15th Jun 2010
Ace Stories with Cathi Unsworth
Early on Sunday evening I emerged from a sleepy cocoon to discover it was beautifully sunny outside, and headed down to Hotel Pelirocco on Brighton seafront. No ordinary hotel, it has themed rooms honouring the likes of Betty Page and Diana Dors and describes itself as ‘England’s most rock’n'roll hotel’. Their PlayStation bar was the venue for the first Ace Stories event – kicking off a new live literature and music season from Jay Clifton and Sam Collins, creators of the ‘Tight Lip’ literary events.
The evening promised readings from three writers including For Books’ Sake favourite Cathi Unsworth, as well as live blues music and giveaways. Settling into the unusually-decorated bar with its wallpaper forest of silver trees and lamps in the shapes of PlayStation controls, we were treated to a reading by short story writer Heli Clarke. Her tale of mistaken identity within marriage was original and concisely written. I was left wanting to read it for myself as I felt some of the nuances had passed me by in my sleepy Sunday state.
Next up was local author Howard Cunnell, who read an excerpt from his novel Marine Boy. Set in Eastbourne, it’s the story of sixteen-year-old Kim growing up in a world of tattoos, small-town drug dealing and gang warfare, worshipping his older brother (leader of a gang of skinheads). The passage was visceral and affecting, evoking a sense of dangerous naivety coupled with shocking violence. Clear and precise prose with a brave, outsider vibe.
The final writer of the evening was the glamorous Cathi Unsworth, reading from her third novel Bad Penny Blues (which I devoured wholeheartedly a few months ago). The story takes place in London’s Ladbroke Grove area in the 1960s, where the local prostitutes are anything but safe. It’s an original take on the crime genre and has been lauded by the likes of David Peace.
Before the reading, Cathi was interviewed by Jay Clifton and answered questions from the audience, leading to some fascinating insights into her writing process. Her primary motivation was to tell the stories of the murdered girls, having read true crime books skipping over such characters and depicting them in an unsavoury light.
Her research for the book was clearly meticulous, having interviewed a policeman working at the time and read seemingly endless factual books on her subject as well as pulp fiction novels written by policemen (which helped to form the lingo used by some of the characters). Perhaps the most inspiring revelation was that she managed to do all of this research and write the novel while holding down a full-time job.
Having been to Cathi’s reading at Brighton Waterstones earlier this year, I was pleased to hear her read a different passage from last time. This time she focused on Stella and Jackie – characters not directly involved in the crime aspect of the plot, but who exist on the periphery of the horrific events and help bring the era to life.
Cathi’s reading was followed by a blues set from Brighton-based musician Slim Lightfoot. I loved the fact that this wasn’t a straightforward literary event, and the variety of impressive performances made it well worth the £3 entry fee. This also entitled us to entry into the raffle at the end of the evening. The event was sponsored by Ace Records, Serpent’s Tail publishers and Momentum Pictures, all of whom provided products to give away. The evening had already given me far more than my money’s worth so it was a welcome bonus when my number was picked out and I became the proud owner of an exciting-looking new book (Repeat it Today with Tears by Anne Peile).
The next Ace Stories event at Hotel Pelirocco is on July 11th and, if this one was anything to go by, it’ll be well worth a visit.
Post by Alexis Somerville