Review by Harriet Cunningham
An advocate for representation of care experienced people in the media, Kirsty Capes discussed her novel Careless at her insightful and thought-provoking event at Durham Book Festival. During the event, she focused on her lived experience as the inspiration behind her insightful and raw debut.
Capes’ reading of an extract from the first chapter of her novel was hard-hitting and powerful, providing an insight into the intensely personal narrative perspective of 15-year-old protagonist Bess.
The event also highlighted the often sanitised and bureaucratic language used within the care system, citing the oxymoronic description of social services as a “corporate parent” as a key example. The contrast between Capes’ own novel – in which the dialogue is deeply personal, reflective, and honest – and the bureaucratic language she describes is striking, strengthening Capes’ view that care experienced people must be given a platform within literary circles.
As Careless is set in the 1990s, Capes spoke of the socio-political changes that have led to changes in the care system since then. It is fitting that in a year in which DBF is held predominantly online, Capes highlighted the role that the internet and social media have held in instigating change. Capes cited the digital revolution as a pivotal turning point whereby care experienced people have built online communities, shared experiences and agitated against issues within the care system. Capes’ event left me with a sense of hope regarding the future of the care system, emphasising possibilities for positive change.
Capes recommended several novels centred around lived experience of the care system, including My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal and The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan. Capes’ insight and reflection on these novels was fascinating, notably her analysis of how they compare and contrast to Careless.
Describing the act of writing as a “coping mechanism”, Capes advocated for the importance of writing about one’s own life experiences, whilst simultaneously highlighting the importance of maintaining a support network and protecting oneself when writing about traumatic events. In a world in which our lives have become increasingly visible to others through social media, Capes emphasised that nobody owes anybody their story – it is okay to leave things out, editorialise and disguise things as fiction.
Capes provided an insight into her writing technique; her advice for aspiring writers is to write little and often, carving out pockets of time around other commitments. She elaborated on the concept of “living with” your protagonist, stating that this helps you better relate to and understand your character. As a young writer, it was fascinating to discover more about Capes’ view on the art of writing and to discover her writing tips.
Whether or not the viewer has read Careless, this event, which is available to view online, provides a fascinating insight into the wider context of both the author and the protagonist’s life as young people in care.