Jenny Downham

Jenny Downham

The youngest of four children, Jenny was born and brought up in suburban Hertfordshire. One of Jenny’s early passions was acting, loving pretending to be other people; acting out poems and stories for the entertainment of her family. A secondary school teacher who was passionate about words encouraged a love of both Drama and English: liking to hand Jenny books in the corridor and casting her in all of the school plays. He told Jenny that she could write and he told her that she could act, and this early love for both Drama and English was continued at University.

At university, a tension between the two things Jenny loved began to grow. She enjoyed the physicalisation of stories: sitting down in lectures felt so dry when you could stand up and walk words about with your feet. After university, Jenny went to drama school, certain that acting was for her. Jenny has made a couple of films, had TV roles and worked in fringe theatre, but she also found herself in periods of ‘resting’, though she can’t understand why it’s called that!

In 1992 Jenny began working for Tellers Theatre – a community theatre company based in London. They used improvisation techniques to take stories to people who wouldn’t normally have access to them, to people who perhaps thought theatre had nothing to say to them about their lives. For four years the company took stories to prisons, young offender’s units, youth clubs and housing estates - anywhere that didn’t have theatre. It was often terrifying, yet every day was a grand adventure. Jenny was making stories on her feet as she had always wanted to. After having two children, Jenny gave up acting and began to write.

Jenny uses all of her acting techniques to write: standing up and walking about as if she is the people in her book. She keeps notebooks and journals and diaries for them and researches them as if she is going to play them on stage – what they like to eat, what their hopes and fears are - none of it arrives in the finished book but it helps her to know who they are.

Jenny had been writing for about a year when she joined an evening class called Narrative Drive, at Centerprise Literature Development Project. In 2003 Jenny entered the London Writer’s Competition, just to see what would happen and she won first prize. She began to take myself more seriously and joined a writer’s group called ‘Free Lunch,’ this provided her with a place for on-going critical feedback and support.

By 2005 Jenny had finished her novel and was awarded a grant by the Arts Council to have it read by The Literary Consultancy. They liked it and decided to show it to agents. Two years passed and Jenny wrote every day (almost) and by March 2007 BEFORE I DIE was finished. Acquired by David Fickling Books in the Spring of 2007 from Catherine Clarke at the Felicity Bryan Agency, and publishing in July 2007, to high critical acclaim, BEFORE I DIE is the first novel from Jenny Downham.

Jenny Downham lives in North London with her two young sons.