Today I’m joined on my blog by the lovely Sally Jenkins, whose first novel, Little Museum of Hope is published by Joffe Books/Choc Lit. A book, Sally says, was ten years in the making.
Sally lives in the West Midlands of England. When not writing, she feeds her addiction to words by working part-time in her local library, running two reading groups and giving talks about her writing. Sally can also be found walking, church bell ringing and enjoying shavasana in her yoga class.
Hi Sally, thank you for popping by to chat to me on my blog today Can you tell me a little about your book?
A jar of festival mud, a photo album of family memories, a child’s teddy bear, a book of bell ringing methods, an old cassette tape, a pair of slippers …
These are the items that fill the exhibit shelves in Vanessa Jones’ museum. At first glance, they appear to have nothing in common, but that’s before you find out the stories behind them …
Because Vanessa’s Little Museum of Hope is no ordinary museum – its aim is to help people heal by donating items associated with shattered lives and failed relationships, and in doing so, find a way to move on, perhaps even start again.
The museum soon becomes a sanctuary for the broken hearts in Vanessa’s city, and she’s always on hand to offer a cup of tea, a slice of cake and a listening ear.
But could the bringer of Hope need a little help moving on herself?
I’ve just finished reading Little Museum of Hope and was entranced by this story. I remember years ago during the Festival of Love on the South Bank, visiting the Museum of Broken Relationships and being fascinated by the individual stories then. I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that the characters in your novel, through their donations, seem able to move on and it was lovely to see what a difference the museum made to them and why Vanessa thought it so important.
But, first, I have to ask, you referred to Blue Peter’s advent ring, fashioned if I remember correctly out of wire coat hangers – did you ever try to make one of these and was it successful?
You are right – it was made from wire coat hangers plus tinsel and real candles! No, I never made one but it does have a special place in my heart. The television Blue Peter advent crown featured in all my childhood Christmases and watching the presenters Val Singleton, Peter Purves and John Noakes (my favourite!) lighting the candles added to the excitement of the festive countdown.
Do you have an item you’d like to donate to Vanessa’s museum, either from a past relationship or just something that you feel you’d be better off without?
There’s nothing I’d like to donate (or nothing I’m owning up to!) but there is something I’d like to rediscover. In Little Museum of Hope, wannabee pop star, Pete, writes a song for his girlfriend, records it onto a cassette tape and gives it to her. This really happened to me when I was eighteen and I was ecstatic! My boyfriend and I broke up when I went to university and at some point that tape was lost. I would love to find it again and rediscover the joy of my teenage infatuation.
I don’t know whether you listen to John Lloyd’s the Museum of Curiosity on BBC Radio 4, but if you could choose three people, living or dead, to donate items to Vanessa’s museum, who and why and obviously what would they donate?
I’m going to answer this question cautiously. Most of the donors to the Little Museum of Hope do so anonymously because they don’t want the whole world to know about the mistakes they made or the trauma that befell them. Therefore I’m going to stay away from guessing/revealing things that real people might not want discussed/conjectured about online. I’m going to go fictional and historical.
My three are:
Miss Havisham, a character in Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations. After she was jilted at the altar, Miss Havisham wore her wedding dress for the rest of her life and was unable to move past the rejection. If she had donated that dress to the Little Museum of Hope, she may have been able to look forward to the future.
The fictional Bridget Jones. She would have been much happier if she’d donated her diary to the museum. In the diary she recorded her calorie and cigarette intake plus her weight. That book caused her to obsess over everything. If it had been out of reach in the Museum, she would have developed a much healthier and more positive self-image.
Queen Victoria dressed in full mourning clothes for three years after the death of her husband, Albert. And she continued to wear black in some form until she died forty years later. I am not belittling the grief of a widow or asking people to forget a beloved partner. However, we have only one life and should use the strength generated by happy memories to live positively, rather than wallowing in what we have lost. Perhaps Victoria’s mourning clothes should have gone to the museum.
I think I heard you say this novel started as short stories, what made you decide to expand it into a novel?
The original version of Maxine’s story, about a teddy bought for a new born who never gets to enjoy it, was shortlisted in a competition. As a result, I attended a glitzy prize winners’ celebration in London, on the rooftop of the Hachette publishing group offices. I talked to a publishing professional there about the other ‘Museum’ stories and he said that turning them into a novel would make them more saleable than a series of short stories.
Was that difficult?
Yes! I had to flesh out the role of Vanessa, who creates Little Museum of Hope and give her challenges along the way, such as divorce, redundancy and then the return of her ex-husband. Plus my editor suggested I needed some lighter moments too, in order to give the readers a break! It was a balancing act and I hope I’ve got it right.
Will you be revisiting this in the future? I do hope so, I’d love to know what happens to certain characters,
There is no sequel in the pipeline but if this book is well-received I’d love to write a sequel. Like you, I’ve become quite involved with several of the characters! Fingers crossed for some good reviews to show that there is an appetite for more stories about Little Museum of Hope.
What cake or bakery treat should Vanessa learn to cook next or what would you like to see in the museum café?
I love a rich, moist fruit cake served with cheese. And that’s just given me an idea for a Little Museum of Hope sequel set at Christmas …
Can you tell us about a normal writing day for you?
I have two part-time jobs and run a couple of reading groups so I rarely get a whole day for writing, instead I squeeze it when I can. I love The London Writers’ Hour. This is a virtual, hour-long writing sprint held each weekday. There are four sessions across four time zones. The UK hour is 8am to 9am but you can join in with any of the other sessions too. It’s a great way to discipline yourself to sit and write for an hour.
Final question, because I know I won’t be the only one dying to know what are you working on – what can we expect next from Sally Jenkins?
I am loathe to talk about my works in progress in case I jinx them and they never see the light of day! Suffice it to say that I have two more standalone novels with the ChocLit/Ruby Tasting Panel and I am part way through a (very rough!) first draft of another. I can’t write quick enough to keep up with the ideas!
Thank you so much for coming on to my blog today to chat, Sally. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you, and good luck with the Little Museum of Hope.
Goodreads: Little Museum of Hope by Sally Jenkins