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Author Jaq Hazell on Her Nottingham-Based Crime Novel

22 April 16 words: Nottslitblog

"Publishers love murder, and yet murder is quite rare, while there were over 33,000 rapes and nearly 100,000 sexual offences in England and Wales last year. There are murders in this novel, but the crime at its core is date rape"

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photo: Henry Harrison

You have a new book out, so let’s begin with your elevator pitch…
It is a psychological thriller set in Nottingham about a young art student’s ‘relationship’ with a famous artist and convicted murderer, Jack Flood.

You come from Portsmouth and live in London, so why did you set the novel in Nottingham?
The simple answer is familiarity. 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 and the City/Bridget Jones lifestyle, if you like – and the reality is that I think there is a downside to sexual freedom. I was thinking about how easily people can take a wrong turn, through no fault of their own, and render themselves vulnerable. These moments are more likely when you’re young and out partying so I made my protagonist a student. It made sense to utilise my own knowledge and experience of student life and that meant Nottingham, where I studied textile design.

So it’s in part a memoir of your time clubbing and studying here?
That’s funny that you give clubbing precedence over studying as that’s probably what I did at the time. I’d say it’s 90% fiction. I have used the scummy student house I lived in and I do revisit favourite haunts but, thankfully, the plot is pure fiction.

The blurb refers to Nottingham’s seedy streets and it’s not long before binge drinking, gun crime and drug warfare are all mentioned. On reading the novel, might a prospective student think twice about enrolling at Trent?
I would hope not. All cities have these issues to a certain degree and a crime novel is bound to emphasise a city’s darker side. Nottingham is great for students. It’s vibrant with lots going on, while at the same time its compact centre makes it seem friendlier than a lot of bigger cities.

Well saved. Were you aware of Nottingham’s literary heritage when you lived here?
My textile design degree used to be taught in the Arkwright Building on Shakespeare Street and I was aware that DH Lawrence studied in that very building. While living in the city I also wanted to visit Lord Byron’s house but had no means of getting there, so I suggested to my tutors that a visit to Newstead Abbey would be a useful field trip. They went along with it and hired a coach, and then made us sketch and paint in the grounds. All I wanted to do was walk around. As far as Alan Sillitoe is concerned, I worked at a packaging company one summer and used to love it when my bus passed the Raleigh factory. It’s great that Nottingham has been made a UNESCO City of Literature. It will attract a lot more visitors who are interested in making literary pilgrimages.

Crime novels are nearly always murder novels but Mia Jackson’s story has a different crime at its core…
Publishers love murder, and yet murder is quite rare, while there were over 33,000 rapes and nearly 100,000 sexual offences in England and Wales last year. There are murders in this novel, but the crime at its core is date rape. It’s not described and there is no graphic detail, it’s more about the aftermath: confusion, denial, survival and the possibility of revenge.

The sinister Jack Flood is the kind of self-obsessed psycho I can really picture as a bad boy of the modern art scene. Where did the inspiration for his character come from?
Jack Flood evolved from various snippets I’ve read about famous artists, combined with one or two manipulative people I’ve met who have had psychopathic tendencies – charming, but incapable of a proper relationship.

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You’ve got an agent but self-published I Came to Find a Girl. Can you tell us about that route?
I wrote it a few years ago, before I signed with an agent. I’d moved on and forgotten about it until I heard about the Virginia Prize for Fiction. It was shortlisted and it was at this point that I decided to give it one last rewrite and self-publish. Traditional publishers are signing up very few new writers and I didn’t want to wait months for them to get around to looking at it and then reject it because the subject matter is unusual.

You made The Telegraph’s pick of the best crime fiction books of 2015, alongside heavyweights like Mark Billingham and Denise Mina. That’s quite a feat for a self-published title…
I heard about it via Twitter and I was incredulous. I had to reread the review about five times to take it in. I have no idea how Terry Ramsey of The Telegraph heard about my novel, but I’m very grateful that he did. Validation from such a highly regarded source can make all the difference to a book’s success.

With the success of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train and the tattoo one, were you keen to include ‘girl’ in your title?
I know it looks that way, but that’s not how it came about. The novel was written before Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train were published. It had various working titles, none of which seemed right, so I went back to the novel looking for the answer and it came from something one of the main characters says.

I read that your average day has you constantly checking Amazon and Goodreads for reviews. How’s your sanity?
It may sound insane but for me, after many years of taking little notice of the business side of publishing, it’s a good thing. It’s great to finally have readers and a challenge to get your novel noticed among the twelve million other novels on Amazon.

Other than fans of crime fiction, who might enjoy the book?
I didn’t set out to write a crime novel. It was more an exploration of how life is now if you’re young and trying to find your way in the world. How something bad can happen with no warning. It will appeal to fans of psychological thrillers, and people who are interested in contemporary issues such as attitudes to date rape, issues of privacy with regards to being filmed, the value of modern art, celebrity culture and fame without talent, alongside the joys of clubbing and the importance of friendship.

Is it true that you used to design humorous greetings cards?
I had my own range called Glad to be Bad. They didn’t sell particularly well. They were a bit rude, although not by today’s standards so perhaps they were ahead of their time.

Will your next book be set in Nottingham?
Since writing I Came to Find a Girl, I have published London Tsunami & Other Stories, and written a children’s book and another novel which are all set in London. My next project will be set in London and Mumbai. When it comes to setting a novel or short story in Nottingham, I’d never say never. It would be a good excuse to visit.

I Came to Find A Girl is available for £7.99 on Amazon.

Jaq Hazell website

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