I am so pleased that A Thousand Roads Home has been chosen for this months pick!
If you’ve read my books before, you’ll know that I like to make my readers both laugh and cry. We need sunshine and rain to find those rainbows, don’t we? And while many of the themes explored in A Thousand Roads Home are the ones that break hearts, theres lots of laugh out loud moments too, I promise!
I often say, every day is a school day, and there’s no doubt that writing this book taught me many valuable lessons. Through my research into homelessness and autism I learnt a lot about both my own and others prejudice. Now when I see someone curled up in a sleeping bag inside a doorway, or on a bench, I remember that they are someone’s child, sibling, parent, friend. And that they have a story, just like Tom, Ruth and DJ do in my book.
There are many reasons why people find themselves homeless – poverty, lack of affordable housing, addiction, mental illness, family breakdowns. For this story I decided to focus on a rough sleeper and a family who live in emergency social housing.
I wasn’t sure who the rough sleeper was at first. But I could clearly see the park bench that he called home. I also knew that he was homeless by choice. Nearly 20 years ago, I heard a father on the radio share his distress that his son was sleeping rough. There was so much pain in his voice that it floored me. I stopped what I was doing and listened to the interview. Really listened.
This father had spent days searching the streets of Dublin because he’d been given a lead that his son was was seen there. But if he was, the dark shadows hid him well. The father was broken as he admitted defeat. He would not be bringing his child home. He explained the many interventions he and his wife had tried over the years. All this man wanted to do was make things better for his family, and he simply could not do this. His son had lived with mental health issues for more than a decade and he now preferred isolation on the streets.
I’ve never forgotten that interview. Some stories stay with you, don’t they? Was that young man still out there somewhere or had he found the right road home eventually? I asked myself what would make me walk away from my home. I could only think of one answer. I won’t tell you what I came up with, because that would be a plot spoiler. But as a result, Tom’s character began to whisper to me. A doctor who finds peace under the stars when his own home becomes an unbearable pain. Tom’s only company is his rescue dog, Bette Davis. If you love dogs, like I do, I suspect you’ll fall in love with Bette.
For the case of Ruth, an aspie mum, her character had been filed away in my head for years! I just needed the right story to put her in. I knew how she talked – no slang thank you very much – that she counted steps, only ate white food – all hail the mashed potato! – and that she loved books. But I didn’t know her back story. That unfolded for me as she and her ten year old son DJ were evicted from their flat. Unable to find another property in their price range, they end up in emergency housing, a small hotel in Dublin, called the Silver Sands Lodge Hotel. This is straight from my imagination, but is typical of the accommodation used for families in Ruth’s position.
My agent calls me a method author because I like to walk in my characters’ shoes whenever I can.
Some of the things I did for this book were to spend time with homeless charities, helping with the food runs. I spent a month looking for a flat in Dublin, just as Ruth does in the book. I failed despite my every effort, and I realised how true the saying was, that we are all only two pay cheques away from the streets. I moved into a hotel used for affordable housing for a short stay, to understand the practicalities of living in one room with children. The desolation and despair creeps up on you. And I spent a weekend avoiding eye contact, which gave me one of Ruth’s quirks – focusing on peoples shoes! I hope this research makes my characters more authentic for my readers and that you all fall in love with them, as I did when I created them. Faults and all. Sure, none of us are perfect and wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we were.
The homeless charity Peter McVerry Trust is featured more than once in this story. Last year I helped them with their last Opening Doors Appeal, sharing what home means to me, which really is the essence of this book.
Tom, Ruth and DJ are the faces of just a few of the 1 billion plus who are homeless worldwide. They remind me that everyone has a story. Sometimes we all find ourselves on the wrong road. My wish is that they find the right road home soon. A safe place to fall.