Jenni Fagan: ‘I understand crisis. I grew up in a very, very extreme way'

From a childhood in care to dazzling readers with her debut The Panopticon, Fagan talks about writing her third novel, channelling rage, and why now is a pivotal moment for us all

For all that she was laid low early in the pandemic, and then spent months as a single parent trying to home-school her nine-year-old son, the last year has been far from a write-off for Jenni Fagan. Her third novel is about to be published, she completed her PhD. And on the day she speaks to me from her Edinburgh home, she is hours away from finishing a memoir of her life up until the age of 16.

For most people, that would amount to a very thin book, but not for Fagan. As a child growing up in the Scottish care system, those first 16 years involved 29 different placements, under four different names. The only thing she knows about her birth was that it took place in a Victorian psychiatric hospital in 1977. Perhaps, she muses, it has helped her to cope better than most with the events of the last months. “You know, I kind of understand crisis. I grew up in a very, very extreme way, and the idea that bad things happen to other people was never my reality. I always knew they happen to you. And sometimes they happen over and over.”

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