by Rana Asfour
One of the most exciting thrillers to come out in 2015, 'I Came to Find a Girl' by Jaq Hazell (aka Jacqui Hazell) is the one you should be reaching for if dark, intense crime fiction is your thing. This deliciously intense novel about female art student Mia, and her entanglement with award-winning, renowned super artist Jack Flood has hit the shelves to very high praise.
Described by the Telegraph as 'Dark, Haunting, Twisted', and listed as their top best crime fiction for 2015, and described by yours truly as 'a disturbing reflective book that will refuse to loosen its grip on you for some time', BookFabulous thought it fitting that more be known about the author, her book and her writing in general from none other than the author herself (of course!). Thankfully, she kindly and graciously agreed to oblige.
Hazell was born and brought up near Portsmouth, on the south coast of England. As a kid she wanted to be an artist and so found herself naturally enrolling at the art college (Nottingham via Winchester School of Art) to study textile design. However, her passion for writing took over somewhere along the line and that was that.
After graduating she moved to London and took up her first full time job at none other than Buckingham Palace where, 'in between typing up royal itineraries, I wrote stories'. Other jobs followed: she published a collection of humorous greetings cards and worked as a journalist and magazine editor, and wrote fiction in the meantime.
Hazell has an MA in creative writing from Royal Holloway, University of London, she is shortlisted for The Virginia Prize for Fiction and the Jane Austen Short Story Award and published in various anthologies, alongside a growing family, various house moves and the addition of a dog – her one constant has been her writing. Her website (Jacqui Hazell: Walk Dog, Write, Walk Dog Again) can be accessed HERE.
To read the full BookFabulous review of 'I Came to Find a Girl', click HERE and to purchase click HERE.
BookFabulous (BF): How did the idea for ‘I Came to Find a Girl’ come about? Were there any real life experiences – possibly from Nottingham where the novel is set - that you drew on for the novel?
Jaq Hazell (JH): Safety is always an issue for women and I was thinking about what if, against your better judgement, you find yourself alone with someone you know little about? Thankfully I haven’t experienced what Mia goes through, but whilst backpacking in India aged 19, a man did lunge at me and had to be pulled off by other people. I later saw him reflected in the mirrors that lined the walls of a café in Mumbai and felt threatened all over again. Most women probably have a close scrape at some point in their lives.
BF: I found the book’s title and cover exceptionally clever and fitting the general mood of the novel, how were they chosen?
JH: There were a few different working titles but in the end I decided it had to come from the book itself. It fits because it’s something Flood says, and at the same time it works with the ending. The cover started with a photograph I’d taken of London’s South Bank in the rain. My designer added the male figure and the blue tone to give a sense of menace in a city street at night.
BF: There are many themes that the novel touches upon, some more unsettling than others. What would you say was the hardest part in writing your novel? And are there any subjects that you wouldn’t ever consider writing about?
JH: Whilst writing I do put myself in the place my characters inhabit in order to work out how they will react and that can be tough when they are suffering. I wouldn’t like to rule out any subjects. I think it depends how you handle a subject. For instance I’m not interested in portraying graphic violence but I am interested in the psychological impact crime can have on a character.
BF: Is there a message that you wanted your readers to grasp after they finish reading the book?
JH: I didn’t write with a message in mind, but on completion I suppose I’d say it’s: be aware at all times.
BF: Tell us a bit about Flood. We know he’s already dead. However, he remains this major elusive enigma throughout the story able to exert power over Mia from beyond the grave. In one sense do you you think he himself was a victim of the ‘modern’ art scene?
JH: He’s stuck in a rut making artworks with only slight variations and that does seem to happen to some successful artists.
BF: I have to admit I am on the fence where Mia is concerned. What happens to her is absolutely awful and I thought she was quite a tough, resilient, highly intelligent character. However, I got the sense that she was a flawed character too. Would you say that’s what helped her to react to what happened to her in the way that she did?
JH: Mia is flawed. Her reaction wouldn’t be my reaction, but perhaps none of us know how we’d react until we are in that position. I think she does the best she can in the circumstances and she does rise up and become more combative later on.
BF: There is quite a lot of reference to feminism in your novel. So, whether as creators of the art or merely muses, how do you see the position of women in today’s art scene? And do you believe that the feminist movement has served its purpose when it comes to art or has it been counterintuitive in the sense of what we have been reduced to calling art where women are concerned? And do you believe there should be different standards of art for men and women?
JH: The Guerrilla Girls, who started their campaign 30 years ago in New York, recently updated their famous poster: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the modern art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female”. In other words, there’s been little improvement. Over 50% of arts graduates are women and then something goes wrong. Until we have gender equality in pay, one-person exhibitions and even quiz show panels there is work to be done. As one of the founding members of Guerrilla girls says ‘all voices in a culture matter’. Women are equally talented so I don’t think there needs to be different standards of art for men and women, but women do need to get the breaks, the representation and an equal number of reviews.
BF: The reviews for ‘I Came to Find a Girl’ have been fantastic and one review made reference to the power of words. How do you feel about that? And who/what would you say has had a major influence on your writing style, and what moves you to write?
JH: This novel took me a long time to get right and it’s a great relief that it’s getting such a good response. The reviewer who made reference to the power of words gave a five star review but found the book disturbing. Many novels cover murder but sexual assault is written about less (or perhaps less likely to be published) and that probably makes it more disturbing and therefore more powerful.
My influences would include writers such as: Emily Bronte, Ernest Hemingway, John Williams, Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith, James Salter and many more.
I love having a writing project on the go. Novels usually evolve from ideas I can’t shake, or a single image I might have, a dream that provides the bones of a plot, or a short story that demands more attention.
BF: Where writing is concerned, have you got a specific routine that you follow or any strange writing habits that you’d like to share?
JH: It’s pretty much: walk dog, write, and walk dog again. When I am in first draft phase I find it’s best to work six days a week – having two days off at the weekend is too much of an interruption and sets me back. My habits are predictable: massive coffee, chocolate and solitude (often interrupted by my family and dog).
BF: If you could be a literary character for a day, who would you be?
JH: I’d be Cathy running wild with Heathcliff, but it would have to be when they are young, before she married and before he turned mean.
BF: What is one thing that not many people know about you?
JH: I like gloomy music. I’m a big Richard Hawley fan.