It’s been billed as the book that will change the way we see those who have been through the care system. Kirsty Capes is writing from experience: she was taken into care in Shepperton, Surrey aged two. She had two placements, one for six months, the other long-term, until she left the system at 23.
Now 27 and working in publishing, she’s channelled her experience into a debut novel, Careless – which is already on hot lists for 2021 and has had screen rights snapped up by Neal Street Productions (the team behind the Sam Mendes war film 1917). It tells the story of 15-year-old Bess, a girl growing up in foster care who becomes pregnant.
The novel follows Bess as she figures out what she wants to do about her pregnancy, but, at the heart of this story is a tale of unconditional, platonic love between Bess and her best friend. With her poignant tale, Kirsty is on a mission to change the way we see those with a background like hers – a group who she says are rarely portrayed positively, if at all.
‘I think it’s so important, especially for children when they’re just starting to read and explore books, to see their own experience reflected back at them,’ she says. She’s encountered many misconceptions in the public consciousness about what it’s like to grow up in care – ideas she hopes the book challenges.
She points out how Jamie Dornan’s character in The Fall, a serial rapist and killer, is revealed to have grown up in foster care. ‘It’s the same with You on Netflix,’ she says. ‘There’s lots of other examples where there are people who do horrible things and the backstory of them being in foster care
is used as shorthand to explain their behaviour. That this is the reason why they’re such a terrible person. It’s recurring, so that really bothers me.’
Kirsty’s other mission is to highlight some of the problems with the care system. ‘[To be assigned] lots of different social workers in quick succession is common,’ she adds. She’s found people who grew up in care are also rarely expected to amount to much.
‘I wanted to challenge these systemic problems with foster care, where the children don’t really have expectations of success or achievement, but I wanted to buck that stereotype with Bess,’ she says. Kirsty wants to disrupt that narrative and shine a light on the more positive aspects of being care-experienced, ‘just to show that it’s not a predetermined fate that you’re going to end up in prison, or dead.’
Now, she wants to see more positive stories written by people from a care background, pointing out that every child goes through the system in a different way. ‘For me, it was just so important to tell this very human, very real story, and to be as truthful to that as possible. And to help people understand that people who have grown up in care are not defined by what happened to them.