One of my favourite books of last year was the amazingly titled Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. In my end of year top ten, I wrote:
I knew I was going to love this book when I opened it and read the first line: ‘Get out, you cunting, shitting, little fucking fucker!’ were the first words I ever heard.
This is the story of Janie Ryan’s childhood. It is one filled with poverty, unsuitable men and grotty accommodation. It is also one of humour and ultimately, hope. Some of the book upset me enormously because it was so well written Janie’s life seemed real – I have taught children who’ve lived with/through similar circumstances and they aren’t pleasant. But they deserve to have a voice. This is a true working class novel, showing both grimness and stoicism.
Since its publication last July, Kerry Hudson’s debut novel has been shortlisted for the Southbank Sky Arts Literature Award, Guardian First Book Award, Green Carnation Prize, Author’s Club First Novel Prize and Saltire Scottish First Book of the Year. If that isn’t enough to convince you to read it then hopefully this post will!
On the eve of the paperback launch of the book, Kerry’s kindly written about the women who inspired Tony Hogan:
Like Janie Ryan, the protagonist of my debut novel, I was born into a clan of matriarchal Aberdonian fishwives. There were men around of course but it was the women who dominated the conversation at the pub and who held court around the kitchen table. There were hundreds of family stories dating back generations and as I filled up my belly with mince, tatties and skirlie (a type of oatmeal and onion fried-up mix), a buttery (a kind of flat croissant) or a bottle of coke and bag of crisps my head would be filled by their stories of feuds, love affairs, stormy seas where men were lost and miraculous bingo wins. My favourite story back then was one about my grandma as a child, beloved to the point of ruin to my great-grandda, demanding the biggest Easter egg in the shop and then smashing it over his head during a temper tantrum on the bus home.
Like any close-knit community gossip was rife and my wee ears (a small jug with big ears as my Ma would say) would hear all about who had a row with who, drinks thrown in faces, women taking to drink, kids being taken into care, who had got ‘The big C’, whose Da was off to prison or too ‘handy with their fists’. It wasn’t a malicious type of gossip, not around our kitchen table at least, it was a chatter about the people around them. As an adult I think that gossip was them working out the world around them, trying to understand it. My great-grandma loved sensationalised crime stories with plenty of gory detail, my grandma swore by Catherine Cookson, my ma graduated onto Dickens and Marcus Aurelius…each generation changed and evolved but around a table, after a few jars, it was whoever had the juiciest tit-bit, whoever shouted the loudest who got to tell their story.
As well as those stories were ones from the, to me, mythical fish houses. For generations back the women in my family worked Aberdeen’s fish houses while the men went out to sea (or drank, or gambled, or all three). Born just after the oil industry ‘black gold’ boom in Aberdeen, I was the first generation not to work the ‘hoosies’. But I loved the stories; how my ma, heavily pregnant with me would pack fish till her hands were blue and cracking from the ice water but that the Friday lunchtime treat of fish and chips with ‘the girls’ made that a bit better. Or how fast grandma was with a filleting knife, how, after months of intimidation and mockery from a family of fishwives who didn’t want her there (they were often brutal places, the fish houses) and being called a cunt she held a knife to one of their throats and said ‘I’m a good cunt, I’m a clean cunt and I care a cunt for no cunt, right cunt?’
Me and my ma left Aberdeen when I was five, on a National Express coach, only returning for weddings and funerals, but those stories went with me; stored up in the slats of my rubs, a soft part of my belly. And when it was time to sit down, in Vietnam of all places, and write my first book about that world, I felt all the strong, proud, fearless, hard-working women of my family at my back; whispering their stories as I sat down to write mine.
You can buy the paperback (or the ebook, if you prefer) from all the usual places (click the name of the shop to take you directly to the book):
Or you could enter Kerry’s Twitter competition to win a signed copy of the novel:
‘Want to win a signed copy of Tony Hogan? I’m trying to put together a Tony Hogan soundtrack. Simply submit your song suggestion to me @kerryswindow on Twitter with the hashtag #tonyhogantune by the end of Monday 8th of July. If your song is one of the ten selected for the soundtrack (and you were the first to suggest it!) I’ll send you a signed copy of Tony Hogan.’
You can find out more about Kerry at her website: www.kerryhudson.co.uk and by following this week’s #tonyhogantour, details of which can be found here. Tomorrow, Kerry will be over at The Little Reader Library talking about the first year of publication.
Thanks to Kerry for such a great post and do read the book, I can’t recommend it highly enough.