Wednesday 20 November 2013

In conversation with Catriona Troth...

I am delighted to welcome back to Jaffareadstoo



*~Welcome Catriona~*

What can you tell us about Ghost Town that won’t give too much away?

Ghost Town is set in a time when tensions between skinheads and a newly vocal young Asian community were escalating. Of my two main characters, Baz is half English and half Punjabi ("to Paki to be white, too gora to be desi"), a photographer who finds himself on the receiving end of Far Right demonstrations. And Maia is a typical left-leaning student who has her politics brought home to her when she falls pregnant with a mixed-race child. The choices they make are going to put both their lives on the line.

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for the story?

That goes back to when I was a student in Coventry. I have a vivid memory of being acutely aware of rising tensions in the city, and at the same time, hearing about riots breaking out in other cities around the country and fearing what could happen if they reached Coventry.  Then something seemed to change - something which appeared to be linked to the band, The Specials, putting on a Concert for Racial Harmony. To a very great extent, the tensions evaporated, and in fact Coventry was one of the few major cities in England where the riots never reached.
Years later, I had a story in mind that had an edge to it that had to do with anti-racism, and this seemed like the perfect backdrop.  I started doing some research and I was shocked by what I uncovered.  Things had been far far worse than I had ever realised when I was a student.  And yet it really was true that, after the Specials gave their concert, something remarkable happened and things did change for the better.
Trying to tell a story that got to the bottom of what really happened became something of an obsession. Ghost Town was a story that would not let me go.

You have set this book in Coventry in the 1980s - how important is location to your story?

Hugely important. Firstly because the background is a true story and therefore needs to be rooted in real soil. But also because there is a whole feel to the story that is unique to the Coventry of that time.   It's no accident that I shamelessly cribbed both the title of the book and the look of the cover from the Two Tone label.   The whole country was listening to The Specials in the summer of 1981, but it was a Coventry sound and the city was intensely proud of that. 
And then there all the contrasts inherent in the city. People think of Coventry as a concrete jungle - an unfortunate by-blow of wartime bombing and post-war city planning.  And yet there are all sort of relics of the old medieval city tucked away in unexpected places.  And I defy anyone to stand on the steps of the old cathedral and see its ruins reflected in the window of the new cathedral and not be moved.
It's a place I love and I hope that comes across, even when the story gets quite dark.

Ghost Town is your second novel – did you feel more of an obligation to make this book even better than the first?

Not so much because it was my second novel, but because (although fiction) it is based on a true story. I felt an enormous obligation to those who lived through those events to be not just factually accurate, but true to the essence of what happened. The story is so little known outside Coventry, I wanted this to be the best account I could possibly give. Ghost Town as been torn apart and rewritten more than once before I was satisfied that I had got it right

What are you planning for your next book?

Good question! Ghost Town has been such a huge part of my life for so long that it is a bit like trying to see past a mountain.  But I'm over the summit and coming down the other side now, and various ideas are starting to bob around in my mind.  There's a character who was originally going to be in Ghost Town, until she started taking the story in the wrong direction, and I'd like to go back to her again.  And there's another character - a young girl begging on the streets - who keeps popping into my head and demanding to be noticed! We shall see.

Catriona has very kindly offered a copy of Ghost Town to one lucky UK winner in this great giveaway

Catriona ~ thank you for spending time with us again. It is always a real pleasure to chat with you about your books.

Do come and see us again soon.


My Thoughts on Ghost Town

In 1981, Coventry is a city in turmoil. Constant battles between skinheads and young Asians blight the environment and racial unrest festers in the city like an open wound. At the start of the novel, unemployed university graduate, Maia, is struggling to adjust to a life without her best friend, Ossie who has returned to his uncertain future in South Africa. Drifting aimlessly, Maia has no real sense of purpose, but when she takes a temporary job at a homeless shelter, she comes into contact with the enigmatic, Baz, a mixed race photographer, who views this racial tension through the long lens of his camera. As she becomes a reluctant participant in this rebellious subculture, Maia begins to form a tentative relationship with Baz which will have repercussions throughout the whole of the story.

In Ghost Town, the simmering melting pot of racial disharmony comes powerfully alive. On the surface; it’s a story about the menacing world of racial tension, and seems to concentrate on the sinister shifting of acceptable behaviour, and yet on searching closer, it is more of an inspection into the disintegration of moral standards. And even as  the street gangs and hooligans rampage through the concrete jungles of the inner city, the heavy tread of Doc Marten boots and the verbal rattle of racial abuse can be heard echoing through the colourless buildings of the shopping malls and empty precincts.

Without doubt Ghost Town is a fascinating novel. There is a subtle blend of realism and pragmatism which allows the story to evolve in such a way that despite its subject matter, it never becomes distasteful or inflammatory. There is clever use of colourful street vocabulary which is dotted throughout the text; from South Asian Punjabi, through to Rasta slang, words which imply meaning without always needing to refer to the exemplary glossary. In ghost Town, the whole vista of the 1980s is captured like a snapshot; a moment of time which embodies a culture one hopes is relegated to history books but which perhaps sadly lingers, alive in memory.

It is a commendable and thought provoking novel.



  1. I love the cover, it reminds me of evenings spent sitting in a local cafe, listening to The Specials on the jukebox. Great interview x

  2. Interesting book, thank you for the chance to enter this give-away. Great post Jo.

  3. I lived near Coventry so I'm particularly intrigued by the setting of this novel!

    1. Hi Emma and Silvia - thanks for visiting - good luck :)


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