1. I love how you mix genre – your work is at once literary, comedic, and tragic, and veers from cosy mystery to magic realism. Did you set out to defy classification? Or is this purely the work of an unbridled imagination?
Thank you, I’m glad you enjoy the mixture! If I set out to do anything it’s to hopefully give the reader an experience, with an immersive world, a compelling plot and characters they might think about after the book has ended. A bit ambitious on all counts but that’s what I want as a reader. I like drawing on different genres and the challenge is sometimes how to reuse well-worn tropes and make them feel unexpected in some way. But really at any given point I just try and tell the story in the best and most satisfying way I can.
2. The protagonists in all three of your books commune with ghosts – could you tell us about your interest in the supernatural?
I think this really comes from my upbringing in a family which didn’t shield me from death. Otherwise the ghosts that featured in the stories I heard were often fairly practical. I’ve always had a bit of an issue with the traditional Gothic ‘corner of your eye’ ghost (although I write these too). I wanted my dead characters to come with a sense of lives lived. I also have great difficulty in accepting this apparent ending of someone’s story, there’s a fundamental unfairness to that. In all my books I’m fascinated not just with the idea of ghosts but also who sees them and why. My protagonists to date, I think it’s fair to say, have had difficult pasts and this is often combined with an unusual way of seeing the world. The ghosts are there to somehow remind them of where they have been and hopefully help them get to where they are going.
3. One of my favourite descriptions of your work comes from a review of your second novel The Hoarder by Tanya Sweeney in the Irish Times: The review was titled: “Jess Kidd: ‘Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets The Pogues” Did you enjoy that description – is it accurate do you think?
I love this description too, mostly because it gives a hint of the background I draw upon. I suppose we have the London Irish element in there with The Pogues and that combination of the tender and the gritty or brutal – which to me has great humanity. It’s the wish to open a window onto someone else’s experience and to give voice to that. I’m particularly drawn the story of the person displaced or the outsider. And of course both The Hoarder and Things in Jars are set in London with Irish protagonists drawing on that connection.
The reference to Gabriel García Márquez is a great complement and touches on my love of magic or magical realism – this genre beyond all others influenced me as a younger writer. One of the things I found fascinating was that oral or storytelling traditions often informed the ‘fantastic elements.’ So stories told become literally real. Magic realism is about the fantastic erupting in our own world – it’s not quite like fantasy which might offer a parallel or different world entirely. For me, this kind of writing is a relative to the ‘tall tale’ where the fabric of reality is stretched although at the outset it might be anchored to a real happening. We didn’t have a lot of books growing up (other than art books, which my late father loved) but I was surrounded by storytellers, so this type of literature really appealed to me.
Don’t miss “An Evening with Jess Kidd and John Boyne” on Saturday 28th September at the Mermaid Arts Centre at 8pm.
Book tickets here: https://www.mermaidartscentre.ie/whats-on/events/an-evening-with-john-boyne-jess-kidd