The idea for Hotel 21 came to me when I was staying in a small hotel in Lisbon and I accidentally annoyed the hotel cleaner. She wanted to get in to clean the room and I kept asking her to come back later. When I finally left, she was standing outside, arms crossed and gave me a dirty look. I felt terrible. When I got back that night, I went to brush my hair and… my hairbrush was missing. Looking back, I probably lost in transit but at the time, I assumed it was her. A ‘revenge steal’ for annoying her earlier.
I was immediately intrigued by this woman and thought good for you, I deserved that. It made me think how she could exert control over me, perhaps to feel like she was getting control back over her life. I began to wonder about her more. Who was she? Did she take things like hairbrushes a lot? A missing second hand hairbrush is not something you call the hotel manager about. Then I started thinking about a hotel cleaner who takes small insignificant things, things the guest won’t notice are missing, and why she would do that? And Noelle was born! Two days later I wrote the first 4000 words of Hotel 21.
At its heart, Hotel 21 is about survival, resilience and the universal need in all of us to belong. Noelle had a traumatic childhood and has been in survival mode since she was little girl. ‘Taking things’ is her coping mechanism. If you went to Noelle’s rundown bedsit in London, you would find a huge, old-fashioned trunk overflowing with all the items she’s ever taken. Little things like tweezers, a tester pot of face cream, a nail file. Nothing of any value. But it’s all she’s got. The contents of her trunk is evidence of her life – that her system is working; that she’s surviving. And she cares about the items she takes, almost like they’re religious relics, and remembers where she took them from and how it felt. And, in some ways, we all have our trunks; our systems and behaviour patterns put in place to make life a little less chaotic and manageable. To change these patterns is a big ask for anyone as it takes enormous effort and courage. The question is, will Noelle be able to do it?
You can now shop Hotel 21 by Senta Rich at Dubray.