Jemma Neville has a professional background in human rights law, is an arts charity director and was the inaugural Community Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Humanities, University of Edinburgh. In her non-fiction debut, she explores real-life stories from one street in Leith, Edinburgh which reveal ideas, hopes and fears about today’s constitutional crisis. She talks to us about it here.
What is Constitution Street about?
Constitution Street is about a year in the life of one street, the search for common ground, about how the local and the global are connected through human rights and about a personal exploration of anxiety.
Why did you decide to write a book about the street you live on?
Living in the middle of the street, I experienced it undergoing rapid socio-economic change, much as the pace of constitutional change in the country at large was speeding up. I felt anxious about all of this and wanted to keep time through personal fieldwork.
What was your neighbours’ response to the project?
Neighbours were initially curious and generous with their time. However, my opening questions about law and politics didn’t go down too well. I learnt to re-frame the interviews to find connection, much as I think we need to re-frame the narrative presented by politicians from one of fear to hope.
How did your background in human rights law impact on your writing?
See above! Using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a framework allowed me to mix international examples of rights in practice with the local.
What message do you want readers to take away from the book?
Every street is Constitution Street. We always have more in common than that which divides us. And that if you pay attention to everyday change close to home—itself an act of protest and bearing witness in a noisy world—hope is always there.
Constitution Street by Jemma Neville is published by 404Ink.