It’s my turn today on the blog tour for Julia Forster’s debut novel.
Published 7th January by Atlantic Books, What A Way To Go is a story about 12 year old Harper Richardson whose parents have divorced. She is struggling to cope with their emotional lives along with becoming a teenager who has an obsession about gerbils and the top 40! Julia is sharing her own music experiences with JJ’s readers today.
First, here’s more about What A Way To Go:
1988. 12-year-old Harper Richardson’s parents are divorced. Her mum got custody of her, the Mini, and five hundred tins of baked beans. Her dad got a mouldering cottage in a Midlands backwater village and default membership of the Lone Rangers single parents’ club. Harper got questionable dress sense, a zest for life, two gerbils, and her Chambers dictionary, and the responsibility of fixing her parents’ broken hearts…
Set against a backdrop of high hairdos and higher interest rates, pop music and puberty, divorce and death, What a Way to Go is a warm, wise and witty tale of one girl tackling the business of growing up while those around her try not to fall apart.
Echo Chambers by Julia Forster
“The Top Forty is like a holy rosary. You need to tune into it every Sunday evening; it’s the key to being cool, especially on a Monday morning when you’re in assembly and you should be singing about Jesus being nailed to death on a wooden cross and coming back to life, but instead you whisper Bananarama lyrics…”
Had I been born a few years earlier, I am sure I would have been a wholesale punk. As it was, I was born in 1978 and I was a devout follower of Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s entire musical output. My first LP was Kylie Minogue’s eponymous album. I had a weekly subscription to Smash Hits and heaven forbid I should miss an episode of Top of the Pops or the top forty countdown on Radio One.
In 1988, the year in which my novel What a Way to Go is set, sales of the pop music magazine Smash Hits were nudging towards one million copies a week.
Pin badges worn on your acid washed denim jacket lapels were shorthand for your musical allegiance. We plastered our bedroom walls with posters of pop stars. I spent longer that I should care to admit googling at Glenn Medeiros in his sharp suit and with those brooding, brown eyes.
Almost exactly halfway through the decade – on 13 July 1985 – Wembley stadium hosted a sell-out audience. The Live Aid concert kicked off at midday with Status Quo’s ‘Rockin’ All Over the World’. Later in the afternoon, Bob Geldof swore live on national television to galvanise the British public to take the money out of their pockets, pick up the telephone and donate.
Despite the demise of punk and the burgeoning public relations industry with its canny product placements and glossy photo shoots, this was definitely an era when politics and pop music got into bed with one other, albeit uneasily.
Alongside polling pop stars on the contents of their fridge and their first crush, Smash Hits wasn’t afraid to dip its toes into politics either.
In June 1986, the magazine asked pop stars such as Patsy Kensit, Nik Kershaw and Billy Ocean what they thought about nuclear disarmament. And in March 1987, the magazine interviewed Margaret Thatcher. When she was asked ‘How do you react to today’s left-wing pop acts who can’t wait to get you out of Number ten?’ the then Prime Minister answered by talking about Elton John’s throat infection and how, in her day, all that was available to create sound effects in music studios were echo chambers…
Writing What a Way to Go was not unlike standing inside my own personal echo chamber, one in which the past reverberated around me as I flicked back through old magazines, watched vintage TV adverts and films.
The novel is a contemporary take on that era, one to which I have returned with a sideways glance, a soupcon of irony and a healthy dose of scepticism. At its heart beats Harper, my twelve year-old outspoken and pop-loving protagonist who, in the course of the book, experiences her own political awakening.
Harper meets her first boyfriend early on in the book – a boy called Craig who wears a CND T-shirt. When they encounter one another, at a disco in Coventry for kids of divorced parents, Harper asks him which song CND charted with. Craig explains the rudiments of nuclear energy thus, ‘Splitting the atom is like divorce: there’s always fall-out and it makes you sick’. Harper’s first kiss is bittersweet.
In What a Way to Go I show how the line between life and death, pop music and politics, humour and tragedy, is paper-thin. Harper’s story demonstrates how the course of your life can swivel on a sixpence. This is a young girl whose gaze is lifted above the commercially-packaged world which is presented to her, and who blossoms as she begins to envision a different world in which anything is possible.
I’m looking forward to reading What A Way To Go – taking a step back to the world in the 80’s and feeling some nostalgia myself. I think I’m going to to be taking Harper into my heart too.
Born in 1978 in the Midlands, Julia has worked as a waitress in Chartres, a nanny in Milan and a magician’s assistant in Brooklyn. She studied at the University of Warwick where she was awarded the Derek Walcott Prize for Creative Writing. Julia has also worked in the publishing industry in Aberystwyth, Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and London, including a two-year stint as an assistant in a literary agency in Soho where jobs included sifting submissions from authors each morning. More recently, she worked for the literary magazine New Welsh Review. Julia now works for Literature Wales where she sits on their bursary panel, helping to award bursaries to both emerging and established writers, having herself received a bursary in 2011 which enabled her to begin her debut novel, What a Way to Go.
She lives in mid Wales with her husband and two children.
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