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Author Helen Richardson: ‘Waking is a love letter to Hackney’

PUBLISHED: 13:30 19 January 2018

Hackney author Helen Richardson

Hackney author Helen Richardson

Archant

‘Waking’ centres around a single moment: a faint sense of recognition between a man and a woman

Waking by Helen Richardson, set in HackneyWaking by Helen Richardson, set in Hackney

“The story contained within this book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”

These two sentences, or two very similar sentences, appear at the front of every piece of fiction that we read. While legally they are necessary, they are both true and false at the same time. Fiction is powerful precisely because it is so tightly-bound to the non-fiction reality we live in. And anything that is the product of imagination, is ultimately in some way the product of experience. It is no coincidence, for example, that my debut novel ‘Waking’ is set in Hackney.

‘Waking’ centres around a single moment: a faint sense of recognition between a man and a woman. Anna, recently moved to London, meets Jack. There is a spark that they both feel - an electric second of connection, a brief flicker of déjà vu that is a bit like attraction, and a bit like memory. It is close to love at first sight, but Anna senses something troubling, damaging even, behind this unexpected familiarity.

As something wonderful blossoms between them, the nightmares that Anna has been suffering from since she was a girl, begin to take on an alarming clarity and urgency. Gradually, the crooked dialogue between her waking mind and her dreaming subconscious, fills in the gaps behind that unsettling conviction Anna can’t shake, that they are somehow a part of one another’s past.

There are elements of inspiration that come to you in the same way that dreams are offered up to your conscious mind by a part of yourself that you cannot see. The setting of ‘Waking’, its locations of Hackney, Dalston, and Whitechapel, appeared to me very clearly as I worked my way through Anna’s journey to Jack: Their narrative is one of love, and Hackney for me, is coloured by that heady emotion.

When I met my husband Christian, he was living near London Fields park. Hackney was usually where we met, and so it was these streets where I now live, that shifted and shimmered in that funny way the world does when you have met somebody. The texture of life changed, like having new glasses, turning the volume up on your headphones, putting salt on your food. I moved to Hackney to live with Christian. My initial reason for calling this place home was love, and so it felt natural and right that this was where Anna and Jack’s lives converged.

As much as possible, I like to write in the place where a story is set. Writing ‘Waking’ this meant looking out through my window across Dalston, wandering from London Fields to Brick Lane as I chewed over scenes and ideas. This brilliantly messy slice of world culture, this compressed cross-section of class and race, is truly a special and enlivening place to write and live. I hope what made its way onto the pages of ‘Waking’, is the energy and personality of this incredible borough, a place that somehow manages to be both loud and personal, bold and sensitive, functional and creative, a vibrant urban chaos dotted with calming patches of green, its skyline punctuated by towerblocks and trees.

For anybody who does read ‘Waking’, I should reassure you that aside from gently pinching the scenes of my own romance and rearranging them around Anna and Jack, this is where non-fiction moves into fiction, experience into imagination. My husband will no doubt be happy to know that our marriage is not filled with tortured night terrors and a creeping sense of darkness. As I said, that ubiquitous legal disclaimer is at once false and incomplete, and in this case at least, reassuringly true.

Published by Accent Press, £7.99. Available in Waterstones, Foyles and on Amazon.

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