For me, the genesis of a new novel begins with a theme or issue that I would like to explore. In A Thousand Roads Home, my latest novel, it was homelessness.
For many years I have watched with growing horror as our national homeless crisis grows day by day. I read first hand accounts of families living in hotels and B&Bs, for long periods of time and their stories stayed with me. I know how lucky I am to have a front door to close each night as I turn my back on the day. I have a home to feel safe and secure in. To love and be loved in.
And so, Ruth’s character, a single Aspie mother, began to whisper to me – scared, alone, with despair filling her once happy days as she fails to find affordable housing when evicted from her flat. Her son DJ’s character followed soon afterwards – in his pulled up hoody, hands scrunched up into fists by his side, angry with the world and their situation.
The plot began to unfold itself to me, beat by beat. But something was missing. Their story was only part of the homeless issue I wanted to tease out. I went for a walk and thought about the many faces of homelessness I’d witnessed over the years. And a memory came back to me, of a radio interview I’d heard at least twenty odd years ago that had deeply moved me. A distraught father shared how he had spent the day searching for his son, without success. Someone had spotted his missing son on the streets of Dublin and he rushed up from his home to look for him. As I listened to this man explain how hard his family had tried to save their much loved son, to bring him home, but ultimately had failed, it changed something in me.
I began to look at people on the streets, who perhaps before were invisible to me, with new eyes.
Each person you see curled up in a sleeping bag on the cold ground, in a doorway for shelter, started off life as someone’s child. Of course, some are on the streets because of the horrific life they had at home, at the hands of their parents. Addiction and mental health issues, poverty, all play their part too. But like the missing son from that radio interview years ago, who once lived a good life, filled with love and security, the people on the street were someone’s child once.
And so Tom’s story began, the third character in A Thousand Roads Home. A rough sleeper, one of Dublin’s invisible, who calls a park bench his home. A man who has travelled down a thousand wrong roads and is unable now to find his way back home.
I spent months researching the story, trying to understand what it would be like to walk in the shoes of my characters. The Peter McVerry Trust helped me with Tom’s character and were happy to answer even the most strange plot led questions I fired them. I remember that while working on edits for this book, Storm Ophelia ravaged our country. And I worried about the rough sleepers and thanked the gods for volunteers in our many incredible homeless charities who brought those at risk, inside. To understand Ruth and DJs truth, I checked into a hotel that is used for emergency housing, with my two young children. I gave myself a budget of €40, and packed up as much of our belongings into three suitcases that I felt I could manage. And over that weekend, I learned the harsh reality of living in a small space with children. No privacy. No storage. Nowhere to cook, eat, play. Live.
The genre I write in, is often referred to as UpLit. I like this term. But while my books are uplifting, I always include both light and shade in their stories. My characters in A Thousand Roads Home are facing the toughest time of their lives, dealing with devastation, cruelty, grief, loss, loneliness, poverty and prejudice. I had to look this squarely in the eye and write its dark truth, with no sugar coating. But it’s this truth that allows my characters to reveal themselves, page by page. They find out their strengths and weaknesses when life throws grenades at them. And as kindness, humanity, light and compassion, comes into their lives, often from the hands of strangers, they begin to heal.
(c) Carmel Harrington
About A Thousand Roads Home:
‘I read it. I LOVE it! A very VERY special book’ Marian Keyes
‘Brave and original’ Liz Nugent
‘Belongs in everyone’s hearts’ Hazel Gaynor
Where is home? Wherever the people you love are.
Single mother, Ruth, and her son, DJ, have never truly fitted in, but that didn’t matter, so long as they were together. When their home comes under threat, their quiet life will change forever.
DJ meets Tom, a man who ten years ago walked out of his house and never looked back. Ruth, DJ and Tom have all felt like outsiders. Burdened with grief and insecurities, they are not living their best lives. But together, these three ordinary people will do an extraordinary thing…
‘A remarkable, special joyous book that captured my heart’ Alex Brown
‘Fearless, brave and so full of heart…Carmel has written her first number one’ Claudia Carroll
Order your copy online here.