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>> Nowhere to call 'home'

Nowhere to call 'home'
08/10/2018

Nowhere to call 'home'


SUSIN NIELSEN's perceptive new book, NO FIXED ADDRESS, shows us how easy it is to become homeless and what a devastating impact it can have on young people with nowhere to call home.

In NO FIXED ADDRESS, we see a gradual slide into poverty for teenager Felix Knutsson and his mum, after a temporary move into a campervan becomes a permanent way of life for the family.

Felix is determined to change their luck; could winning a television show bring them the money they so desperately need?

We asked author SUSIN NIELSEN to tell us more about NO FIXED ADDRESS, a sensitive exploration of homelessness, family and friendship:


Q: Like your earlier novel My Messed Up Life, No Fixed Address features a single parent family in difficulties. Why did you decide to return to a single parent family for this novel?

A: Well actually, almost all of my novels feature single parent families - a fact that has been pointed out now by my editors and agent! This absolutely stems from my own upbringing; I was raised by a single parent mom.

I hadn't even realized it myself until recently that I pretty much never have a typical, happy, nuclear family in my novels.


Q: Was there any one thing that helped inspire No Fixed Address?

A: I was half-asleep in a hotel room in early 2015 when the thought drifted through my mind: "I could write about a boy who lives in a van with his mom." I suspect this initial notion came from a conversation I'd had years earlier with a couple who'd lived in a van with their 8-year-old daughter for a year while he went to university in Vancouver. They described it as a great adventure, but a small (and, yes, judgmental) part of me wondered if it had always been an adventure for their daughter, especially in the cold, rainy winter months.

When I began writing the book, there was already a housing crisis in Vancouver, Canada, where my novel is set. But I had no idea just how 'of the moment' the story would be by its publication date in 2018. Things have gotten much worse, and I think you're seeing the same in the UK as well.


Q: Homelessness is a strong theme in No Fixed Address. Why did you decide to write this story from the perspective of a homeless child, Felix?

A: Well, all of my books are written from a young person's perspective. To me, it's the most interesting perspective. Because Felix doesn't see his life as particularly unique, or even hard, for a long time; he doesn't even consider himself homeless for quite a while, either. He has a great deal of faith in his mom, for better or worse; he has so many more places to go on his journey.

I love writing from the perspective of a young person; they tend also to be more hopeful, and optimistic (with the exception of Petula in Optimists Die First, of course!).


Q: Did you need to do any research to support your story?

A: Some, yes. I aim to be accurate with details. So, for example, I spoke to people at the Vancouver Police Department about what would happen if Felix and Astrid were discovered to be living in a van that had been reported stolen, and I spoke to social workers to find out how their situation would be dealt with. And of course I even spoke to a contestant on Jeopardy!


Q: You begin No Fixed Address with Felix being 'interrogated' by a police officer, a scene that most of the book then builds up to. Why did you decide to start with a scene from the end of the book?

A: It felt like a great structure to the novel. It would entice my readers to want to know more. Plus, it was quite a fun scene to write.


Q: Felix describes many of the problems with life in a van, but what would you find hardest to cope with if you ever found yourself in that situation?

A: The 'no toilet'. Absolutely. I need to pee during the night...


Q: During the story, Felix enters a games show competition - something you say you've always wanted to include in a story. Why did you decide to put it in this book?

A: I never try to wedge something into a story - this book felt like the absolutely right place for a game show. A crazy, long-shot idea to make money - but maybe, just maybe, within reach. I really wanted Felix to be proactive, and have his own possible solution to their crisis, no matter how far-fetched.


Q: Is the setting real? How well do you know your settings before you start writing?

A: All of my books so far have been set in Vancouver, my city, so yes, the settings are quite 'real', in that I can see them very vividly in my head. I find I need that as a writer - I need to be able to see my characters living, breathing, walking down the street. So, while Ahmadi Produce is a fictional store, there are many stores like it in Kitsilano. And Kidsbooks is very real. The school's name is fictional, but I know which school it is modelled after.


Q: There are some great supporting characters in Felix's story - do you have a favourite?

A: Well, it hardly seems fair to the others to pick a favourite. But, Astrid aside (I love Astrid, she was great fun to write), I would probably have to pick Dylan, largely because of his heartfelt belief in his poltergeist. But see, the moment I say that, I think about Winnie, whom I also adore. This is like 'Susin's Choice'!


Q: Where do you write and what are you working on now?

A: I mostly write in my home office, about ten paces from my bedroom! I'm working on a new manuscript, but the first draft is at my publisher so in case they hate it I'm not going to say anything more. I don't want to jinx it.


Q: What are your top tips for young writers who have an idea for a story but don't know where to start in writing it?

A: You don't have to write in a linear fashion. If you have a great idea, write a scene. Any scene. I've started some books in the middle. Once you have that one scene, write another one. Again, it doesn't have to be linear. Eventually you can start to connect the dots.


 
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