Author returns to Great Yarmouth for setting of fourth novel
PUBLISHED: 08:31 06 October 2012
SHE spent her teenage years with a pink mohican, listening to The Smiths in the 1980s resort of Great Yarmouth.
And after a career spanning more than two decades as a music journalist and crime fiction author, Cathi Unsworth returned to her old stomping ground for her fourth novel, Weirdo.
Fictional Corinne Woodrow was 15 when convicted of murdering one of her classmates on a summer’s evening in 1984, but cold case investigator Sean Ward believes there was more to the story.
And 44-year-old Unsworth paints a picture of a Norfolk seaside town full of dark secrets as the ‘truth’ unravels.
The former North Denes Junior and Yarmouth High School pupil opted to set Weirdo in fictional Ernemouth, but people may find the location very familiar.
“I didn’t want to call it Yarmouth as there are some really mean people in my story,” revealed Unsworth. “I wanted it to be a parallel place, just five minutes away.
“I’ve got things like Nelson’s Monument facing the wrong way round - that’s how it feels when you look back on a place.
“It adds to the dreamy quality.”
After two years at the former Yarmouth Art College, Unsworth left for a job at Melody Maker, and has also written for The Guardian and Uncut.
But she says her formative years in the town forged a permanent connection, and the bleak landscape was perfect for a dark novel.
“The seafront is a powerful place for crime fiction,” she explained. “As it’s called the front and that’s something that’s got a double meaning, when something is a front.
“People lose their inhibitions as they’ve come to have fun and escape from the reality of their lives.
“It’s somewhere things hide behind the bright lights.”
She said the vast sky and open sea serve to make people remember their place in the grand scheme, and associations with witchcraft add a sinister edge.
And she wanted to make Weirdo authentic.
“Reading a lot about teenage murders had really disturbed me over the years,” she said. “It was something I wanted to tackle, so I went back to where I was a teenager.
“The idea was this 15-year-old was put away in 1984 - the year of the miners’ strikes - the year of the English civil war.
“I liked the idea that the punk rockers in Yarmouth were into the New Model Army and they and the witchfinder general had come in here.
“She’s a transgressor and gets a harder time than a boy would have done.
“And then it was ‘did it really happen like that’?”
The premise is like a western, with an outsider - the cold case detective - trying to unpick what happened and “liberate the good people” in a town that looks out for its own.
With a lot of distance between her 44-year-old self and her teenage years, she listened to the music of her youth - Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Smiths and Bauhaus - to evoke memories.
She recalled evenings spent in The Oakwood pub, behind Palmers, and mostly wrote the book from memory - but returned to gauge the town now with Scroby wind farm on the horizon.
The book draws on Yarmouth-speak, and aims to explore how bad things can happen.
“The Norfolk accent is also brilliantly sinister at times,” explained Unsworth. “People can pretend to be friendly. It looks into what makes these crimes happen - nature versus nurture.
“You’ve got various types of parents and grandparents. It’s about whether these correspond to how you end up.
“Those teenage years when you’re at your most traumatised is another thing that’s good about the seaside setting.”
While she felt she did not fit in at Yarmouth - and said she was not popular at North Denes Junior School where her dad was headmaster - she said she has an affinity with the town.
“I enjoyed my time,” she reasoned. “It’s a really good place to grow up.
“I only write about places I have a connection with, as I want it to feel real to people.
“It’s a good place to find out about yourself and it was lovely having the art college there and those years of freedom.”
While Unsworth is now a critically-acclaimed author and music journalist, she first found fame in the Great Yarmouth Mercury.
“I didn’t know much about the Mercury in the 1980s but I remember my dad talking about it,” she said. “I was on the Mercury front cover once, me and my friend Georgina went to a fashion show in Paris.
“I think it was 1986 and I had a pink mohican.
“I was applying for a journalism course and my friend wanted to do illustration, so we were very pleased with that at the time.”
Weirdo is now on sale, priced £11.99.