Today it's my pleasure to introduce you to Jo Bloom whose debut novel Ridley Road was published yesterday.
Jo Bloom has worked as a freelancer in the communications field for the past fifteen years with a focus on arts publicity and e-learning. She also contributed to the book review section of Time Out, London for a few years. Prior to this she lived and worked in Prague and New York. She was inspired to write Ridley Road when she met a Jewish anti-fascist who'd lived in the East End all his life and participated in numerous street battles with the fascists alongside both the 43 Group and the 62 Group. She lives in Brighton with her husband and young son.
Summer, 1962. Twenty-year-old Vivien Epstein, a Jewish hairdresser from Manchester, arrives in London following the death of her father. Alone in the world, she is looking for Jack Fox, a man she had a brief but intense love affair with some months before. But the only address she has for him leads to a dead end.
Determined to make a new life for herself, Vivien convinces Barb, the owner of Oscar's hair salon in Soho, to give her a job. There, she is swept into the colourful world of the sixties - the music and the fashions, the coffee bars and clubs.
But still, Vivien cannot forget Jack. As she continues to look for him, her search leads her into the fight against resurgent fascism in East London, where members of the Jewish community are taking to the streets, in and around Ridley Road. Then one day Vivien finally spots Jack, but her joy is short-lived when she discovers his secret...
Can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel Ridley Road?
Ridley Road is inspired by real events surrounding the 62 Group, a Jewish anti-fascist organisation which formed to confront the revival of fascism in London. I’ve set a love story against this political backdrop while sweeping the reader up into the world of music, coffee bars, fashion and hair in the early sixties.
How did the title Ridley Road come about?
Actually, the original title was The Meetings but after discussions with my agent we changed it to Ridley Road just before submission to publishers. Ridley Road is a well-known market street in Dalston, East London. It’s very multi-cultural and popular now and was also popular back in the early sixties. Then, however, many of the stall owners were Jewish, although West Indian influences were slowly emerging. But I was only really interested in when the market was closed because then the street was often a favourite pitch for fascists to hold street meetings, try to win supporters and incite racial hatred.
What inspired you to set this novel in the sixties?
Because the story is inspired by real events of 1962, I didn’t get to choose the period. But I’m really pleased it was set in that year because it was a fascinating time to research.
How did you go about researching what life was like in London during the 1960's?
I did read several text books but films, footage and photos were by far the most useful. I bought a brilliant book, Soho Night & Day, which wasn’t cheap but had great commentary and photos on Soho during the 50s and 60s. I also found quite a lot of information online and in archives. And I interviewed relevant people – an anti-fascist, hairdressers, journalists – whoever I thought would be helpful.
Do you think you'll ever revisit these characters in the future?
Now there’s a thought provoking question! Maybe…who knows?
If you could go back in time to any period apart from the sixties, what era would you choose?
My next book is set in the mid-fifties, so it would help my research along if I could have a brief trip back in time to 1955.
How long did it take to write the book from start to finish?
About three and a half years, but I also had a baby, worked and renovated a house during that time!
What was the best writing advice you have ever received?
You can have the perfect pen, the perfect desk and the perfect view but in the end you just have to get on and write.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
The only constant in my writing days is that I always try to make a very early start. I like to get up at 5.30am and immediately get writing before my son wakes around seven. Then I may go back for a few hours or the whole day, depending on other demands.
How did you celebrate when you found out your debut book was going to be published?
We drank. A Lot.
Are you going to treat yourself to something nice for publishing your first book?
Absolutely. My husband and I are taking the day off. I plan to have a massage, a swim, a lovely lunch and dinner!
Thanks for having me on your blog!