Pay attention, you lot, we have a guest! Give a round of applause for Kerry Hudson, a début novelist, whose book, Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, comes out today. And this, here, now, is the very first stop on Kerry's blog tour! Fucking hell. (I thought I'd set the tone by swearing a bit, because Janie Ryan, the heroine of Tony Hogan..., is descended from a line of foul-mouthed, hot-tempered fishwives, and I reckon I'd fit right in. Bollocks!) Anyway, I've asked Kerry to come along and answer a few questions about the book and her writing process, and then we're going to launch the official blog tour competition. I feel extremely fancy and journalistic right about now.
But first, some context, in case you don't know Kerry. Like Janie, she was born in Aberdeen and she grew up in a succession of council estates, B&Bs and caravan parks, all of which turned out to be pretty handy when it came to writing Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. Kerry now lives, writes and works in London. Her website is here, she blogs here and tweets here, and here she is:
And the book itself? Tony Hogan... is published today by Chatto & Windus. I'll give you the official blurb:
When Janie Ryan is born, she's just the latest in a long line of Ryan women, Aberdeen fishwives to the marrow, always ready to fight. Her violet-eyed Grandma had predicted she'd be sly, while blowing Benson and Hedges smoke rings over her Ma's swollen belly. In the hospital, her family approached her suspiciously, so close she could smell whether they'd had booze or food for breakfast. It was mostly booze.
Tony Hogan tells the story of a Scottish childhood of filthy council flats and B&Bs, screeching women, feckless men, fags and booze and drugs, the dole queue and bread and marge sandwiches. It is also the story of an irresistible, irrepressible heroine, a dysfunctional family you can't help but adore, the absurdities of the eighties and the fierce bonds that tie people together no matter what. Told in an arrestingly original -- and cry-out-loud funny -- voice, it launches itself headlong into the middle of one of life's great fights, between the pull of the past and the freedom of the future. And Janie Ryan, born and bred for combat, is ready to win.
How could anybody resist? But enough preamble - on with the show!
Valerie O'Riordan: Anybody who's followed Kerry's blog (or read any of her recent interviews) will know that she drafted Tony Hogan... whilst travelling around Vietnam - definitely a cheaper, if more idiosyncratic, alternative to paying London rents and skulking in local cafes! But if you've read Tony Hogan, you'll also know that place is very important in the novel. Aberdeen, Canterbury and Yarmouth (to pick but three) are all integral to the story, Kerry, and you draw them so vividly. What was it like, writing so intimately about such British places out there in South East Asia? Do you find it easier to write at a distance or did you have to do a circuit of the book's locations at a later date?
Kerry Hudson: It was cheaper being in Vietnam but it was also very helpful to have that distance from my normality. It is a place so culturally removed from the towns and neighbourhoods I was writing about that it meant I had to go very deep into my own memories and imagination. I didn't have ready stimulus around me to influence the writing (in the way I might have had I been in the UK) so I had to create those places afresh, and seeing them with some, literal, distance helped me gain new perspective and insight.
VOR: I guess the same might apply to the eighties and nineties cultural references - I didn't grow up in the same circumstances (or countries) as Janie, but I'm the same age as her (and you), and we watched all the same cartoons, danced to Blur, thought lime green was a civilised colour for a pair of flared pants. Can you tell us about your research for these parts of the book?
KH: Like you I lived through them and so those memories (particularly of some awful blue PVC trousers I loved...) are still fairly fresh to me. However, I did get to do some fun stuff like YouTubing Dogtanian and the 3 Muskahounds and listening to all the songs that took me right back to school discos that ended in tears. Oh, and the other day I bought a Frey Bentos pie which now sits proudly in my cupboard waiting to come up trumps one rainy day.
VOR: The voice you've created for Janie is very rich - the foulmouthed fishwife vernacular (the Ryan Temper!) and her nasty circumstances blend with the joyous observation of the beauty she finds amidst the grime, which is a difficult balance to get right. Did the voice come easily or was it honed over the drafts?
KH: Janie's voice was the very first thing that came. Actually it arrived in short stories I was writing at Roehampton University years ahead of starting the novel. Before I knew what would happen in the novel, or if I would ever finish, wry, tough, smart little Janie Ryan was whispering in my ear. I was very fortunate in that respect really because that voice was the solid foundation and driver for everything else - knowing that so intimately made me feel less scared about the hugeness of writing a novel.
VOR: Some rapid-fire writery questions, now. How many drafts did you go through and how long did it all take?
KH: Seven months in total and around 6 drafts....I don't expect that speed will ever happen again! My second, which I wrote while working full-time and editing Tony Hogan, took about a year and half.
VOR: And was it always called Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (fantastic title!)?
KH: It was first called The Dole Cheque Kid and then Echoes of Small Fires and finally found its perfect incarnation in Tony Hogan... which was the result of a collaborative process between myself, my editor and agent.
VOR: Did you show the work-in-progress to anyone?
KH: I got my laptop pinched in China during my first week travelling and so ended up writing longhand then transcribing in internet cafes and sending the book, scene by scene, to my then partner who was working in Palestine and my best friend who was six months pregnant...to be fair, they probably had bigger things on their minds!
VOR: Well, I don't know about Palestine, but as I recall, anything non-pregnancy-related was a welcome distraction at six months... Anyway. What was the initial genesis of the novel? You mentioned the work you did at Roehampton that captured Janie's voice - how did the rest of it come about? Did you start with an image or a scene or with a whole narrative trajectory in mind?
KH: I started with a few short stories that drew on my teen and childhood experiences and from that I realised there was a novel. Once I'd decided to write the novel it made sense to me to write from the beginning of Janie's life right up until the next stage into adulthood. It turned out that novel writing was much more natural to my style than writing short stories so I was lucky I decided to give it a go.
VOR: It strikes me as quite an episodic book, as the various stages of the women's lives play out (the men, the houses, the schools) - I could actually imagine it serialised (and I'd bet my eye-teeth there'll soon be a Tony Hogan... film or a mini-series.) Did you have a clear idea about how you'd structure the book when you started out - other than the basic birth to adulthood arc - or was it all trial and error?
KH: Ha! Well Tony Hogan... on screen would be the dream so I'll ask you all to keep your fingers crossed for that. I'm not really a plotter above and beyond a double-sided A4 sheet with bullet points of the main events of the novel, that said I knew the book would effectively be in three acts with different aspects of the story taking precedence. Otherwise it was, as I said, just writing Janie's story as I saw it with all the same landmarks as any other young woman just in the context of Janie's surroundings, personal interactions and her emotional responses.
VOR: Briefly, for all of us admiring and aspiring novelists, can you tell us about your own development as a writer? Did you study creative writing? Was Tony Hogan... your first novel, or are there some Kerry Hudson juvenalia hidden away in a secret drawer?
KH: I haven't got an MA, I actually haven't even got a degree in Creative Writing (I started one at Roehampton and had to leave). A few years after leaving Roehampton early I started writing short stories while I was working in the charity sector. I won a competition, longlisted in a few others, published a few stories and used those little encouragements to keep on going and then I dove in and wrote Tony Hogan... I did a talk at a university recently where I worked out that I started writing short stories in 2006 and I signed my publishing contract in 2010. Those four years were just me plugging away, remembering that writing was at the heart of it all, working towards a goal I wasn't sure I'd ever reach – I know lots of writers reading this will recognise that. So while there's no novel in drawer somewhere (Tony Hogan...was my first novel) there are plenty of pieces floating about in print and online which are examples of me finding my feet and trying to learn my craft story by story.
VOR: Hurray! It's so lovely to see hard graft paying off. Finally, I know your next novel, Thirst, is set between the UK and Russia. Can fans of Tony Hogan... expect any similarities or is it all change? And have you any idea, yet, what will follow Thirst?
KH: It is a change because it doesn't draw on the world I came from, instead it's a love story about two slightly broken people for whom love might either destroy or save them. It's similar in that it's full of black humour though and the protagonists are very flawed, very real people – she delivers free newspapers from a little trolley, he's a security guard. They both have secrets but they're also people you could walk past every day on the street. Next? I've an inkling for my third novel based on my time working at a Sultan's Chateau in Paris last Autumn and I'm also planning to adapt Tony Hogan... into a play. I like to stay busy and as long as I'm allowed to, and people keep reading, I'll just keep on making things up!
Well! A Sultan's Chateau, eh? I'm intrigued! And I can't wait for Thirst. Thank you so much, Kerry, for answering my questions (and for getting me an advanc copy, whoop! ) I hope everything goes really well with Tony Hogan..., and I'm sure it's going to be an enormous success. Just look at it!
But don't just look at it - read it! Tony Hogan... is available from Amazon here, and, of course, from all good real-life retailers - support the book trade!
Right, prize draw fanciness ahoy! Well, this is a treat, especially the first prize (unless you're one of my non-writing readers, in which case - Mam, this probably doesn't apply to you, but do join in if you really want to). This draw is open to anyone who hosts or comments on a Tony Hogan post during the blog tour. There's no purchase necessary, and there's no limit to how many times a name can be entered (so if you comment on three blogs you have three entries) but it's only possible to win one prize per person. The winning names will be drawn at random on Wednesday 1st August and announced on Kerry's Tumblr blog and on Twitter.
1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes consist of:
1st prize - A three chapter or synopsis critique plus afternoon tea at Beas of Bloomsbury, London (at a mutually beneficial date and time) with Kerry Hudson's agent, Juliet Pickering from the AP Watt Literary Agency, to discuss your critique. Plus a personalised copy of Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma.
2nd prize - A literary hamper containing a personalised copy of Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma as well as three of Kerry's most recommended writing theory books and Hotel du Chocolate chocolates to enjoy while reading them.
3rd prize - A personalised copy of Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma.
How good is that? Next stop for Kerry on the blog tour is Nik Perring, tomorrow, followed by Kath Eastman (July 7th), Sara Crowley (July 8th) and a whole bunch more, right through until the 19th. So go read and go comment.
Finally! If any of you are London-based, Kerry's hosting an all-day Tony Hogan... readathon today! Her friends, some actors, her agent and Random House staff are reading the whole novel aloud in a day at Stoke Newington Bookshop from 10.30-6pm. If you wanted to come along and enjoy some tea, cake and chatter, and maybe read, Kerry's waiting for you RIGHT NOW!