Landing Author: Jacqueline Jacques (Part II)

Head and shoulders portrait of Jacqueline Jacques

Jacqueline Jacques

I hope you enjoyed the first part of the Q and A with writer Jacqueline Jacques, published here yesterday. Follow the link to Part I if you missed it and if you also missed my original introduction of Jacqueline’s historical crime novel on Thursday, then click over to that first to catch up with us! I am working on a piece about the book (which I enjoyed very much) at the moment. I really liked the idea of making the main character an artist who, through his role sketching crime suspects, becomes involved in the events which follow. And of course, Walthamstow was a fascinating character in its own right, at the heart of the novel and all the action.

And now, to the second half of my email interview with Jacqueline…

When you decided to go ‘darker’, did you have any idea in which direction it would take your work?  Did the difficult subjects you chose to deal with in Mary Quinn’s life affect you as you worked?

book cover of Victorian street scene

Colours of Corruption

I’ve tried the paranormal and outgrown it.  Horror wasn’t for me, so I guessed that my next novel would probably be crime fiction of some sort. I didn’t want to be bogged down in police procedurals, clues, clever deductions and red herrings, so I set an artist on a voyage of discovery.  He was the one to find out how ordinary, law-abiding people could become the victims of unscrupulous predators.  I hadn’t, at that point, read any crime fiction apart from Stef Penney’s The Tenderness of Wolves, so I fell back on my own studies in sociology, on various news stories, on a story structure recommended by the crime writer, Michelle Spring, and on my imagination.  Eventually, after the third or fourth draft I knew exactly where I was going.  And yes, I was very moved by Mary’s suffering, what she was forced to do to survive. I wanted to make life easier for her, but I couldn’t.  It was horrible but it happened and I had to record it.

I read on your website that you used to be a teacher.  I wondered if you would ever be inspired to write novels for children as other former teachers, such as Roddy Doyle have done.

Possibly, if time allows, but I have a number of adult novels I should like to write first.
I went to a Kate Atkinson interview recently, in which she was asked what minor character in her fiction she would like to revisit and why?  May I ask you the same question?

I’d be interested to see how little Clara grows up, given the trauma I’ve put the poor child through (I feel a little responsible for her.)  I suppose I might get the chance if I write more books about Archie Price.

Just to close with, can I ask you why you decided to move from the short story form to the novel and will you perhaps go back some day?

I find I need the longer form of story-structure in order to explore and develop my characters and plot.  Short stories cannot always contain all I need to say.  If I returned to short-story writing it would be purely as an exercise, I think, to test myself against a word count or the discipline of making a story believable in a few words. I once heard Beryl Bainbridge say, ‘Why waste characters and a good plot on a short story when you can write a book?’

Many thanks to Jacqueline for taking the time to answer my questions about her work. As I mentioned yesterday, she is in the running for the fiction award in the People’s Book Prize 2013 in which the voting is open until 20th May. As well as being a successful writer, Jacqueline is also an artist and you can check out her website for more information on her work. You could also look up her author page on Honno Press, for earlier novels such as her science fiction novel Skin Deep (2004).

cover showing half of a woman's face

Skin Deep, Honno Press, 2004

 

Thanks for reading the Jacqueline Jacques interview and don’t forget to drop a line in the box if you have any comments or suggestions for future posts.

Landing Author: Jacqueline Jacques (Part I)

As I promised on Thursday, here are the results of an email interview that I conducted with author Jacqueline Jacques about her new novel, The Colours of Corruption. I have actually divided Jacqueline’s Q and A into two sections as it is quite a long piece and I will post Part II up tomorrow. Since reading the book and working on the questions, I have learnt that The Colours of Corruption has been put forward by Honno Press for inclusion in the People’s Book Prize 2013. There is still time to cast your vote as the polls close on 20th May (I have already cast mine!).

book cover of Victorian street scene

Colours of Corruption

Art plays a large part in The Colours of Corruption.  Can you start by telling us a little about why you decided to make a painter your protagonist?

 I wanted to write a crime novel from the point of view of someone who was neither criminal nor victim, policeman nor private detective.  I don’t know enough about police procedurals to write confidently about them, but I do know a bit about painting and painters.  Listening to Woman’s Hour one day I heard Lois Gibson talking about her work as a forensic artist, drawing the perpetrators of crime from their victims’ descriptions.  I researched further and was astonished at how large a part such artists play, even today, in the solution of crime.  Archie Price, with his extraordinary gift for almost reading a witness’s mind, would have been invaluable to the police, at a time when photography was in its infancy.  Passionate about his painting, he is, at the same time quite naive about the real world and unprepared for the vicious criminals he comes up against.  He has all-too-human frailties, is weak, is charming.  An unreliable hero.  Perfect.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool Brummie, but I still love reading fiction based on London’s many layered past. You said on your blog that Walthamstow features in most of your fiction.  Can you tell us what it is in the place that keeps pulling you back to it in your work?

As a child I felt that it was the best place on earth to grow up in.  It had (still has) an incredible bustle of creativity about it. Easy access to the forest gave me trees to climb, paths to ramble, changing seasonal moods to fire my imagination. There was the wonderful High Street market to explore, the library to feed my soul, the Town Hall grounds to play in, the marshes, the river, Lloyd Park for swings and roundabouts, and London, only half an hour away by train. Why Walthamstow? It was my home and I loved it.

Your engaging and courageous hero, Mary Quinn is an Irish woman whose family had all travelled over to England to find work.  I was wondering if you have any Irish connections yourself.

Probably.  My grandmother spoke of ‘Black Irish’ genes (Spanish Irish) in the family, and of ‘Great Uncle Archie coming over from Ireland,’ but I haven’t done any research on this.  

You really evoke a convincing sense of life in this often sordid part of Victorian England.  How did you set about researching the period?  And I was fascinated by the underground passages.  Did they really exist?

Black and white photo of Jacqueline Jacques

Jacqueline Jacques

 I borrowed books and maps, studied photographs and paintings of the period.  I went for walks on the Walthamstow marshes, through the streets and in Epping Forest.  I trawled the Internet for social history, facts about the police, housing, tile patterns, music hall.  But mostly I relied on my memory. I felt I knew these people; that I’d grown up among them.  I may be a few generations removed from the characters in the book, but we, too, were poor (after the war) and struggled to stay afloat just as they must have done.  My father, who grew up in Walthamstow in the 1920s, once told me about connecting cellars beneath the High Street shops, used by villains on the run from the police.  It may have been a myth for all I know.  My Dad was also a teller of tales. Truth or fiction?  Who knows?  I’m a writer.  I’ll use anything to make a good story.

Following on from the research behind The Colours of Corruption, I was wondering if, while you plotted the novel you knew early in the process where your characters would be at the end of the story.

 I vaguely knew that Archie would be drawn deeper into the criminal network but I had no idea what would happen to the other characters until the very end.  In fact I wrote several endings, none of which worked to my satisfaction.  As I got to know the characters, their histories, their motivations, they more or less told me how they would behave in any given circumstance and I wrote it down.  Sometimes I would drop a fact into the mix, like Mary’s sweet singing voice, or a sword-stick, or a pair of gold cufflinks, just to see where it would take me.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.  It’s a haphazard way of working, but there’s nothing like it for excitement.

I hope you enjoyed that look behind the scenes, more from Jacqueline Jacques on The Colours of Corruption to follow shortly.

Jacqueline Jacques and Victorian Corruption

This is just a quick post to flag up a new guest on The Landing, Jacqueline Jacques who will be answering questions about her new book Colours of Corruption (Honno Press, January 2013).

Jaqueline Jaques

Jaqueline Jacques

Just to whet your appetite, this the publisher’s  synopsis of Jacqueline’s engrossing crime novel, set in Victorian England:

Mary, a desperately poor cleaner, is a witness to murder. Archie, one of the first artists to work for the police, to support his other work, draws the man she says she saw at the scene. Fascinated by her ‘face full of bones’, he persuades her to sit for a portrait, but the man who buys the picture really wants to buy Mary. When he realises he’s betrayed her, Archie takes her to hide with his friends, but doesn’t realise what he’s started. He has no idea how this one woman links his wealthiest clients, the poorest slums, terrible secrets, and a violent thug who is now looking for Archie – the man Mary described to the police.
 
As this gripping thriller uncoils, Jacqueline Jacques paints an intricate, vibrant picture of the layers of Victorian London, where the poor are commodities, criminals have nothing to lose and the rich can buy anything.
 
And the murders go on…

colours_corruption

I plan to post up Jacqueline’s responses to my gently probing questions on Saturday 20th April so stop by and take a look. In the meantime follow the link above to Jacqueline’s website to find out more about the author and her previous novels:

Lottie  (Honno  1997)

Someone to Watch Over Me   (Piatkus 1997)

Wrong Way Up the Slide  (Piatkus 1998)

A Lazy Eye  (Piatkus  2000)

Skin Deep  (Honno 2004)

Sharp eyed viewers may recall that Honno Press has featured on these pages before, as I have previously reviewed one of their classic reprints, Winter Sonata by Dorothy Edwards  for Belletrista.

I’ll be back on Saturday….

Picture credits: Honno Press (with thanks)