Stoke Newington author’s first novel explores madness, grief and creativity

Author, Jonathan Kemp with his latest book called "Ghosting".

Author, Jonathan Kemp with his latest book called "Ghosting". - Credit: Vickie Flores

An award-winning and critically acclaimed author has released his first novel moving through time and space from Manchester, Malaysia, Hackney and beyond.

Ghosting, by Stoke Newington-based Jonathan Kemp, follows the story of 64-year-old Grace Wellbeck who, thinking she has seen the ghost of her first husband, fears for her sanity and thinks she is having another breakdown.

Readers are given a glimpse of Grace’s memories, from 1950s fairground Blackpool, a violent marriage, bereavement to present day and a life-changing friendship with a young man called Luke.

Jonathan said: “It is hard to know where any story comes from or any idea for a novel but the original seed for this novel, I think, was the journey that the character [Grace] makes from Manchester to Malaysia. My dad was in the air force there and my mother made that same journey after she had me in the sixties.

“So I started to think about what if this character makes the journey and then is told that her husband has died drowning during a storm at a training mission at sea and if she is glad that he is dead as he was a violent alcoholic. So there were these two key narratives, the end of her journey and her release from a terrifying position.

“Neither of these things were true for my family but I wanted to explore this notion of grief or not grieving I had this idea that Grace would see a young man who is the spitting image of her first husband – she thinks either she is going mad or sees a ghost.

Jonathan added: “The sighting of the ‘ghost’ happens in 2007 and so between these two narratives I weaved the story. I wanted this woman to find herself in a radically different environment than she was used to, so I made this young man a queer performance artist and they become friends and narrow boat neighbours temporarily.”

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Though the narrative is a fictional account, Jonathan took elements of his mother’s life to help shape the character of Grace.

He said: “I was very lucky I was very close to my mother; she was a working class northern girl, very candid with a wicked sense of humour.

“She lived on a narrow boat for a while and it’s the kind of world where you can get people of my mum’s generation who aren’t counter cultural but you can also get these radical anarchist activist types – so I weaved that into the narrative and then the whole thing of madness and incarceration started to emerge – I drew on the heritage of novels and poems of women in madness.”

Through Jonathan’s portrayal of Luke and Grace’s friendship, he paints a picture of her realisation and freedom to make some important decisions in her life.

He said: “People should read it, I suppose, if they like reading and are interested in a story that might be a little off centre; how many novels can you think of that have a 64 year old woman in a central role?”

Jonathan, who is also a lecturer at Birkbeck University, is currently working on his second novel.

He said: “I want to engage with some of the global themes, environmentalism, corrosion of democracy – struggle for resources

The whole house of cards look like it could so easily crumble.

There is an increasing percentage of the population actively seeking and creating an alternative to the mainstream. I am fascinated by that whole imagination involved in constructing another way to be in the world that doesn’t involved high street shopping and consuming television blindly – instead by people being creative.”

Ghosting is published by Myriad Editions and is available to buy at most bookshops and online.