Depicting life on Britain's poorer streets was a very conscious decision


Kerry Hudson

Kerry Hudson

Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma: A Novel

Kerry Hudson was born in Aberdeen. Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma is her first novel and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book award.

The novel opens on a quite light-hearted tone, funny and full of life, but it gets darker as Janie grows up and faces the gravity of her family’s situation as well the cruelty of her classmates and the outer world. However, it never sounds pathetic or tearful. Was it important for you to have Janie as the narrator?

Having Janie as a narrator certainly gave me freedom to explore darker themes but with the innocence of a child, meaning that I could depict quite brutal things – the domestic violence for instance – without it being too graphic. However, that wasn’t a conscious choice. The voice of Janie, Janie as a character, came fully-formed before I’d ever written a word. Her character was a driving force for the entire story – I sometimes say it was like I could feel her little fists drumming on my back urging me to write more quickly.

Living on weekly allowances, in miserable council flats, with drugs and heavy drinking: Janie and her family’s everyday life is a permanent struggle. How meaningful was it for you to depict this environment?

Depicting life on Britain’s poorer streets was a very conscious decision. One of my main reasons for writing the novel was because, growing up, I had found it so hard to find books that reflected my own background. I couldn’t understand that because those communities in the margins of society are so full of passion and heart and laughter and drama. I wanted to shine a light on all of that with this book.

Through the bullying that Janie suffers from, you tackle difficult subjects such as slut-shaming. When you began to write this novel, was it your first intention to write about what it means to be a girl or a woman in working-class Britain?

I am a working-class woman and I grew up in very working-class environments. Part of the reason I started writing the book, when I was by myself in Vietnam and I never even imagined it would be published in the UK, let alone France, was because I wanted to explore my own experiences growing up – the good and the bad – to explore my own interaction with society. So while I didn’t set out to write a ‘class’ or political novel I think it was inevitable that aspects of that would find their way to the page.

A note at the end of the novel makes us, in retrospect, consider Janie’s childhood and adolescence as a preamble. To a better life?

I really wanted to leave that to the interpretation of the reader. What I will say is that I am very hopeful for Janie’s future. I think that her hard upbringing might even end up being the making of her, she’ll have so much strength and insight and she already has that fierce desire to live and to live a full life.

The novel reminded me somehow of Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon. Do you think there is a new Scottish literary scene?

Jenni is a wonderful writer and a friend of mine, as is Lisa O’Donnell (author of The Death of Bees which is also set on Scottish council estates and narrated by young girls). I do hope this is the beginning of better representation of working-class women’s voices. I know Jenni, Lisa and I certainly have no intention of quietening down anytime soon!