Tuesday, 31 July 2012

PUSH-UPS: Cathi Unsworth


So, what you pushing right now?

Weirdo, my new novel, out now on Serpent’s Tail.

What’s the hook? 

Female transgression and teenage trauma in a Norfolk seaside town in the Eighties, reinvestigated thanks to changes in DNA technology nearly 20 years later. Split into two timeframes; the year of the last British Civil War, 1984, and the days leading up to Tony Bliar’s Iraq crusade, 2003. A tale of cults and clans, locals and outsiders, oppression and suppression, the things that unite us and the things that divide us. 

And why’s that floating your boat? 

This is the place where I spent my childhood. The idea had been floating around for a while, investigating the causes of teenage violence, spurred by the vicious murders of Mary Anne Leneghan in 2005 and Sophie Lancaster in 2007; and a documentary on unfortunate women mistaken for Maxine Carr and persecuted like a modern day witch hunt. The vilification of women who transgress – why is it so much more visceral than the hatred directed towards male offenders? In a landscape haunted by witch trials, rural uprisings and civil war, how much have we really changed? 

When did you turn to crime? 

To be able to ask questions like this and analyse them, to show multiple perspectives and to travel freely in both time and space. To try and give a voice to those who are usually ignored. Inspired by my hero Derek Raymond, who changed my life when I met him nearly 20 years ago and impressed upon me the importance of the noir novel, both in what he wrote and the person he was. 

Hardboiled or Noir, classic or contemporary? 

As Oscar Wilde said, there are only good books and bad books. The time they were written doesn’t matter – if you read a stunningly brilliant account of crime in the Thirties – like They Drive By Night by James Curtis or Night and the City by Gerald Kersh – you can see it, feel it, smell it and hear it as if it was going on around you. It’s all about the author’s voice – and how much they listen.  

And, what’s blown you away lately?

Contemporary – How I Killed Margaret Thatcher by Anthony Cartwright It’s set in the same time as Weirdo and investigates The Witch Queen’s crimes in destroying whole communities in the West Midlands, an area close to my heart as half my family come from there. The voice – of a nine-year-old boy learning quickly how to hate the Prime Minister – is utterly authentic and the plot devastating.

The House of Rumour by Jake Arnott, which I have just finished reading. Life, the universe and everthing in a multi-dimensional narrative that stretches back 70 years and takes in Jack Parsons, Ian Fleming, Aliestair Crowley, L Ron Hubbard, Rudolph Hess, the McCarthy witch hunts, Jim Jones, the New Romantics… Jake is such an inspiration.

Recently republished – The Lowlife by Alexander Baron. I read this a while back but am still haunted by it. If you want a time tunnel back to how it really was in London, 1963, described by a Zola-reading habitué of the dog tracks revelling in the wonderful name of Harryboy Boas, look no further. A beautiful reprint by Black Spring press, with an introduction by Iain Sinclair.

See any books as movies waiting to happen

Apart from my own, you mean? The Lowlife – with Bob Hoskins as Harryboy. In the right hands – I’m thinking Nick Moran, as his period detail and obvious love of the subject made his Joe Meek biopic Telstar such a joy to behold – it would be even better than The Long Good Friday

Mainstream or indie - paper or digital?

Indie and paper. The subject of ebooks is obviously a fraught one for any author. I can see all the good points and the benefits they have had for people who have been unjustly neglected. But at the same time, I don’t quite see this as a punk rock, DIY thing because of the enormous corporate juggernauts that are behind the whole enterprise. I could be wrong but I have a fear that this is going to end up doing exactly what Murdoch did at Wapping – making thousands of good, skilled, talented people redundant and the working conditions for those left made more and more unbearable – just so that a tiny handful of already wealthy people can roll around in even more cash. And vastly to the detriment of the quality of what is now produced by the overworked, underresourced and unrespected people left trying to do three people’s jobs at once. I say that as a working journalist who has seen these things happen to my industry in the 23 years since I began my career.

Shout us a website worth visiting …

For hours of fun that just go on giving:
White Eunuch is my particular favourite.

Finally, tell us any old shit about yourself …

I can’t stop listening to I, A Moon by North Sea Radio Orchestra. It is bliss.

Visit Cathi's site at:  http://www.cathiunsworth.co.uk/

PHOTO CREDIT: Fenris Oswin