Fahrenheit author Tina Jackson talks about Crime Fiction and the joy of being Other and how those two things combine in her debut novel The Beloved Children which is published this Friday (4th Dec)
I never thought I’d write a crime novel. It’s not that I’m not fascinated by crime – who isn’t, when it’s what happens when human beings find themselves in extreme circumstances? From The Moonstone on, I have a deep love for books that explore what unfolds when bad things happen to bad people. But I didn’t think I’d got the chops to write a conventional crime novel where events unravel through the eyes of an investigator, and, being totally honest – because it’s more impossible to hide from yourself in your writing than it is to bury bodies in the woods – I didn’t want to.
I grew up learning that secrets need to be kept close to your chest. There are show people and theatricals in my family’s past, and secrets, too. My own involvement in the world of show has led to the uncovering of some of these secrets. We have sepia family photos of sloe-eyed entertainers. My grandfather played in a violin band. A great aunt played piano for silent movies. Family friends were fortune tellers.
In my background – my warm, loving, rackety background – things regularly fell off the back of lorries and the gavvers even knocked for the family dog. So from the off, my interests lay with the people who might be investigated. The outsiders, the misfits, the ones who live outside the law, the square pegs that don’t fit into conventional society’s nice round holes. My affinities are with the freaks, the geeks, the weirdos, the people who get overlooked until they turn up in other people’s stories as colourful characters on the sidelines. And the crimes that most intrigue me are the ones that happen when something goes wrong in a life, and a person becomes a criminal – or commits a crime, which may not be quite the same thing – by accident.
For many years I worked at The Big Issue, which is a magazine sold by the homeless, and on a daily basis saw how people whose lives had come adrift were not properly seen – reduced to symbols of their circumstance, and not understood in terms of their full, multi-faceted humanity. They were ‘othered’. It angered and upset me then, and it still does.
‘Othering’ is a way of reducing another person to a stereotype, and there are many of these around show people. Look at all the stories that involve running away to join the circus, where a flattie’s life is temporarily transformed, or disrupted. But what if you weren’t running away, but coming home? What if that was your life, that what outsiders thought was exotic was just the way you lived? If you’ve ever seen Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks, one of the most striking things is that although you initially notice, and are started by, the characters’ appearance, that very quickly wears off as you’re drawn into their world and their lives and their stories. That’s because these were the people Tod Browning knew – he worked for many years with sideshows, circuses and in vaudeville. He knew the people in his film, and he ‘saw’ them. There may be issues, in our 21st century readings, about the way this 90 year-old film represents people, but one thing that can’t be denied is that it shows its characters are being so much more than their physical exteriors.
When it came to writing The Beloved Children, which is a book about secrets, and families, and friends, I wanted to explore that too, and present a world where these characters, who so often live on the sidelines, are not just the stars of the show but the centre of the story, as they deserve to be.
I realise that I did my own ‘othering’ in thinking that there were any limits to crime writing. It can be, I see now, as wide and all-embracing as the concerns of the people writing it. Thanks to Fahrenheit Press, I learned that the Freaks mantra (‘one of us, one of us’) also applies to writing. When The Beloved Children was accepted, I felt ‘seen’. I’ve been welcomed to a fellowship of fierce and fabulous writers and a world of individual, idiosyncratic takes on noir that incorporates soul and grit, swearing and compassion, humanity and entertainment, heartbreaking social justice warriors, wonderful wordplay, ghost dogs, crime-solving bluesmen, drag acts and divas, football, speedway racing, working class lives, the northern rave scene – and this is just scratching the surface. I’ve learned that I’m a crime writer too. It’s exciting. I’m thrilled to be on the bill of this amazing show. One of us. One of us.
You can pre-order THE BELOVED CHILDREN here at the special pre-order price...