Nearing thirty years have passed since author Dorothy Koomson studied in the city of Leeds, but still today she says she is flying its flag through her literary works.
“There’s almost always an element of Leeds in my books. I loved Leeds and I wanted my books to be more than London-centric. It’s a great place and I knew it well - though I do take a bit of artistic licence.”
The award-winning novelist began her three-year study of Psychology and Public Media at the then Trinity and All Saints College back in 1990, before taking on a role as vice-president of the university’s student union.
Located in the suburb of Horsforth, it was a very different experience to the hustle and bustle of the country’s capital, where she had grown up.
“I remember getting off the train in Leeds with my brother,” she recalls. “We got a taxi not realising how far Horsforth was from Leeds city centre and I remember thinking we were in the middle of the countryside because there were fields and gardens. “It was a completely different atmosphere and experience.”
One of four siblings, Dorothy was raised in South London and developed a love of books at an early age.
“My mum taught me and my brothers and sisters to read and write before we went to nursery so I have always been interested in that.
“I used to go to the library every day after school on the way home and just read. I wouldn’t be the person I am, I wouldn’t have my career, without a library.”
At the age of 13, Dorothy wrote her first novel, jotting chapters in her exercise books each night, but she also became “obsessed” with a different form of writing - that in magazines.
After her degree in Leeds, she returned to London to study for a masters degree in journalism at Goldsmith University and eventually went on to become a journalist and editor working on various magazines and national newspapers.
But all this time, she continued to write short stories in her spare time and work on novels.
“I was writing on the train to work. Every morning, I used to write and on the way home I would sit in a corner and write.”
It paid off - and in 2002, she signed up with her first publisher. Her debut novel The Cupid Effect was published a year later.
“That book is set in Leeds,” she says. “I was very conscious that a lot of commercial women’s fiction was set in London. I love my home city but I also thought the UK is a bigger place than that.”
Nods to Leeds
Though much of her recent work is set in Brighton, where she now lives, she says she often draws on Leeds.
“I love living by the sea. There’s nothing like a good walk along the seafront to clear your head or to work out the knots in a plot.
“Those who’ve read my later books will know that a lot of them have been set in Brighton and its surrounding area, often with a good dose of Leeds and South London thrown in.”
Dorothy, who received an Honorary Fellowship at Leeds Trinity last July, is now looking forward to a return to the Leeds, and her former university, later this month. She will deliver a talk entitled Telling Secrets on July 11.
The talk will focus on her journey from university student to bestselling author and will feature readings from her latest and fifteenth novel Tell Me Your Secret.
What can those attending expect? “Lots of funny stories I hope. I will be talking about my life and career, and I don’t know what people will want to know but I’ll be answering their questions.”
The Telling Secrets event begins at 6pm and will include a light buffet and refreshments, the talk, a Q&A and book signing. Tickets cost £12 on the door.