another.
Mobile Library is less experimental than your first novel, Bed. Was this a conscious decision?
I subscribe to the belief that the only book you can write is the one you are writing at the time. I was aware it was less experimental, but I wasn’t consciously trying for it to be that way. Each book can only be written a certain way. The hard part of writing is, I suppose, ignoring the thousand voices in your head screaming at you to write it another way, when it can’t be done.
What does it mean to you to be a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize winning author?
The prize means everything to me. Its validation, really. Writing can be working in a vacuum sometimes. The prize gives support. Gives meaning to what you’re doing. Gives you a crutch, when most of the time you’re limping along. Tells you you’re not mad, because writing is an act of madness.
Do you think there are any characteristics that define British fiction writing?
No, and I think that’s the beauty of it. It’s diverse, changing, weird, unpredictable. It’s every kind of writing there is. Often, its not given credit for how rich it is. That’s another good thing about the prize.
Can you recommend a contemporary British fiction writer?
Joe Stretch. His book The Adult is fantastic. Really smart. Really funny.
And finally, do you have any works in progress that we should watch out for?
I’ve a few things. Whether they’re progressing or not depends on what day you catch me on. I’ve a new novel. Currently on a second draft. No title yet, but it starts with a whale being cut open and them finding the black box of a plane that went missing 30 years before inside it. I’ve also got a couple of TV series in development. What happens to those is anyone’s guess.
David Whitehouse is an award-winning novelist, journalist and screenwriter. His first novel,Bed, won the 2012 Betty Trask Award and was published in 14 languages. David writes regularly for the Guardian and The Times and is editor-at-large of ShortList magazine. Originally from Warwickshire, he now lives in London.