21st Feb2012

Interview with Kerry Hudson

by Lloyd Paige

Kerry Hudson’s debut novel’Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float, Before He Stole My Ma’ will be published by Chatto & Windus in July 2012. A story set amongst shoddy B&Bs and crumbling council estates would need a pretty tough protagonist. Well thankfully the novel has one, and she’s female too. I caught up with Kerry to find out more about her as a writer, and the novel itself.

1. What inspired you to write your book, ‘Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma?’

State education in rough areas isn’t always the best place to learn so my education was almost entirely received via my treasured library card. But it was hard to find books, particularly those written by women, which were reflective of my upbringing and that I could relate to. For that reason, when I started writing I wanted to write a truthful, funny book about dysfunctional families in all their glory and the uneasy ‘community’ of council estates. I also always intended to write something stylistically ‘British’ and was intent on revealing the love, laughter, colour and courage that can be found on our less salubrious British streets. A life on the margins doesn’t always mean a maginalised life.

I can only hope that I did my intentions proud with Tony Hogan, but I won’t have to wait too long to find out because it’ll be published by Chatto & Windus on July 5th this year.

2. What made you choose such a memorable title?

Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma is the last of quite a few incarnations and is pulled directly from the text. While drafting the novel I used the working title The Dole Cheque Kid and later submitted it under the title Echoes of Small Fires. The general consensus was that Echoes didn’t really represent the raw, sweary, funny world of the protagonist, Janie and her family and so my editor at Chatto & Windus suggested Tony Hogan… I love that it is a sly little wink towards misery memoir and, as you say, it is certainly memorable.

3. What was the hardest part of writing the book?

The hardest part was definitely the final section which I’m afraid I can’t mention here for fear of spoiling it for future readers, much as I would like to. While the rest of the book only required some light editing that final section was revisited many times. Because of the subject matter, and my awareness of how much the reader would potentially have invested in by that point, it felt like such a delicate, sensitive process. I wanted to ensure that I did Janie, her Ma and her sister Tiny, justice, as well as those who would one day give their time and attention to the book.

4. How long did it take you to write?

I was very lucky with this, my first, novel. Once I started it (I’d been writing short stories around the same themes for a while before that) I wrote it in a furious rush, as though it had been battering away under the surface for years. It may well have been. I was working full-time at an Aids Charity at the time I decided to write it and took 6 months off and went to Vietnam. I started with nothing except those few stories and by the time I returned to live on a boat on the Thames the final draft was with my not-yet-agent at AP Watt.

5. Tell us a little more about your protagonist Janie Ryan, what makes her tick?

Janie gives as good as she gets but she’s a soft-hearted warrior. She’s governed by her imagination, love and loyalty and later, her belief that, if no one will give you the future you want, you have to smash those horizons wide and claim it for yourself.

6. What writers and books have influenced your life most?

I’m always useless at this question because there are so many books I’ve loved that have shaped my life and choices that I couldn’t begin to narrow the list. But I suppose the authors I read in my teens are the ones that changed my life because at that time, every one of their books felt like a small miracle to me, so: J. D. Salinger, Angela Carter, Toni Morrison, Jack Kerouac, Sylvia Plath and, of course, Roddy Doyle.

7. What do you think makes a good story?

Absolute honesty, conflict, a few well-placed laughs, characters you either want to protect or thump, telling detail and an overall awareness of what state you want to leave the reader in at the end of it all.

8. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I work full-time for a Children’s Charity, have just finished my second novel Thirst, and am already promoting Tony Hogan so non-writing time is a bit of a distant memory. When I do have a day, I’ll take big walks around Hackney, indulging my curiosity, supping a good cup of coffee, continuing my quest for the perfect plate of chips (recommendations welcome).

9. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Get your arse on the seat. Seriously. Do it. I actually wrote a post about this Arse on Seat Methodology. Click Here – I swear by it.

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