Thursday, 14 January 2016

Rewriting the City and its Dark, Twisted Streets

After reviewing the 2015 psychological thriller I Came To Find A Girl, NottsLit asked its author Jaq Hazell why she chose Nottingham as a setting. Here is her reply, guest post style:

Rewriting the City and its Dark, Twisted Streets
by Jaq Hazell

Why I chose Nottingham as a setting for my novel

Nottingham, UNESCO City of Literature, has provided the setting for classic novels from the likes of DH Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe, and continues to inspire today with writers such as John Harvey, David Belbin and Nicola Monaghan using the city in their contemporary works. Nottingham is also the main setting for my novel I Came to Find a Girl.

I Came to Find a Girl is a psychological thriller about art student Mia and how she meets famous artist Jack Flood when he’s in the city for the opening of his own exhibition. Mia goes back to his hotel, accepts a drink, and later wakes up naked with no idea what has occurred. She fears she may have been filmed for one of Flood’s future video artworks. Should she go to the police? And what has happened to her missing friend Jenny? Women are being murdered, and the city seems to have become a more dangerous place.

Crime occurs everywhere of course, so why set this novel in Nottingham? The simple answer is familiarity. It’s where I went to college, studying textile design at Nottingham Trent in the days when it was a polytechnic. But why write about a student?

The novel began as a desire to look at what it’s like to be a young, single woman in an urban environment – the dark side of The Sex & the City/Bridget Jones lifestyle, if you like – and the reality that there is a downside to sexual freedom and that women will always have to watch out.

Thankfully most people live their entire lives unscathed by serious crime, but there is always the ‘what if’ scenario – that moment in anyone’s past where taking a wrong turn, through no fault of one’s own, could render a person vulnerable to harm. Moments like this are also more likely if you’re young and out partying, your better judgement fuzzed by alcohol, and so that’s why I chose to make my protagonist a young student, out enjoying her new found freedom in Nottingham’s numerous bars and clubs.

Nottingham’s lively, attractive centre is compact, and has a small-town feel, making it the perfect setting for characters to repeatedly run into each other, even though one of them would rather not.

There is the legendary Rock City and the many other clubs and bars that contribute to Nottingham’s reputation as a great night out, and there is the contrasting sprawl of its various residential areas that span out from its heart.

Every night out ends with the need to return home. A bus or tram will only take you so far, and a cab may be too costly for the young. All women know that even the shortest walk home can suddenly feel treacherous if there are footsteps behind.

I spent three years in Nottingham, firstly in the Meadows area and then in Forest Fields. Walking home late at night was always a concern. My house was in the red light area and cars would sometimes slow by the kerbside, although thankfully apart from the odd proposition nothing untoward happened. But these memories triggered a sense that (like all cities) Nottingham is a place where dark happenings sometimes occur, and that the numerous worm-like streets that spread out from its beating heart could provide the perfect backdrop for a story that is ‘dark, haunting, twisted’ (according to the Telegraph). Nottingham is an attractive, vibrant city and as it continuously evolves, so too will it continue to inspire.
I Came To Find A Girl

ebook £1.99

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

More Raw Material

Alan Sillitoe: novelist, short story writer, memoirist, travel writer, essayist, playwright, satirist, children’s author and poet. Sixty plus titles over six decades and yet he’s best-known for his debut novel and an early short story (both made into films). A new anthology, More Raw Material, seeks to celebrate Sillitoe’s creative diversity.

The anthology takes its title from the author's Raw Material (1972), an innovative historical novel come family memoir that reflects on his relatives experience on the Western Front.
More Raw Material matches Sillitoe’s output for diversity with prose, fiction, non-fiction, illustration and photography filling its pages. About half of Sillitoe’s books were set in Nottingham and the city features prominently in the anthology with comparisons between the then and now. Many of the contributors pay direct homage to Sillitoe and his work - recounting meetings and influence - others less obviously. Some of the many highlights are Bryce Wilson’s book vs. the film essay Saturday Night Loneliness, Michael Eaton’s Letter to Mr Sillitoe, and the poems from Alan Baker, David Duncombe and David Cooke. There’s even part of Sillitoe’s draft outline for A Start in Life, as a screen treatment.

Co-edited by Neil Fulwood and David Sillitoe More Raw Material is a rich feast. The quality Russell Press produced paperback costs £9 (it won’t be appearing as an ebook) and revenue from sales will go to the Alan Sillitoe Memorial Fund.

“That the raw material of the past consists of ordinary people is a truism, yet it seems a little more true of Nottingham than anywhere else. The idiosyncratic and often turbulent nature of its inhabitants produced a more vivid past than most places.” Alan Sillitoe


Thursday, 7 January 2016

New Thriller set in Nottingham

Shortlisted for The Virginia Prize for Fiction, and hailed by The Telegraph as one of the year’s best crime fiction books, Jaq Hazell’s I Came To Find A Girl happens to be set in Nottingham.

The opening line: "I was happy to hear Flood was dead. I wasn't as happy as I thought I'd be, but I was happy all the same."
The aforementioned Flood is Jack Flood, bad boy of the London art world. The protagonist is Mia Jackson, an art student from the south-coast now living with four fellow students in a Victorian terrace in Forest Fields. If you’re expecting bad boy Flood and the rather likable young artist/waitress to follow a turbulent road to unlikely romance you’d be wrong. Flood is instantly dislikeable, a narcissistic modern artist, but it gets worse: he has the kind of dangerously crazed and unpredictable personality suited to a psychological thriller, a genre that embraces this novel.

Flood intends to seek out the ‘real’ Nottingham, ‘where the people live’, and asks for Forest Fields, St Ann’s, the Meadows and our 'binge-drinking' city centre. His taxi driver warns him, saying ‘there are shootings there’ and citing Nottingham as a ‘crazy city’. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have read that horrible shottingham word. But this book isn’t an underresearched hatchet job on the back of a few negative headlines. Hazell captures the city well, providing the small town feel and representing the student experience with authenticity, no doubt helped by her years here studying textile design. The streets of the Lace Market and Market Square in particular are fondly regaled.  
The most haunting crimes are those events where an ordinary victim suffers through no fault of their own, and this applies here. After having a drink with Flood, Mia wakes up face down, naked and confused in his hotel room. She needs to know what’s happened to her and is compelled to watch Flood’s video diaries, wondering if she is going to be the next to appear on screen.

Crime novels are nearly always murder novels. Murder sells. And murder or murders are afoot here as Nottingham appears to have a serial killer on the loose. But Mia’s story has a different crime at its core, an underrepresented one on account of its sensitivity. Publishers know that murders are rare, and that they won’t find a direct murder victim amongst their readers, but date-rape… a difficult subject to pitch to publishers that don’t want to portray this underreported crime. Perhaps they think that people affected by rape will not want to read about it in the form of a thriller. And perhaps they’re right. In defence of this book, the date-rape is an important part the story and the novel explores the downside to the greater sexual freedom brought about by feminism. At no point is its telling gratuitous and the importance of an early reporting of date-rape is made clear.

Warnings over sex tapes and revenge porn may be topical but what if consent for such footage was never given in the first place - another often ignored crime in this contemporary tale.

Mia and her friends seek out the truth behind their friend Jenny’s death whilst Mia has another agenda. Revenge. And Flood is in her sights.
Our creative quarter is an apt setting for Mia’s studies and socialising. She’s a believable/typical student and displays many of the traits one associates with ‘creatives’, more so than the professional artist Flood. It’s Mia’s story, 1st person narration, with Flood’s videos described as they’re watched. The weird world of modern art (and the people that create, appraise, promote and buy it) is examined in an insightful manner. Celebrity culture and the public’s obsession with it is evident, whilst tabloids, fame without talent, and the modern trend for recording mundane aspects of our lives are all targets.  
This is a well-written psychological thriller that isn’t afraid to break the rules.