Jessica Moor Tells a Story of 'Often Ignored' Women in First Novel

An interview with the author of 'Keeper'

Jessica Moor came to a realization. She wanted to write books, so Moor went back to school to study writing. And now, Moor’s published her debut novel, Keeper.

It’s the story of a woman, Katie Strawn who appears to have committed suicide. But the residents of a women’s shelter where Katie worked disagree. What follows is a novel that one reviewer called “atmospheric, timely.”

In this interview, Jessica Moor talks about the work experience that led to writing Keeper. And we dive into how the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacting her book release. As Moor says below, “This is not the time for playing it cool. Please buy my book!”

You can help Moor while supporting independent bookstores by buying Keeper on Bookshop (paid link). Or, you can get the book via the links on this page.

Another way you can support Jessica Moor in her debut effort is by sharing this interview on social media and through email.

Interview with Jessica Moor

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m twenty-seven years old and I was born in London. I basically spent my childhood reading. Aged 18, I went off to Cambridge to study English Literature, and then came back to London for a few years to work before I finally admitted to myself that all I’d ever wanted to be was a novelist.

Having come to terms with that, I moved to Manchester to study a Master’s degree in Creative Writing, where I wrote the first draft of the book that would become Keeper. Once my Master’s finished, I moved to Amsterdam to be with my partner, who was working there. Now the two of us technically live in Berlin with our cat, but for the time being, we’re stuck back in London on lockdown.

Your debut novel, Keeper, is about the death of a woman who worked at a women’s refuge, or shelter. And you once worked at a refuge. What led you to that job, and how long did you work there?

To be clear, I didn’t work in a refuge, but for a domestic violence charity in a fundraising capacity, although that work often took me into refuges. I took that job because I thought I wanted to be a psychotherapist. This was when I was still in denial about wanting to be a writer, and I thought that being a shrink would satisfy my curiosity about the human condition. Me becoming a shrink would have been completely unethical because I would always have been scavenging my clients for stories, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Anyway, the day job in domestic violence felt like a good way to complement my training in psychotherapy. It was only a year, during which I realised that I didn’t really want to be a psychotherapist and couldn’t hack living in London any more.

How much did that experience inform your writing of Keeper

I did a lot of training on the dynamics of domestic violence and that had a huge impact on me. It made me understand that the physical violence isn’t necessarily the end goal – it’s more often a symptom of a need for power and control. Once you see relationships from that perspective it changes the way you see everything.

On top of that, I was observing the whole system. How cruelly it treats women, and how profoundly stupid the logic of defunding services is. I just felt furious all the time.

How long did you have an idea or inspiration for the book before you started writing it?

I had been thinking about domestic violence for a long time, but the idea for the book itself happened very quickly. I was reading The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera and there was something in there that sparked the thought that a women’s refuge is a fascinating setting for people from different walks of life coming together in a common experience.

That’s an old idea for telling a story – that’s basically the premise of The Canterbury Tales. And I knew that those stories – of women who are often ignored – they mattered, and I felt compelled to tell them.

Is there a message you’d like readers to take away from Keeper?

As a novelist, I don’t think it’s my job to be prescriptive. But a lot of people have told me that they’ve come away from reading Keeper feeling angry at the injustice, and that feels like a kind of success.

The most amazing responses I’ve had have been from survivors of domestic violence, who have told me that they felt that the book was truthful and representative. That matters to me more than any critic’s opinion.

What’s it been like for you, releasing your debut novel during a global pandemic?

Yeah, it’s not ideal. I actually had a wonderful launch celebration – I was heartbroken to have my event cancelled after three and a half years of work – but my partner sneakily planned a Zoom event for a bunch of colleagues and friends and that was just wonderful and I drank loads of Prosecco and had a great time. 

I’ve had pretty much all my publication events cancelled which is so sad as I was really looking forward to them. But in the scheme of things I’m still very fortunate – the people I love are safe and secure and that’s all that matters. This is so much bigger than me, or my book. I have no idea whether it’s harder than before – I’ve got nothing to compare it to! 

I try to look at it in the long term. This is the very beginning of my career. It’s okay if it doesn’t go perfectly now. I’m just getting started.

You’ve said your ideal writing setup involves silence, but that you’re usually bombarded with nearby construction noise. Any chance things are quieter around you now, or are you still seeking that elusive quiet writing space?

I’m socially distancing with my partner, my sister and her boyfriend. There are lots of Nintendo noises, and my sister’s boyfriend is a very talented guitarist so I occasionally get strains of Jeff Buckley wafting through. Which isn’t silence, but it’s a vast improvement on construction!

Who are some of your favorite writers, both past and present?

I love Kate Atkinson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kamila Shamsie, Zora Neale Hurston, Jeanette Winterson, Leila Slimani.

What are some of the best books you’ve read lately?

I’m finding it very hard to read at the moment so I’m retreating to a lot of childhood favourites – Flambards and Little House on the Prairie. Beyond soothing. No one should feel bad about not being able to concentrate on books right now, we’re in the middle of a crisis.

With that said, My Dark Vanessa was just terrific. I really admire what she’s done. I also loved Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid – utterly compulsive. I was lucky enough to receive a proof of True Story by Kate Reed Petty and that was really exceptional – everyone should buy it when it comes out. I’m looking forward to reading Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones – that’s next on my list.

Anything else you'd like Bidwell Hollow followers to know about you or your work?

I’d like them to know that before the epidemic I was planning on being one of those super-cool authors who was too secure in themselves to harass you to buy their book. 

But unfortunately, this is not the time for playing it cool. Please buy my book! And then wash your hands. Then put some hand cream on, because your hands are probably dry.

Shop Books by Authors Interviewed on Bidwell Hollow

Disclosure: Bidwell Hollow is a affiliate. This means Bidwell Hollow earns a small amount of money when you buy a book from a paid link in this email. These funds help make Bidwell Hollow possible. (Thank you!) Bookshop supports independent bookstores. You can learn how here.