Alex Hay: The Housekeepers

Alex Hay won the Caledonia Novel Award 2022 with his spectacular debut, The Housekeepers, a rip-roaring tale of revenge and resourceful women set in Edwardian London. The Housekeepers is published today by Headline Review.

Hello Alex! You won the Caledonia Novel Award back in 2022 with The Housekeepers, and it’s been an incredible – and extremely busy! – year for you! After you signed with that year’s judge, Alice Lutyens, Headline Review then pre-empted your novel and chose it as their lead launch for this spring. We’ve loved following all your adventures on social media - what has the past year been like, and what have you enjoyed most about the run-up to publication?

It's been a thrilling year – and strange and mad and daunting, too. Winning the Caledonia Novel Award gave The Housekeepers such a terrific boost and generated publisher interest – and the pre-empt from Headline was a pinch-me moment. Meeting my North American editor was a further dream come true, and seeing other territories jump on board has been utterly fab. The first chunk of the year was focused on editing The Housekeepers. It was like a relay race: my editors would share brilliant and incisive notes, I’d work up a fresh draft, they’d read, and we’d cycle around again. I learned SO much about building the framework of a story, about when to have a light touch and when to be more directional with the reader. It was creative and energising and felt like incredible teamwork – I adored it.
In late summer a set of limited-edition proofs went out to a mix of authors and reviewers – a faintly terrifying moment. Luckily, we received some truly generous endorsements. Next, I travelled to the USA to meet the team at HarperCollins and attend the American Bookseller Association’s conference to meet some terrific booksellers. Here was another dream come true. Driving in a cab across the Brooklyn Bridge, seeing New York glittering in the winter sunshine, visiting my US publishers, was a remarkable moment. I may have had a lump in my throat.

The next chunk of the year was all about working on Book Two. More anon, I hope – it’s a standalone set in the same world as The Housekeepers but starring a fresh cast and a new dastardly scheme. Working on something new felt both exhilarating and challenging. This book was a head-scratcher from a plot perspective but I adored writing it. At the same time, I started a new job – I work full-time in the charity sector – so early 2023 was very much about juggling and spinning and whirling and trying to stay on top of everything!

As I type this, I’m two days away from the book coming out in North America, and four days away from the UK release. It’s hard to believe that The Housekeepers, which I cooked up while washing the dishes back in summer 2020, is going to be sitting on bookshelves soon. I feel grateful and happy, and I’ve realised a dream. But it’s been hard (and satisfying!) work, too!
Can you tell us a bit about the audiobook of  The Housekeepers – were you involved in choosing the narrator, and what was it like hearing the spoken version for the first time?

This was actually one of my standout moments of the year. I was indeed lucky enough to hear a sample of the recommended actor and give approval – which was a very easy job indeed. Jasmine Blackborow is absolutely phenomenal – she has voiced this cast, and world, with such verve and humour and heart and depth. Hearing my own words being voiced in such an immaculate narration was very VERY special. Plus, Jasmine utterly NAILED the voice of Hephzibah Grandcourt, my audacious decoy duchess. I was hooting with laughter within seconds.

We were thrilled to read that TV rights have been optioned to Miramax – how very exciting (we can’t wait to see who will play Mrs King and her gang…)! When can we hope to see The Housekeepers on our screens?

I was so thrilled too! I am keeping fingers, toes and everything in between truly crossed that it will happen. Watching my own story on screen… well, I can’t even tell you how extraordinary and special that would be. More soon I hope…
You’ve visited bookshops all around the country to promote The Housekeepers and to meet your readers – are there plans afoot for appearances at any literary festivals?

Popping in to bookshops has been one of the true treats of this past year – I think we’ve visited more than 50 to say hello to some fabulous booksellers and drop off proofs (and chocolates, of course). I’m going to the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate for the first time this summer, to watch some of the brilliant panel events and mingle at the bar! I’m also absolutely overjoyed to be attending Bloody Scotland, the Caledonian Crime Writing Festival, and taking part in the ‘New Bloods’ panel. A real privilege (bit terrifying, too!).

And finally, what made you decide to enter the Caledonia Novel Award 2022, and do you have any advice for other writers thinking of entering this year’s competition?

I think entering competitions is a great way to see if your story has legs, and I think it’s fantastic that so many offer sponsored places and improved access. I’ve entered MANY competitions before without being longlisted, including the Caledonia Novel Award in years gone by, but I wanted to enter the 2022 competition because I’d seen the terrific success of so many of the listed or winning authors, and because Alice Lutyens was the judging agent (I knew Alice as a real leader in the industry and responsible for some real hits). But I did have a last-minute case of nerves, right before entering, wondering if the book was ready. In the end I just pulled myself together and pressed ‘send’. Thank goodness I did – being part of the wonderful Caledonia Novel Award community, and winning the 2022 competition, made such an enormous difference to everything that followed…

(Author photo by Tom Wrigley)
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