Saturday, July 29, 2023

Q&A with Jacqueline Crooks


Photo by Marie James



Jacqueline Crooks is the author of the new novel Fire Rush. She also has written the story collection The Ice Migration. Born in Jamaica, she lives in the UK.


Q: What inspired you to write Fire Rush, and how did you create your character Yamaye?


A: In 2005 I was living in an isolated mountain village in Andalucia and something about that place reminded me of the dub reggae subculture I had once been a part of. Perhaps it was the very distinctive culture of the village that had its own music (verdiales) and dialect.


I started journaling, writing down my memories of the underground dub reggae dances and I began to realise that I was writing about a lost world because mainstream society did not know that subculture had existed. At that point I decided that I wanted to write a novel and bring that world to light.


Yamaye is very much based on me. In creating Yamaye, I wanted to explore my experiences - good and bad - and write about real and fictionalised events as a way of processing some of the things that happened to me as a way of transmogrifying them. 


I also consulted with Black women from that subculture to get their feedback on their experiences in order to make Yamaye a more representative character, so it's not just about my perspective. 


Q: A review of the book in The Guardian, by Colin Grant, says, in part, “For her debut, Crooks has set herself a complex task, especially in conjuring a spirit world just beyond Yamaye and the reader’s grasp. She succeeds with great aplomb, mapping lives ‘caught in the contractions of the past, trying to find their futures.’” What do you think of that description?


A: I think that description is accurate, I am exploring the impact of history and the past on the lives of Black men and women. How it affects family relationships, friendships, and intimate [relationships]. How people can move forward after historic trauma or family trauma. 


I grew up in a Caribbean Pentecostal church where we prayed to the “Holy Ghost.” As a very young impressionable child, I experienced the world of church and praying and speaking in tongues as a kind of spirit world. And my family believed in premonitions and visions and dreams as a kind of connection to the ancestors.


So I wanted to bring that aspect into the book because I have experienced life as an interplay of the real world and the spirit world.  


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: At the outset, I knew the beginning and ending of the story. I had vague ideas for the middle section but the middle section changed a lot. I tend to know early on what the ending will be. How I get there usually takes a lot of experimentation. 


Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The title came to me very early on. It signifies the energy and radical energy of dub reggae music. It also represents women's rage. This is very much the story of dub reggae gold from a woman's perspective. I don’t think women from the dub reggae scene have been represented in literature before. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a story I’m working on. I’m experimenting with language, form, and genre so I can’t say much about it right now.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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