A brief word with a brilliant and inspiring author

Kayleigh Garthwaite is a trusted academic at Durham University, and the author of Hunger Pains: Life Inside Foodbank Britain, published by Policy Press of the University of Bristol. 
Her direct experience in the organisation of a Trussell Trust foodbank informs this fascinating publication. Having collected hundreds of hours of interviews during her time as a volunteer, she provides a voice to the people in Britain that are surviving from emergency food services.
We caught up with Kayleigh for a brief chat to discuss her work. Please, read on!
What kicked off your ambition to write about Britain’s food banks?
Whilst carrying out research for the project I’m currently working on in the Centre for Health and Inequalities research at Durham University, it was clear to me that emergency food aid was becoming such a key feature of the daily lives of people in the UK. I decided to train as a volunteer to find out how exactly they worked, who used them, and how they felt about it.
Would you say writers have a responsibility to communicate some of the most pressing social issues in the world today?
Definitely! I feel it’s the job of writers to challenge ideas, misconceptions and break down myths that exist. I found a lot of people didn’t know how foodbanks worked, but they had an opinion that people used them simply because they were there, or because they wasted their money on other things such as alcohol, cigarettes and Sky TV. I wanted to show the reality wasn’t like that.
How supportive have you found your publisher through the process?
Policy Press have been amazing. They were so enthusiastic and supportive from the start, and really gave me the autonomy to take the book in the direction I wanted to go, whilst at the same time giving me firm advice on title and cover options to ensure it was as marketable as it could be.
Would you say a good relationship with a publisher is key to an author’s success?
I think it’s key that the publisher and author are on the same wavelength from the beginning. Everyone I’ve worked with at Policy Press knew exactly how I wanted the book to turn out, and they did everything they could to support me in bringing it together, and also in disseminating it.
Has it been a difficult balance between academic work and writing your book?
Well when I was writing the book there was no balance at all! I was incredibly lucky to have the support and freedom of time from Professor Clare Bambra who manages the grant I’m working on. Going back to writing like an academic after I submitted the manuscript was really tough.
Do you enjoy the process overall? What are the most satisfying and challenging parts?
I really did enjoy it! The most satisfying was getting feedback from people on the draft chapters along the way, including from people who feature in the book. It was so important to me that they found the account I’d written to be balanced, accurate and insightful. The most challenging part was pulling it all together in seven months! That, and making sure the most up-to-date statistics and latest reports were included.
What data research have you found to be the most compelling during your research?
Meeting Gemma, 32, at the foodbank four days away from giving birth as she’d had zero income for three weeks due to benefit delays was the most shocking moment for me. Her story was how I began the book, as for me it says so many things about why people are needing to seek help from foodbanks in the first place.
Are you satisfied with the coverage that your book has received so far? How have you increased awareness?
The coverage to date has been great, and better than I could have hoped for. Having the panel event in Westminster, which included MPs, journalists, Trussell Trust, and people from different charities and organisations across the country, was really important to me because people I met at the foodbank often felt that politicians didn’t know what their lives were like, and felt they didn’t get listened to. Going to Westminster meant I could take their stories directly to MPs.
What’s next for you?
More writing! I’m getting back into my academic work on health inequalities. And then who knows, maybe another book in the not so distant future?!
Huge thanks to Kayleigh for speaking to us. You can buy Hunger Pains through the Policy Press website, available here.
For more news and updates, follow Kayleigh Garthwaite on Twitter.
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