Lit at Ladyfest Ten: Interview with Cathi Unsworth

1st Nov 2010

Cathi Unsworth

In advance of her appearance at Ladyfest Ten, the wonderful Cathi Unsworth took some time to answer our questions…

Tell us about yourself and your work?

I am a London-based writer of pop-cultural noir fiction. My three books so far are The Not Knowing, set in early Nineties Camden/Soho/Ladbroke Grove, within the world of small press publishing and film noir; The Singer, an elegy for the post-punk generation set between the late Seventies/early Eighties and 2003 in Hull, London and Lisbon; and Bad Penny Blues, an investigation into the true life, unsolved Jack the Stripper murders of the late Fifties/early Sixties in Ladbroke Grove and Soho.

I also edited an anthology of stories about the capital called London Noir. I started my career as a music journalist and my writing has evolved from my love of pop and unpopular culture, the jukebox and the silver screen – perhaps because all involve investigating the inner worlds of the outsider and the inner workings of the cities they inhabit. Place is very important to me, my novels are linked by their London settings to create a parallel universe just five minutes south of what really was.

What can we expect from your event at Ladyfest Ten?

I will be reading a sequence from Bad Penny Blues which is the last few minutes of a woman’s life before she is murdered. The woman was called Gwynneth Rees, and she was the second victim of the so-called Jack the Stripper, killed sometime in the summer of 1963. No one but the guilty and the dead knows exactly when and where it happened, I have constructed my version from the frightening facts there are about her short and brutal life. The reading will be sound-tracked to a score by Pete Woodhead, which evokes the story’s Soho jazz club setting and the nightmare into which the girl descends.

One of the main aims of Lit at Ladyfest Ten is to promote and celebrate writing by women. What advice would you give to women finding it tough to carve out their own niche?

Never give the bastards the satisfaction of you giving up.

What has your experience been as a woman working in your industry?

I have been lucky to have an extremely supportive agent and a publisher and editor who really believe in me and allow me to work without compromise. That is, I realise, an uncommon situation, but even in my fortunate position, it takes a lot of hard work to keep going. Like ninety per cent of all authors, I have a day job, and have not had a proper holiday in about ten years as most of my annual leave tends to get spent on promotional events and writing.

I have had to learn a lot of new skills – how to perform on a stage, how to run my own website, how to be my own pimp. But I have met some brilliant people along the way, which definitely helps to keep my hand from straying towards the cyanide. You never know when someone will appear by magic to help you, or from what direction they will come from. Which maybe answers your previous question at a bit more length as well.

How important is sex, sexuality and gender to you and your writing?

Sex and gender is pivotal to what I write about – in noir fiction, it is always women bearing the brunt of the enormous gulf of empathy that lies between the sexes. My main motivation for writing is to try and understand what makes men hate women – and children – so much; and how much of that rage is engendered by the society we live in.

For our audience who might not be able to make it to Ladyfest Ten, what authors and projects are you into at the moment that they can investigate instead?

I am always interested in the work of Lydia Lunch, who is a great inspiration for any gal and is always up to myriad intriguing projects.

I have been delighted by the emergence of the Portobello Pop-Up cinema, which has brought back the true spirit of Ladbroke Grove to my beloved manor and continues to run an exciting programme of films old and new, with interesting guest speakers, discussions and events. It’s also, in these credit crunched times, very good value – a suggested donation of £4 is all you need to get in.

The Horse Hopsital in Bloomsbury continues to be my favourite art space/happening hangout/portal to new dimensions. My favourite band continues to be The Cesarians, whose magical music can be imbibed on their website.

Cathi will be appearing with Jayne Joso on Friday 12th November at The Horatia – we’ll be there, will you? Grab your tickets now!

Post by Alex Herod