Fahrenheit author Jackie Swift tells us a little about herself and introduces us to Lola Jones - the star of her debut novel - we know you're going to fall in love with Lola, everyone in The Bunker is smitten and we're already looking forward to sharing more of her adventures with you.
Lola Jones came to me fully formed one Easter many years ago. Her voice was compelling and strong and I wrote like a demon for several days and got 15,000 words down in a glorious flow of words that I really liked. I played with it, revised it, left it and whenever I came back to it I remained smugly pleased with it.
But I was stuck. I had my character, my setting, my story, my plot, supporting cast, if not the ending – that certainly changed along the way. But despite her strength and engaging voice I knew that Lola couldn’t tell the whole story. Like most first person narrators, other than the likes of Nick Carraway, she didn’t know the whole story. And was she trust-worthy? After all she is recovering from breast cancer, all sorts of drugs swirl through her system, and significantly she is the prime suspect, so how closely acquainted with truth can she be?
So, how to proceed?
In fact, Lola lolled for many years. Other things intervened, including other stories, starting and completing a PhD in creative writing and moving from quiet, peaceful Northern Tasmania to bustling, exciting London, where work was totally insane and all consuming, with bemused girl-children in tow. The boy-child was left at uni in Oz but followed a few years later to do his own PhD at Oxford. So, Lola languished, but she was always there: pulled out to revise, tinker, wonder... She wouldn’t let me go. I had to find a way to write the story.
As happened I was spending several days with a mate in Brussels and bought Gone Girl to read on the Eurostar. Well, that got everything back on track. You know that story… compelling Amy Dunne telling this amazing, horrendous story about her husband and then it’s all turned on its head when he chimes in. Now, this is not the first dual narrative novel I’ve read: hark back to The Pigman by Paul Zindel that I taught in my early teaching years, not to mention Will Grayson Will Grayson (the best of the John Green novels, methinks) and others such as Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. Dual narrative novels surrounded me but it was Gone Girl with that powerful voice and compelling-repelling character that gave me the inspiration to go back to Lola Jones. I now had the way forward: enter the reluctant shambolic detective, Todd Rains: the voice of reason, logic and sense. He’s a bit of a loser but his absolute honesty and self depreciation balance Lola, and so between them the story could proceed.
I think Lola is compelling because of her disarming nature: she dissembles, she fibs, she plays fast and loose with the truth. But she’s honest about it. She is a paradox: a truthful liar. She knows that all people lie, just that some people do it much better and more convincingly than others, and sometimes it’s hard to see the truth when it’s right in front of you.
And she talks about sex. A lot. To you, the reader: she takes you in, makes you her confidant. Women aren’t meant to talk about sex – especially not mothers, wives, middle aged women with respectable middle class jobs and values. Hell, once they’ve had kids they don’t even have sex any more, do they? But Lola has lots of sex, dreams about sex, thinks about sex, enjoys sex, and shares her, not entirely appropriate thoughts, about men and what their bodies are like and what doing it was like or might be like with them. She is very much a sexual, sensual being, full of desire. She seems to have an altogether male view on sex: it pre-occupies her and delights her. Do we applaud her attitude or do we find it confronting, uncomfortable: do we squirm as she imagines her lawyer’s manhood in his jocks or do we delight in it? But why shouldn’t women be as interested in sex as men, why shouldn’t a woman have sexual fantasies that are every bit as rich as a man’s?
And to follow, why shouldn’t a woman kill a man, why shouldn’t she be so out-raged with him and what he has done or said that she kills him?
As with women who openly enjoy sex we find the idea of women killers hard to get our heads around. Society is pre-disposed to the Myth of Motherhood: that women are here to nurture, to look after children and husbands, to be a good home-maker, to be the stable foundation of Western society. Yes, we know the truth is far from that but look at the way we shape our narratives such that a character like Lola is not mainstream – how can a loving mother and wife enjoy and obsess about sex, how can she even think about killing someone, let alone do it? Mothers don’t leave their children; mothers are faithful; mothers don’t kill. And if they do any of these things then they are Monsters – aberrations. How can a woman, who is the epitome of life creating be a murderer? Think Medea and Cersi Lannister…
So, Lola is a conundrum. She is a fierce mother who clearly loves her three children, and her husband too (let’s be clear there is still a well full of passion in that marriage bed). She’s a standard G-rated teacher, predictably and boringly married to a teacher (albeit an ambitious principal). She has a very nice home, a dog (how can a character with a dog be bad?), she makes beautiful shirts for her beloved husband; her students love her: she’s even recovering from breast cancer, for heaven’s sake, so how can she be this sex obsessed murderer?
As well as exploring the view of the chief suspect in her own words, I was also interested in the idea that a great deal of crime fiction is about a female victim, mostly done away with at the hands of a man. I wanted to move away from that trope, look more at female killers: their motives, their means, thus Lola’s dominant voice is essential to a look inside the mind of a killer and all the contradictions that we find as she thinks out loud, working out what’s brought her to such a place in life. Do we believe Lola, do we want her to be innocent, are we on her side, is she worthy of our support?
The Transit of Lola Jones is about desire, female killers, male corpses, and the books to come in the series will also be festooned with male victims (although there may be a couple of deserving women) and almost exclusively female killers. I think it’s time to redress that balance. Lola Jones and Todd Rains have only just begun their life of crime together. Don’t worry though, Lola’s not about to become any less her passionate self as the murders continue unabated in respectable, completely fictional little old Lymington.
I think you'll love Lola: a woman with a big heart and good intentions, but compromised by her wicked thoughts and naughty deeds. I commend her to you, dear reader.
The Transit Of Lola Jones will be published on Friday 4th December, you can pre-order it (at a discount) here...