‘I want to alert people to the overwhelming responsibility we have to our children and also ourselves…’

Ellen Hannavy-Cousen and her novel, ‘Of No Consequence’

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background as a writer?

Teaching English and analysing great literature and poetry has been an essential part of my life and I have used fantastic novels to bring social comment to the classroom in order to educate students in the rights and wrongs of life and how to make social change by using language. I went to art college for two years before embarking on teacher training. Married with two children I studied for my BA and then MA in English and American literature at the University of Kent, on a part-time basis whilst running the English department in various schools.


What has teaching taught you over the years?

My teaching career gave me insights into the emotional and physical well-being support of young people as I took on the role of pastoral year Head. Concerns for the situations of many young people and of how their voice was rarely heard alongside experiencing how the ‘caring’ authorities in the community were failing young people provoked me into writing scenarios that I encountered.

Having always written, I found this was leading me more and more to writing fictional stories that were based on true situations.


What was the main inspiration for your new novel Of No Consequence?

During my role as Head of Year 8 in a school near Sevenoaks I met a 12-year-old girl who was fostered. She had come to us part-way through the autumn term and the incident occurred on the Friday prior to the October half-term holiday. A social worker called me to request that I collect the child and keep her in my office until the social worker arrived. I was to inform the girl that she was not going back to her foster parents but would be returning to an institutional care home. Quiet, unassuming, and small she accepted the news without issue. As it turned out the child expected this to occur – this had been her 18th placement in just one year. I was told I could take her if I wanted but feeling uncomfortable over the irresponsibility of handing her over to a relative stranger, I refused. Sadly the girl went to a home run by the council. I never heard of or saw her again.


Is the book’s plot solely based on your own experience of do you draw from other areas?

Interestingly I heard a piece about a young woman on the radio who had been abandoned at birth and was trying desperately to find her birth parents. She had no historical identity and, expecting a baby of her own, realised that she knew nothing about her ‘family’. Desperately searching by all means at her disposal, she hit nothing but dead ends.

I then encountered some very disturbing abusive situations with young people whose voices went unheard. At the same time as all this was happening, there was the discovery in Austria of an underground ‘home’ in the basement of a house whereby Joseph Fritzl had kept his children secretly for his own needs without anyone knowing they existed.

A few weeks further on a similar discovery was made in England. And then there was the revelation of the children’s homes that exploited the inmates and allowed them to be used for prostitution. All these elements came together and spurred me on to write.


How have your experiences of working with vulnerable people influenced your novel?

When I gave up full-time teaching to be self-employed I volunteered with Victim Support and this further supported my knowledge and understanding of how the vulnerable are just that – truly vulnerable! Meeting NHS staff who had come from Eastern Europe at my father’s care home gave me the knowledge of how medical practitioners were treated by this country and how they had to consistently prove their worth and re-qualify.

The cost of coming here had to be covered by their own means and so they in turn became vulnerable to money lenders, often from their own country, who in turn abused the power they had over them.


For our readers, could you explain who your book’s protagonist Joanna is and what briefly happens on her journey?

Joanna is fairly vacuous as a character due to the fact that she has had no care, love or support. Her main goal in her life is to find her birth mother. Abandoned at birth and left in a carrier bag by a bin in a park, Joanna begins life on a ricochet of precarious homes and situations whereby she has no stability, and no security. More importantly no ‘care’. At 16 she has entered and left many schools over her short life as she has been shipped from one home to another. Getting anyone to hear her voice is difficult but she does encounter a group of young people who eventually can become real friends but not before they have all undergone traumatic and horrific dealings with the dark side of society.


What is the significance of ‘consequence’ in the book?

Originally the book had a different title, but as the narrative developed it became clear that for Joanna she was of no consequence; that whatever happened to her she was without consequence to anyone else. She was a nobody and she had no one to whom her life mattered. Other characters also were of no consequence and the lack of care and love is what is the most disturbing. For example, the consequence of Joanna being fostered by a mother suffering from depression and guilt and a foster sibling who is jealous and has her own teenage angst. Then there is the consequence of over worked and under staffed social workers who have to make split second decisions that can have monumental repercussions in many lives.


Is your story a comment on our society today? If so, how and what is it trying to warn us about?

Yes is the straight answer. I think I want to alert people to the overwhelming responsibility we have to our children and also ourselves. There is clearly a wrong perspective in many social aspects of life. Fundamental support and care is missing. There is little flexibility in recognising individual needs. In all aspects of life there is a tick box response to comply with governmental criteria. There is no room for individuality. Lack of compassion and responsibility and the recognition that we are individuals with individual needs and are not clones of others must be the basis on which we, as a society create our institutions and our authorities.


What did you, as an author, take away from the writing of this book?

Relief that after five years of writing it I completed it and that it is now published. But there’s also frustration in how difficult it is to get work published and once it is to actually get it out there and read by people. The reception of my book by some readers has spurred me on to continue writing and I have begun a sequel to Of No Consequence, which brings some other characters to the fore, as well as a third novel that is very different in theme.


What message do you hope your readers will take away when they finish your novel?

I have been overwhelmed and inspired by the response by those who have read the book and contacted me about it. Most were shocked to think that this could possibly happen. I hope that they will see the hope that there is in the final chapters and that it is the group of young people who are prepared to do something about it, but that we must all be open to what is around us and if we have roles in authoritative positions to use them wisely and compassionately.

Of No Consequence is available from all leading booksellers.

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