Local author Hannah Begbie represented BAFTA and Edinburgh Comedy Award-winning writers and comedians for fifteen years until her youngest son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. In 2015 she joined the board of The Cystic Fibrosis Trust, to raise awareness and advocate for the CF community.
She also enrolled in The Novel Studio course at City University, winning that year’s new writing prize. The book she developed there became her debut novel, MOTHER, won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award for new writing.
Interview: Yasemin Bakan
Tell us about yourself
Until three years ago I was a theatrical agent for comedians and screenwriters. Now I’m an author. My debut novel, ‘Mother’, was published this summer by HarperCollins.
How long have you been living in Stoke Newington?
Ten years. Before we moved here my (now) husband Tom and I would walk endless circuits of Clissold Park at the weekend and talk about our plans and ideas. We knew then that we wanted to raise a family here.
When did you decide to be an author?
My Dad bought me a diary when I was eight and I wrote an entry every day for 20 years. The seeds were sown then but I didn’t start writing fiction until much later.
What made you write Mother?
My youngest son was diagnosed with the genetic illness cystic fibrosis at five weeks old. It was shocking and frightening and my response to that was to write. I began creating characters and situations that allowed me to explore some of the possibilities that lay before me. It became a thriller-ish exploration of motherhood, womanhood and identity.
When did you start writing the book?
A few years ago I signed up for The Novel Studio course at The City University to meet fellow writers. I started work-shopping scenes there.
Which writers have most influenced your writing?
The one that always springs to mind is Maggie O’Farrell: I read the opening chapters of ‘The Hand That First Held Mine’ when my son was just a few weeks old and, despite my exhaustion, was utterly gripped by how she’d expressed the early days of motherhood.
Who are your favourite authors?
Lorrie Moore, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Jonathan Franzen: all authors that write about the truth of being human and the relationships we choose (and don’t choose) with true voice and energy.
What are you reading now?
A book about shame and vulnerability by Brene Brown and ‘Medea’ by Euripides (research for my new book). I’m about to start Joe Heap’s ‘Rules of Seeing’, which I’ve heard is very good.
Does living in Hackney inspire you?
Yes. I think my way through life and writing puzzles while running through Hackney: Clissold Park, Springfield Park, Ridley Road Market, residential streets, down the High Street and towards the City of London.
Where are you most comfortable writing?
Anywhere from cafes and churches to parks and home.
What engages you when you’re not writing?
My two young boys. Running.
Where is your favourite place for dinner in Hackney?
I like Trangallan on Newington Green. I’ve had some memorable conversations there.
The best coffee
Bodega 50 on Allen Road.
Any hidden place you’d like to share?
I gather Gillespie Park is nice.
Is there any event you’re going to attend soon?
On 12 September my husband Tom and I do a Q and A at Stoke Newington Bookshop. Tom is a screenwriter (‘The Crown’, ‘Strike’) and is attached to adapt ‘Mother’ as a television drama. The rights have been optioned by Clerkenwell Films who he made ‘Lovesick’ with. We’ll be talking about the process of writing from life into fiction and how you then adapt those ideas from book to screen.
‘Mother’ is out now. Published by HarperCollins.
Hannah will be talking about ‘Mother’ at Stoke Newington Bookshop on 12 September, 8pm