Dysfunctional families inspired social worker’s Booker success

A social worker whose debut novel has been nominated for the 2008 Booker Prize said her tale of marital misfortune was partially inspired by working with dysfunctional families.

Gaynor Arnold (right), who works for the adoption and fostering team at Birmingham Council, gave up evenings and weekends over the last five years to write Girl in a Blue Dress.

The 512-page fictionalised account of Charles Dickens’ troubled marriage means she has joined celebrated writers such as Salman Rushdie on the 13-author “longlist”.

“It’s been quite overwhelming,” said Arnold, 63.

“Everyone in the department was talking about it and the chief executive knows about it. I spent the whole of Friday doing interviews with the national press.”

Fascinated by people

The senior practitioner believes her literary talent and love of social work are two sides of the same coin.

“The nature of what we see is family dysfunction, and that’s what the novel is about,” said Arnold, who has been a social worker for nearly 40 years.

“We have to be interested in people, and what makes them tick, so there’s a lot in common between the two jobs.”


Arnold studied English literature at Oxford in the 1960s, but it wasn’t until 20 years later, when her two children had grown up, that she began pursuing her literary ambitions.

She joined a creative writing group, and had her first novel rejected by publishers, but switching to a four-day week and moving out of child protection work freed up more time for her writing.

“The hours became more controlled and it was less exhausting,” she said.

Dickens fan

A life-long fan of Dickens, she wrote Girl in a Blue Dress after becoming fascinated by the author’s relationship with Catherine Hogarth. It was accepted by a small Birmingham company, Tindal Street Press.

Amy Weir, specialist services director for children and young people at Birmingham council, said: “Gaynor’s colleagues are delighted with her nomination and wish her every success in the final selection.”

The Man Booker Prize shortlist will be announced in September and the winner a month later at a ceremony in London.

External information

Man Booker Prize homepage

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