My Life In Books With An Award-Winning Author

Author Jessica Andrews won the Portico Prize in 2020 for her debut novel Saltwater, but it was her second book, Milk Teeth, that really put her on the map. To mark the new series of her literary podcast Tender Button, we asked her to share more about her reading habits, as well as her top authors and favourite books…
By Sherri Andrew /

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What Are You Reading Right Now?

I’ve just finished Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados. It’s a contemporary retelling of a Jean Rhys story, and it follows two young women over the course of one summer in New York. They don’t have any money but they’re going out all the time, relying on other people’s generosity. It’s funny, profound and beautiful. Granados is brilliant on the intersections of social class, race, work, money, beauty and power.

What Book From Childhood Will Always Stay With You?

Bad Girls by Jacqueline Wilson. I loved the relationship between the two main characters, ten-year-old Mandy and 14-year-old Tanya. Mandy’s lived a bit of a sheltered life until she meets Tanya who shakes everything up. Their friendship really stayed with me. Through an adult lens, you realise that Tanya has had a really difficult life and her stories feel even more profound. I was a big Jacqueline Wilson fan growing up.

What Books Made You Want To Write?

The most formative one was Once in a House on Fire by Andrea Ashworth. Set in 1970s Manchester, it’s a memoir about Andrea’s life growing up with two sisters. Their mum struggles with difficult relationships and the family lives in poverty, but their story is elevated by Andrea’s beautiful language. It was the first book I read that felt as though it was speaking directly to me. Other books that stand out include Stranger Baby by Emily Berry, Wild by Jay Griffiths and Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys. I also loved The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson and A Girl’s Story by Annie Ernaux.

When And Where Do You Read?

I read whenever I can; on trains, in bed, in the bath. I never get the chance, but I love the idea of going to a cosy pub or café on a Sunday afternoon to settle down with a good book.

Where Do You Buy Books?

Some of my favourite bookshops are Storysmith and Bookhaus in Bristol, Forum Books in Newcastle, Burley Fisher and Review in London, and Books Upstairs in Dublin.

Print Or Kindle?

Both. I prefer print because I like the physicality of books, turning pages and making notes, but I have to read a lot of proof and PDF documents for work, which is where a Kindle comes in handy.

How Do You Choose What To Read?

Dani Shapiro talks about following the ‘paper trail’ which means reading the books that have inspired or are in conversation with writers you admire – I enjoy reading in this way. When I’m writing, I usually have a big list of books on the topic I’m researching or connected to, but for pleasure I like to find recommendations online, in the papers and in magazines.

Dani Shapiro talks about following the ‘PAPER TRAIL’ which means reading the books that have inspired or are in conversation with writers you admire – I ENJOY READING THIS WAY.

Do You Have A Favourite Author?

It’s hard to choose one, but I love Eimear McBride. Two of her novels – A Girl is a Half-formed Thing and The Lesser Bohemian – have very fragmented language and her sentence structures are really interesting. Using twee language and clever sentences to engage the different senses, her books have a real sense of immediacy which really speaks to me. Deborah Levy is another favourite. She writes everything from memoirs to novels and non-fiction books. Her books are more like visual art. I also have to mention Garth Greenwell, a brilliant American novelist.

Do You Ready Poetry?

Yes, a lot. I like Natalie Diaz, Adrienne Rich, Bhanu Kapil and Anne Carson.

What's Been Your Favourite Read Of 2022 So Far?

I really enjoyed Girlhood by Melissa Febos. It’s a collection of essays looking back at the author’s teenage years, trying to understand the systemic oppression that has affected most of her adult life. I read this when I was writing Milk Teeth, and the two felt in tandem with each other. I also loved Experiments in Imagining Otherwise by Lola Olufemi, another non-fiction book which is quite experimental in structure. It’s based on the idea that we have to imagine things first if we want the world to be a different place. It’s about the power of imagination and how it’s instrumental in our everyday lives.

Favourite Biography?

Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clement. It’s a biography about Jean-Michel Basquiat's girlfriend, Suzanne Mallouk. Jean-Michel was a Black American artist who rose to fame during the 80s. He died at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose. Jennifer was a friend Suzanne’s, but the book is almost novelistic in its narrative. It also features interview extracts – it’s a really interesting take on authorship and biography.

Favourite Non-Fiction Book? 

Blueberries by Ellena Savage. It’s a collection of experimental essays. One’s about sexual assault and the narrator constantly interrupts herself, which represents her fragmented thoughts and how she processes the assault. Phrases like ‘Weren’t you drunk?’ and ‘Haven’t you forgotten?’ are italicised for effect.

What Book Would You Give As A Gift?

Alison by Lizzy Stewart; it’s a beautiful graphic novel and a moving portrayal of friendship and making your own life.

DEBORAH LEVY IS ANOTHER FAVOURITE. She writes everything from memoirs to novels and non-fiction books. Her books are more like visual art.

What Was The Last Book That Made You Cry?

I cried reading Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados. It evoked an old sadness and nostalgia, and put me back in touch with a past version of myself.

What’s Your Favourite Film Or TV Adaptation Of A Book?

I love everything Andrea Arnold makes – especially American Honey. I also love The Florida Project directed by Sean Baker and Mustang directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven.

Favourite Literary Character?

It has to be Paul from Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor. In 1990s San Francisco, he is a bit of a shapeshifter. He transforms his body at will in a series of adventures, manoeuvring between genders and experiencing different queer parts of the city. He’s funny and unlikable in parts, but you still root for him. He’s a larger-than-life queer character.

If You Had To Take A Book With You To A Desert Island, Which One Would It Be?

The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich. It was her first published collection after she came out as a lesbian in the 70s. It’s about community building and why we need an understanding across barriers of gender and sexuality.

Can You Tell Us A Bit About Milk Teeth?

Milk Teeth is about how to know what you want and why you might deny yourself good things. It’s a sticky, humid love story set mostly in Barcelona which explores desire, denial, food, shame and pleasure. I wrote it because I was trying to unravel a knot of difficult questions about different kinds of hunger. It is hyper-focused on the body and I wanted it to be a luscious, sensory novel.

And What Are You Working On Next?

I’m working on my literacy podcast, Tender Buttons, which aims to democratise the writing process by talking to various Bristol-based writers and artists. I’m also working on a non-fiction book – it’s in very early stages so I won’t say too much about it, but I’m excited.

Listen to the Tender Buttons podcast here. 

Milk Teeth by Jessica Andrews (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99) is out now. Visit Waterstones.com


Inspired? Read Jessica’s Top Picks Below

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