Today I’m delighted to host Jennie Ensor’s novel Blind Side, published on 23 July 2016 by Unbound. Jennie has a fine eye for character, and for creating an atmosphere of discomfort or even menace without giving away too much detail. How well do we know the people we love? I’m looking forward to reading this. Scroll down for an extract from the book.
Tell us about your book/series. What genre does it belong to? What is it about? Are you drawn to this genre in particular, or is this something new for you?
Blind Side is my first published novel, a thriller set in London during 2005, the year of the 7/7 suicide bombings. It leans heavily towards the psychological thriller, though it is not typical of this genre. When pitching the novel to agents and publishers I came up with the description The Book of You (a ‘stalker novel’ by Claire Kendall) meets Gone With The Wind. This may seem an odd combination but it actually gets across a lot of what Blind Side is about. It’s impossible to describe succinctly (well, I have trouble!) – suffice to say there is love, war, sex, politics, jealousy and a whole lot more. One thing the novel looks at is the darker aspects of friendship between the sexes – it may make a few people think twice about being friends with the opposite sex!
The story starts in the run-up to the May general election, with a heated debate on immigration going on. Georgie and Nikolai are at opposite ends of the social status spectrum. She is a marketing professional who wears a suit to work and has a well-off father; he is dreams of becoming a composer but to survive works as a labourer on a construction site. Their relationship is played out against a backdrop of intolerance towards migrants. (There are interesting parallels with Britain in 2005 and the caustic climate of xenophobia in 2016.)
Anyway, going back to your questions… The novel I started first is also a psychological thriller, more of a domestic noir than Blind Side and darker in tone. So I guess I am drawn to fairly dark, edgy stuff. I hate gratuitous descriptions of violence though; I prefer to let the reader imagine the horrible bits!
Who is your favourite character? What particularly inspired you to write his or her story? Is your character warm and winning, or prickly and difficult? How does their personality affect the way you choose to write about them?
Two of my three main characters in Blind Side are prickly and difficult – Georgie and Nikolai – the third, Julian, is a dark horse type, intense and introverted. Nikolai, the Russian who Georgie falls for is my favourite character. He is, like Georgie, burdened by past bad experiences, only he has an outgoing, warm side that is very engaging. When Georgie meets him he has been out of the Russian army for several years, but she comes to realise that whatever he did or saw there has scarred him both physically and mentally.
What inspired me to write his story? Difficult to say, though I knew someone a long time ago who left a big impression on me, and who seemed to be in a constant battle to overcome the emotional wounds inflicted on him as a child. Like many writers, artists and others, his creativity seemed to flow from a disturbance in his psyche. As far as the way I write about Nikolai – I heard his voice in my head clearly and I tried to capture the sound of it in my writing.
What about location? Why did you choose this setting? Do you know the area well? Or is it somewhere you can visit only in imagination? How can your readers best imagine the landscape in which your books are set?
London is somewhere I know well. I was born in the capital, grew up in an outer suburb and have lived in various parts of London for the past decade or so. In the novel I show contrasting parts of London from the affluent parts near Hampstead where Georgie my main narrator lives to bustling, multi-ethnic, much poorer area of Finsbury Park only a couple of miles to the east, where Nikolai lives. Also the novel is firmly grounded in a particular time, a few months before and after the bombing of a bus and underground trains. In the weeks after the 7 July bombings, the atmosphere of the capital totally changed; people were on their guard, wary of each other. This was made worse when a nail bomb (which didn’t detonate) was discovered two weeks after the initial attacks. I’ve done my best to get across what it was like being in London that July, without any explicit descriptions of the bombings or their aftermath.
Tell us something about yourself. Your favourite colour? Favourite animal? Favourite film? Why that colour, that film?
Favourite colour is cornflower blue; I can’t get enough of it. Animal – giraffe. Film – The English Patient – the story, the landscapes, the cinematography, the soundtrack, the acting, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes… need I go on?
Author web media links:
Blind Side: extract
Julian has been quiet since he arrived. His rigid posture, stick-thin back and clump of pale hair suddenly make me think of a scarecrow.
‘What’s the matter, Jules?’
His eyes fix on mine with an uncanny intensity. Instead of his studious-looking black plastic-rimmed specs – ‘Joe 90s’, I call them – he’s wearing his new contacts. They transform the uncertain haze of his irises to a precise blast of metallic blue. The effect is disconcerting.
‘Oh, just things,’ he replies, finishing his glass of wine. He prods a piece of the tandoori chicken from the local Indian as if a slug has crawled onto his plate. ‘I’ve been feeling a bit off lately.’
Come Away With Me, Julian’s favourite album, is playing low in the background. Nora Jones’ sweetly sad rendition of ‘Don’t Know Why’ seeps through my flat, adding to the melancholy mood.
‘What things? Bridges?’
Aside from his shiny black Jaguar XK8 and watching Formula One races, Julian’s thing is bridges. He specialises in bridge design at his civil-engineering firm.
He scowls. ‘I don’t want to go into it now.’
‘If it’s to do with the earrings… I’m sorry if I upset you.’
‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing. They look nice, by the way.’
‘Thanks.’ I pull my hair back and turn my head to show off my ears, each adorned with a disc of lapis lazuli set in a spiral of silver. ‘I do like them. I didn’t mean to be ungrateful. I was a bit taken aback, that’s all. We never give each other anything for Valentine’s Day. We’re not that like that… ’ I wait for him to look up from the table. ‘Are we?’
Since he gave me the earrings two days ago – he thought I’d appreciate them because I didn’t get any Valentine cards – they’ve sat in their box inside my dressing-table drawer, where I keep things that I’m not sure what to do with: foreign coins, spare buttons and a collection of brooches, scarves and other items my mother has given me over the years. I put them on for the first time fifteen minutes before Julian arrived. Julian has never before given me jewellery; on our birthdays we buy each other silly cards and maybe a cake or a bottle of wine.
‘What do you mean?’ A woolly unease gathers inside me.
‘It’s OK, Jaf. If that’s what you want, I understand.’ He turns his attention back to the table.
Jaf, originally Jaffa, was Julian’s nickname for me at university, when I had a thing for Jaffa Cakes. I got to know him in my final year; we both hung around the same local pubs where certain bands played. At first I saw him as a bit of a geek, obsessed by puzzles and anything with an engine. But it didn’t take long to find the humour beneath his reserve. I got Julian in a way that some people didn’t. Like me, he had issues with his mother. She died unexpectedly, soon after we finished uni, while we were backpacking around India. It struck me as odd that he decided he ‘couldn’t be bothered’ to go to her funeral.
Julian sighs, his shoulders slumping. ‘Hey, why don’t you open another bottle?’
I find the bottle of Haut Medoc that my father gave me. The contents smell like a dusty library but taste pretty good. We chat about the dangers of stilettos; Julian’s sister caught her heel in a drain cover while running for a bus.
‘No one knows what random fluke is going to strike next,’ Julian gazes around the room as if expecting a meteorite to crash through the ceiling. ‘A car accident, an incurable disease –’
‘You’re in a cheery mood.’
Julian pushes himself up from the table. ‘It’s Saturday night ’n’ all. What about a film? I brought a DVD over.’
I take the wine and glasses into the living room and tend to the DVD player. As I sit down on the sofa beside Julian he gestures to the magazine on my coffee table. It has a full-page, near-naked male model on its back cover.
‘That hunk’s been there for a while. Your bit of hot totty, is he?’
‘Well, you know how it is for us single girls,’ I smile. ‘I fantasise about him ringing my doorbell late at night, wearing just Calvin Kleins under his coat. I give him a shot of whisky and he unbuttons the coat, really slowly.’
A small crease appears above Julian’s nose, and rather than laugh as he’d normally do, he says in a low voice, not looking at me, ‘I don’t know why you bother with all these guys. If you don’t want a relationship, why go out with them in the first place?’
‘What guys? There’s been about three in the last six months.’ I scowl at him. ‘I do want a relationship. Just not with anyone.’
‘Not with me, you mean.’ He says it under his breath.
Something has changed between us, a micro shift. I take a slug of wine.
‘You’ve been acting really weird lately,’ I say. ‘Do you want to tell me something?’
He rubs the bridge of his nose, not meeting my eyes. I feel a surge of irritation.
‘Jaf.’ A blotch of red creeps up his neck. ‘You know I’ve always… fancied you.’
Julian has never hidden from me that he finds me attractive. Sometimes he compliments my legs or how I’m dressed. A few months ago in the Hampstead Everyman as we sat in the dark waiting for the film to start, he told me my face had the perfect bone structure. I giggled, nearly choking on my popcorn. Julian is short-sighted and on the scrawny side, whereas the only man I’ve ever been in love with and most of the guys I’ve dated have been strapping fellows. He has a high forehead, straight nose and wavy hair, lighter than mine. Handsome enough in a studious, slightly effeminate way. Like me, he went to a private school. An aristocratic overtone sometimes enters his voice, as if he’s asking the butler to bring him the newspaper.
‘Well, yes, sure,’ I reply. ‘But I didn’t think… ’ I’m up-ended for a moment. ‘We’re pretty close, aren’t we? But we’ve always kept it on one side of the line. That’s what I really like about us. It’s not like we’re in each other’s pockets, we’re not fuck buddies or anything. Are you saying you want to… Well, what are you saying?’
‘Sorry, Georgie, I didn’t mean to confuse you. It’s just… ’ He sighs, running his hand through his hair. ‘I don’t know. Can we talk about it another time?’
Now we’re finally getting to the nub of the matter, I don’t want to let it go. I wonder what’s going on; we can usually talk about anything, pretty much. His dread of losing his hair and his hope to one day become a father. My loathing of being photographed and my secret wish to get a tattoo of a seahorse at the top of my left thigh. His ambition to be his firm’s/the UK’s/the world’s number-one bridge designer. My uncertainties over what I should be doing with my life. The real purpose of bras. The components of dust. And the top ten ways to die – skiing off a mountain (accidentally or on purpose) is the only item we agree on.