Brighton takes centre stage in a new book from Red Dog Press. New Brighton by Helen Trevorrow is an action-packed speculative thriller set in Brighton’s near future. It follows the life of waitress, Robyn Lockhart after a mysterious ship runs aground on Brighton beach during a vicious storm. While the city on the sea comes to a ghostly standstill, the unusual event triggers an epic journey for Robyn. Here, Helen tells Sam Bennett more. 

The last time I spoke to you was for your debut novel, In The Wake. Did you approach writing your latest book, New Brighton differently?

Thanks so much for speaking to me again! New Brighton is rather intricately plotted with many strands taking shape and ultimately coming together, so I planned this book out very carefully and was much more structured in order to keep what is a complex story spanning a large geography, and long period of time.
 

This novel seems a little ‘trippier’ than your first – is that fair to say and was this always the intention?
Yes, In The Wake was a very believable story in terms of setting and plot. It could have happened and was very realistic in dialogue and location. What was so wonderful about writing New Brighton was that I let my imagination go wild and run with the theme of Brighton. I had to give Robyn a way of accessing the memories that she had lost and luckily my cousin, Kwali Kundalini is a bit of a shamen, so she was able to provide some great insight into the trippier elements.

I am a massive 80s sci-fi fan and wanted to write speculatively; so fiction that is rooted in the now, in real life but also captures something a little bit otherworldly – I’m thrilled that I have been able to capture that.
 

In The Wake’s Kay is unapologetically gay. Is your new protagonist a bit more complex in terms of sexuality? (Not that I’m trying to fit Robyn into a box.)
Robyn Lockhart is gay, but she just can’t remember that she is. Robyn has a problem in that her mind is being manipulated but she is in love with a woman, Tiffany, so she is gay. Even in the short space of time between the two novels the concept of labelling sexuality has changed, and I am aware that things are much more fluid now. There are many more labels but the overall understanding is that sexuality is fluid.

In New Brighton, Robyn’s mother wants Robyn to be straight and so sets up boyfriends for her. If you had lost your memory how long would it take you to figure out that you were gay? It would probably take a little while and that’s what Robyn does.
 

Where does the story come from?
 

The story is a celebration of the real city of Brighton and Hove in its physical form, but moreover in its spirit and values. In the parallel narrative we see Ivan Dixon creating a memorial to the real Brighton out of love. In New Brighton we honour many of the values of real Brighton – freedom, openness, and the right to be different.
 

Did you base Gloria on anybody in particular?

Obviously I can’t say if I did! What I will say is that she turned out to be one of my favourite characters and I felt a real empathy for this woman who just wanted to be herself. She is extremely brave, strong and funny, and apart from living life as she wants to, Gloria also has an important purpose and mission that she must fulfil. I would love to go for drinks and a dance with Gloria on the seafront!
 

Modes of transport seem to be a theme in the book – buses, trains, a Vespa, and of course the ship – why is this?

Definitely ships! I was very much taken with eery footage of the Athina B – a real ship which ran aground on Brighton Beach in 1980. I’ve put the footage on my website, helentrevorrow.com. You can touch its anchor which is on show on Marine Drive. It is a heart-stopping moment and I began to think about refugee boats that we’ve seen on the Channel and wondering if they were bigger, and if they came ashore in more visible locations – like the centre of Brighton – what would that look like and how would people react?

I do love the train scene and it amuses me very much. I have used transport in New Brighton as a trope to think about people movement in real terms and also in the journey that Robyn and her friends undertake. Theirs is an internal journey of realisation and acceptance but I’ve tried to use transport to convey that sense of adventure and movement.
 

Was it strange penning a book containing a lot of travel at a time when we weren’t allowed to travel ourselves?

Ha! Yes, for sure, it was a way of getting out while staying in. I certainly thought about the future of travel, migration, and people moving around the world. But of course the people in Robyn Lockhart’s New Brighton are trapped there and don’t move so much, but what is scary to them is that they have no understanding of what is out there at all. I think we have to travel to relate to one another.
 

Is it tricky writing fiction about a real place? 

When you write about a location you will always get people commenting on actual geographical details and as a writer of fiction I feel no responsibility to be precise in my descriptions of the area. I’ve already had a Liverpudlian backlash as there’s a New Brighton there and some people feel it should have been set there!

What are you reading, watching, and listening to at the moment?

Right now I am reading White Houses by Amy Bloom about Eleanor Roosevelt’s relationship with her love, Hick. It’s fantastic. On TV I have waited nearly three years for Star Trek: Picard’s second series and it is absolutely brilliant. I’m listening to David Headley’s Confessions of a Book Collector. Music-wise, the track I listened to most when writing New Brighton was ‘We Fall in Love’ by Lamb.
 

What else is on your agenda?

I will be reading from New Brighton at Polari Salon in Hastings on 28 April. I will also be running a monthly dystopian walking tour of Brighton visiting locations (and pubs) from the book. These will be monthly from May 2022 – dates and times on my website and insta. I am busily writing my third novel right now, but there’s nothing to say about that right yet… Watch this space! 

New Brighton (Red Dog) is available now 

NEW BRIGHTON | RedDogPress 

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