June Hampson has become a successful author by writing about a world that’s very familiar to her. Mischa Allen reports
Surrounded by her beloved cats, June Hampson is smiling and chatty. She exudes optimism, is a keen singer and loves being a successful author with seven thrillers, all set in her home town of Gosport, to her name.
But life wasn’t always this good for June. She recalls living in a pretty basic prefab house and getting married at just 16.
By the time she was 17, her husband was in prison .
The 72-year-old says: ‘I was in love, but he wasn’t a very nice person.
‘We weren’t together very long because he spent most of the time in prison. I learned a lot about crime during that time.’
June travelled around the country to visit him at various jails with her two young children.
She adds: ‘I used to tell them we were going to the hospital to see daddy, because you can’t tell little ones the truth.
‘I never had any money in those days and it was difficult with children.
‘There were a couple of times when I went to the allotments and stole cabbages. That’s awful, but it was hard then.’
The couple broke up in June’s early 20s and soon after she met her second husband, with whom she had another two children.
But she went through more tough times and had a variety of jobs including being a waitress, strawberry picker, barmaid, shop assistant and market trader.
All the while she was storing up her experiences – and now they are the inspiration for her writing.
Having spent her childhood years with her head firmly lodged in books, June had always had an interest in writing.
At school a teacher wrote at the bottom of one of her essays that she had a ‘vivid imagination’.
‘I loved that!’ she says.
But it wasn’t until the early 1980s that she first started to consider writing.
She says: ‘I went to creative writing classes in Gosport, but then I left and went to live in Scotland for a time.
‘That’s actually where I had my first short story published, in the Northern Times.
‘I sent it in and they published it. Shows how much I knew.
‘How many people actually send short stories to newspapers!’
June then went on to write hundreds more short stories.
She says: ‘I was quite prolific. I was very lucky because I used to write for a magazine, about three or four stories a month.’
Gradually, she started to make a living out of writing.
But it wasn’t until 2005, when she was going on holiday to Kenya, that she decided she wanted to write a novel.
June explains: ‘I took 10 notebooks and lots of 2B pencils. I just wrote and wrote and wrote.
‘When the taxi came at the end of the holiday, I was still writing.
‘When I got home I sent off the first 100 pages. I was very lucky because it was taken up.’
The novel told the story of Daisy Lane, a young girl growing up in Gosport as a member of the criminal underworld.
The name Daisy Lane came from the road where June’s school, Gosport Central, was.
In a plot mirroring June’s life, Daisy struggles to bring up young children while going across the country to visit her husband in prison.
Writing about this feisty heroine was a cathartic experience for June.
But at the same time her book was due to be published, she found out some shocking news. She had breast cancer.
She says: ‘It was like being slapped in the face with a wet kipper!
‘On the one hand my book was being published and it was the most wonderful thing, and then I found out about this. It was like I wasn’t allowed to be that happy.’
Thankfully she made a full recovery and has been writing about a book a year since then, with A Mother’s Journey just released.
With her previous six books revolving around Daisy, the new book follows another character, Vera, who ends up pregnant and has to become a prostitute to give her son a better life.
Outraged at the news that her teenage daughter is expecting a child, Vera’s mother sends her to a home for wayward girls.
She has to leave behind everything she has ever known.
After giving birth, she manages to escape the brutality of this institution only to end up homeless and penniless.
Talking about why she decided to set her novels in Gosport, June says: ‘I love Gosport. To me, it’s been a nice place to live.
‘I’ve lived here pretty much my whole life. Even when I’ve gone away, I’ve come back because I like it so much.’
June also teaches creative writing at the Neville Lovett Community School and St Vincent College.
But it is the novels that are her first love.
At the moment she is shutting herself away to get on with number eight.
She says: ‘I write because I love falling through a hole in the paper.
‘It’s a wonderful experience to watch a character grow.
‘I’m very lucky. All the heartache I had when I was younger doesn’t seem to matter any more.
‘I’m so happy now.’
n June will be signing copies of her new book, A Mother’s Journey, (Orion Books, £12.99) at Waterstones in Fareham on Monday from 12-2pm.