Q&A with Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Q&A with Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is the author of The Smell of Other People’s Houses (Faber Children’s, April).

What is The Smell of Other People’s Houses about?

It’s about four teenagers in 1970s Alaska, where I grew up, and it’s based on some of my experiences. The characters are a mish-mash of my grandma, my mother and my siblings. I’ve got five siblings and four generations of my family grew up in Alaska, so the book is a mixture of all the people in my life. I also worked at one time as a public radio reporter, so some scenes are based on things I reported on.

Is this your first book?

Yes. I've always written a lot of short stories and essays but once I left Alaska I felt more free to write about my experience of growing up there. It’s an idyllic place but talking about yourself growing up wasn’t accepted.

Why did you make the story YA?

I’ve always wanted to write a YA novel. I did a Masters of Fine Arts in Minnesota and started writing the book as part of a creative thesis. My tutor said it felt adult and tried to make me turn it into an adult book but I wanted to write it for my teenage self. I didn’t have any stories like this when I was young.

The book covers some serious issues. Did you always want to write about racism and alcoholism?

Those were really common experiences in Alaska and I wanted to reflect true events. When I was a reporter I could never give these issues the weight they deserved so they were often overlooked. I didn’t want to romanticise anything.

Who is your favourite character?

I love Dora. I’ve met so many girls who have had her experience [Dora, an Alaskan native, goes to live with her friend Bunny because her parents are alcoholics]. Through fiction I could give her more of a voice.