Author Interview: Sally Jenkins

What inspired the idea for your book?
Little Museum of Hope is a fictional version of the real-life Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb. People donate objects to the museum which remind them of a bad life experience, for example an album of wedding photos after a divorce, a teddy which belonged to a dead baby or a workplace name badge no longer needed after redundancy. Banishing the objects in this way helps the donor move on to a more positive future and improves their mental health.

In what significant way has your book changed since the first draft?
Little Museum of Hope started life as a series of short stories. I then realised the concept was strong enough to sustain a novel. In order to create a narrative thread backbone, I introduced the character of Vanessa. Vanessa’s husband leaves her on the same day that she loses her job. In order to fill the massive void in her life she starts the Little Museum of Hope but financial constraints mean she has only ten months to start turning a profit.

How did you come up with the title for your book?
My original working title was, The Museum of Fractured Lives. An agent I worked with suggested changing it to The Museum of Hope. My publisher, Ruby Fiction, changed it again to Little Museum of Hope.

How important was professional editing to your book’s development?
Essential! Very few writers get the structure of a book right without the input of a professional. We simply get too close to the text! Little Museum of Hope has had input from two agents as well as from my editor at Ruby Fiction. This has made the narrative arc more compelling and corrected the inconsistencies which I failed to see.

How long did it take you to write this book?
I first read about The Museum of Broken Relationships ten years ago, in 2013, and started writing the short stories. At the end of 2016 I started to melding the stories into a novel. A submissions roller coaster of ups, downs and near misses followed before the publication of Little Museum of Hope in April 2023. (I should add that during this decade I also wrote short stories, articles and four more novels!)

What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?
Little Museum of Hope contains a couple of low-key sex scenes and it was difficult to find the right words for these. I wanted to use the scenes to get across what the characters were going through emotionally without focusing too much on the mechanics of the act. I guess the readers will be the judges of whether or not I succeeded!

Name an underappreciated novel that you love
I recommend Mr. Two Bomb by William Coles. It tells the often harrowing tale of a man who gets caught up in both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs and survives both. He is plagued by the question does this make him the unluckiest man on earth of the luckiest? Mr. Two Bomb is completely unlike the books I write but it makes compelling reading.

What books did you grow up reading?
Enid Blyton! I would have loved to experience the slippery-slip helter-skelter down the centre of the Faraway Tree. And what young girl didn’t hanker to be a boarder at Malory Towers with Darrell, Gwendolyn and Mary Lou? As for the Famous Five – I was desperate to go wild camping on a bed of heather with a dog like Timmy.

What do the words writer’s block mean to you?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. Prolific, successful authors sit down and write regularly. They cultivate a habit so that the brain automatically goes into ‘writing’ mode when they turn up at their usual writing place. Some days the words may take longer to come but, with persistence, they will always come.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I read, do yoga and love walking. I’m also a church bell ringer and I give talks about my writing. These last two activities feature in Little Museum of Hope: Stephen takes up bell ringing to escape his grief and Rose tries public speaking as a confidence builder after redundancy. A writer is never fully off-duty!

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