Saturday, April 20, 2024

Q&A with Beezy Marsh




Beezy Marsh is the author of the new novel Queen of Clubs. It's a sequel to her novel Queen of Thieves. Also a journalist, she lives in Oxfordshire, UK.


Q: What inspired this second novel in your Queen of Thieves series, and why did you decide to set it in 1957?


A: When I finished Queen of Thieves, I always knew there was going to be a sequel to that book, which was set in the difficult postwar years in London in 1947. With Queen of Clubs, I wanted to take the reader into a different decade, a time when London was booming, and to quote the prime minister at the time, “You've never had it so good.”


We meet Nell in 1957, when she is riding high as Queen of the Forty Thieves, leading her gang of shoplifters, but she's also moving into a different part of the underworld, running nightclubs in Soho.


In the 1950s there were plenty of jobs, people had money to spend, and they wanted to go out and hit the town in a way that would have been unthinkable during the war, so it was a key time for clubland.


It all looks like things are going well for the Queen until...well, I won't spoil the surprises in the book, but we meet a compelling new character, Zoe, who wants to claw her way up from being a nightclub dancer and along the way, the former gang leader, Alice Diamond, is still out for revenge on Nell, the woman who stole her crown.


Zoe is a kind of product of the Second World War; a bomb-site kid, born into poverty in the slums of the East End, who is not content with her lot and is determined to make a better life, at any cost.


She's got the grit and determination to succeed, but she's also a very beautiful young woman at a time when women were exploited and the lure of prostitution and drugs is just a heartbeat away.


This year, 1957, was a time of huge social change, when rock and roll reached Britain's shores from the United States and basically, teenagers were invented! They started dressing differently, listening to music, drinking and dancing in a way that alarmed their parents.


London's nightlife was booming and along with that, came an explosion in vice and crime. I love that juxtaposition to create narrative tension.


I also wanted to bring out the social pressure that women felt, to have babies and get married, but maybe also wanting a career too. The late 1950s was a time when many women who'd done war work were trying to hold down careers and have families, and coming up against barriers and prejudices.


Nell has her own struggles as a woman in the 1950s, even as a woman on a wrong side of the law. I like the idea that the matriarchs of gangland, these fierce thief Queens, are also trying to have relationships and families - because that is how it was.


I know this because I met some of the real-life families of the gang members. The husband of one of the “Queens” of the 1950s begged her to give up her life of crime and concentrate on the family instead, but she never did. She always liked to go out shoplifting  - hoisting - to be able to afford her fur coats.


The late 1950s was the precursor to the hedonism and freedom of the 1960s and there is a kind of youthful enthusiasm in that era which I just love. I wanted to bring that to life in this book.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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