The route to adulthood can be a rocky one, and none more so than that of the unnamed 29-year-old Northern Irish protagonist of Tennis Lessons, the darkly funny debut novel by talented young author Susannah Dickey.
The brutally honest novel charts the life of a spirited young misfit, covering the formative moments in her life from the ages of three to 28. There are her difficult school years, a breakdown at 17, trying to figure out who she is in her 20s - and also navigating the lasting effects of grief and sexual trauma.
Initially, though, when I ask her about her book, published this week by Penguin and attracting favourable reviews, Susannah tells me her fiercely raw tale is about a dead kitten found lying on the road, hand soap and The Doors' track Riders on the Storm.
Of course, there's much more to it than that - including a shocking rape scene - and it all adds up to a distinctive, gruesome and ultimately witty glimpse into a turbulent youth.
An avid reader from an early age, aided and abetted by her parents' rich collection of books, Susannah says she has always been drawn to characters that were sad misfits.
Born in Belfast, the 27-year-old grew up in Londonderry, the daughter of retired doctors, William, a gastroenterologist, and Lucinda. She also has a brother James, who now lives in Belfast.
"I think I was probably one of those children who thinks they're a lot more interesting than they actually are," she laughs.
"When I was very young I had aspirations of becoming an artist. I wanted to make a huge amount of money painting portraits of famous people's cats - but I think as time and wisdom sets in, you realise that that's not really a job."
Susannah admits she's always been an obsessive reader "to the point where there are a lot of locations in Derry that I grew up being driven to that I now couldn't draw you an accurate map to them because I was always reading in the car.
"I had a lot of access to books growing up, and there was a ready supply of them. I think I was also quite lucky in that I read books that may have been not in the strictest sense age appropriate - I was reading quite mature books at quite a young age.
"I remember being young and really loving The Catcher in the Rye, and there's an American writer called Curtis Sittenfeld, who writes sad misfits really, really well. And that really spoke to me, not because I was one, but that's just the kind of character portrayal I've always been really drawn to, these kind of introverted, slightly idiosyncratic female protagonists."
Susannah's family moved to Derry in 1994, when she was two, and she grew up in the Waterside through the Nineties and Noughties. "I thought Derry was a brilliant place to grow up. I have an endless well of fondness for it, " she says.
At Queen's, she started off studying English literature but had no inclination towards writing herself, until the mandatory Creative Writing module in first year.
"Through this module, we had a go at writing poetry, we had a go at writing fiction, and so I decided then to switch to English with Creative Writing - and that was that," she says.
"I wrote a lot of poetry initially and then the fiction came later. In January 2016 I didn't have much going on and I decided I would try to write a novel, for no other reason than a friend of mine told me I should have a go at it."
The unnamed protagonist in Tennis Lessons first surfaced in a piece of work she did for a module in her second year as an undergraduate."I had written this short story about this kind of hapless, psychologically unsettled girl who crashes her car," she says.
"And then when I was thinking maybe I'll try and write a novel, it was that character that I felt there was more to be done with, that I could explore her thoughts more, her way of moving through the world."
The first section of the novel is made up of short episodes during different years of her life, featuring encounters with her parents and friends.
"And then it homes in on this one day when she's 17-years-old, and everything that has happened prior to then comes to a head, and it's a kind of chaotic maelstrom of a day where a lot of bad things happen," Susannah says.
"Following on from that section, you can see how the ramifications of that one day go on to impact the years following."
One pivotal moment is the rape scene that takes place midway through the unfolding tale.
Susannah explains it isn't intended for shock value: "Why I decided that I would have this sort of event in it was because I think that increasingly through art, and vocalised lived experience, we're all coming to have a much greater awareness of the complexities and widespread pervasiveness of sexual violence.
"So the encounter I wanted to write was one that was kind of riddled with all the innumerable potential ambiguities. It's not an unknown assailant apprehending her in a dark alley - it's one of the much more insidious, and probably much more ubiquitous cases, where this idea of consent is blurred.
"She has a lot of uncertainty regarding what happens, and I think that comes to account for a lot of her difficulty dealing with it. So that was kind of what I wanted to capture when I wrote it.
"I'm really interested in the kind of potential ambiguities of victimhood and self identifying as having been a victim of sexual assaults, and how the kind of ambiguities of it can eat away at you in increments."
The question hovering in the air is how difficult it is to imagine and commit such a scene to paper.
"I think we all know so many people who have experienced, if not that explicit thing, definitely something on that spectrum of sexual impropriety... people who will have had some sort of encounter or experience that treads that line between what is consensual and what isn't." Susannah says. "It was difficult to write in a sense that it's an objectively horrible thing and it's deeply unsettling, but it wasn't so far beyond the realm of possibility or imagination, in terms of the people I know and the experiences they've had."
To date, Susannah, who was a recipient of an Arts Council of Northern Ireland award to support Tennis Lessons, also has published three poetry pamphlets, the most recent of which, Bloodthirsty for Marriage, won an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors.
But it was while she was doing a Masters in Creative Writing at Goldsmith's College in London that she was shortlisted for a short story prize at Alumnus magazine and one of the judges was a literary agent who was keen to see what else she had written.
While she secured her contract in February 2019, it's been a long wait to publication this week, and the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown things off course.
"It's obviously altered the course of how I thought this month would go - I thought there would be launch parties and just getting to go to the pub to celebrate," Susannah says.
"But you know, in the grand scheme of things in terms of what this pandemic has really showcased in terms of class inequality, race inequality, how it's affecting different marginalised groups differently, really I'm not in a position to complain and I wouldn't ever dream of complaining, because I've had a home to spend lockdown in.
"I haven't been worried about having food and very, very luckily, nobody I know has been so adversely affected by it - I mean there are people I know who have had it, but thankfully they've all recovered. So it's definitely been a slightly strange and eerie experience."
Lockdown has been spent alone in her flat in south Belfast, working on her PhD in Creative Writing at Queen's.
"I have a cactus," she says. "So my cactus and I had a lot of lengthy edifying conversations over the course of lockdown.
"My cactus is called Greg - I think he gives off quite strong Greg energy.
"I don't have a garden but I do have a fire escape, so when the weather is more agreeable I get to go and sit on the fire escape, which makes me feel very cosmopolitan. Instead of the Manhattan skyline, I often get to see pigeons wrestling over the same pack of crisps."
Most intriguingly, she's completed the first draft of her next novel during lockdown, and admits it has been infiltrated by the sense of isolation and claustrophobia in lockdown.
"It's about these two girls who live separately, but in the same apartment building. One is a very sort of sheltered, introverted character who decides really for no real reason to exact a very meticulous and ineffective strategy of revenge on the other - so some of my lockdown mania or bitterness might have seeped into it," she laughs.
Susannah admits there's been a wide spectrum of response to Tennis Lessons and it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea.
"Ultimately, it's not maybe going to be perceived as a fun book, which I find really sad because I think there's a lot of joy to be found in it," she says. "Ultimately the book I wanted to write was about just a very normal girl having to come to terms with herself.
"One person who responded positively to it described it as a really accurate and good portrayal of ordinary life with which I really liked as a description, because I wasn't trying to write this grand dramatic novel - I was really hoping to focus more on just how is to be a young woman."
She ponders what advice she would give to others trying to get that first novel down on the page: "Look at things that seem very ordinary and try and find the ways in which they're not ordinary," she says.
Tennis Lessons by Susannah Dickey, published by Penguin Books, is out now, £14.99