Canterbury’s Jessica Andrews’ New Novel

Jessica Andrews’ first novel, Saltwater, was described as “lyrical and boundary-breaking” as an exploration of mother-daughter relationships and identity. It won the Portico Prize 2020 and was translated into five different languages.


A graduate of the University of Kent’s MA in Creative Writing, Jessica Andrews’ new novel, Milk Teeth, is due to be published this summer.


We spoke with Jessica about her time at Kent and how the cities she’s lived in have made themselves felt in her work.


Can you tell me a little bit about your new novel, Milk Teeth?

Milk Teeth is a love story about learning how to recognise the things you want and understanding why you might deny yourself good things. It is partly about getting older and making choices and it also explores bodily shame, food, class and finding a way to exist in your body that feels like freedom. I wanted the book to be a celebration of the sensual aspects of the body, as well as acknowledging some of the difficulties and contradictions. It is mostly set in Barcelona and the sticky, humid city really loaned itself to writing about corporeal experiences.


Is it as personal a story as Saltwater?

There are semi-autobiographical elements of my work and I think I will always be interested in writing that blurs the boundaries between fiction, memory and truth. Milk Teeth feels very personal to me because some of the emotional truths in it are close to the bone, yet I feel more distant from the protagonist of this book than I did with the protagonist of Saltwater, and there are a lot more fictional elements.


Is it difficult to write a novel that resonates with your own experiences?

Yes – it is emotionally exhausting! I find that I’m often trying to untangle a knot of difficult questions about my own experiences, as well as trying to structure a novel – but I think all fiction writers do that ultimately, in different ways.


Location and its effect on finding yourself is a big theme in Saltwater. Did studying in a city like Canterbury influence this?

I lived in Canterbury for a few months and the second part of my course was in Paris. I have moved around a lot and my protagonists are always searching for a home and a sense of belonging, which is a reflection of this.


What was your experience of studying at the University of Kent like?

Studying at Kent was transformative for me. I did a BA in English Literature at King’s College London first and found academia difficult and alienating – partly because I am the first person in my family to go to university and everything that brings with it. Kent was a very different experience. I felt valued by my tutors and peers and began to feel more confident. I think that to become a writer you sometimes need someone to give you permission to write and take your work seriously – and the MA at Kent did that for me.


Are there any other projects you’re working on at the moment?

I co-run The Grapevine, an arts magazine I founded with some friends from my MA. We put on events and recently published our first in a series of pamphlets featuring collaborations between artists and writers. I also co-run Tender Buttons, a podcast series interviewing writers and artists about their process and politics. I currently teach Creative Writing at Roehampton University and I am thinking of writing an essay collection next – but I will see how it goes!


Milk Teeth is available for pre-order from all good book shops. Find more info on Jessica Andrews on her website.

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