May 8, 2009

Samurai Philosophy And Songwriting in Finsbury Park

Debut novelist Jayne Joso spent the major part of her youth in North Wales, starting at primary school in Bangor and growing up around Port Penrhyn and then moving to the foothills of Snowdonia. “I can’t imagine a more vivid and inspiring landscape to have grown up in, the North Wales coastline and the rolling hills and mountains are a gift to the imagination and soothe the soul in much the same ways as music and literature, which is an important theme of the novel. I guess those childhood influences run deep.”

Soothing Music for Stray Cats, predicted on 23 April by Ian Thomson in the Times Literary Supplement to be “one of the great, eccentric London novels”, is a reflective novel set in central and north London. Even though the author is a young woman, the novel will appeal to a youthful male readership and NME fans, with its themes of male suicide, Samurai philosophy, male bonding, songwriting, and its first person male narrator. Driven by its distinctive colloquial voice, wacky monologues on subjects as diverse as Mike Skinner, Ellen MacArthur and Nelson, its philosophy is upbeat, committed to a world in which strangers still help each other, even though we can seldom intervene when it really matters. Catcher in the Rye meets Kenzaburo Oe’s An Echo of Heaven, by way of Anne Enright’s The Gathering, the text is framed by two suicides, but the messages are positive, in favour of altruism, male friendship, and the camaraderie of strangers in straightened circumstances (the latter a topical theme for the Credit Crunch era). Set in a chilly February in Finsbury Park and central London with its tourist landmarks, the author’s background as an architecture journalist shows through in her strong sense of atmosphere and city spaces. Literary aspects include the shadowing of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, and beautiful imagery ranging from cricket, London Tube lines, failing shoes on city streets, naval heroes and monuments. Carrying cover endorsements from comedian and broadcaster Natalie Haynes and journalist Joe Moran, this is a contender for literary prizes, including the Orange.

The novel’s cover carries endorsements from top journalist Joe Moran (Skilfully melds the esoteric and the everyday, the surreal and the banal, to create a strangely gripping narrative full of dark humour, and comedian and broadcaster Natalie Haynes (An unexpected and moving story about the redemption of misfits and the consolation of strangers), as well as artwork by Japanese artist Hiroke Godengi, reflecting the author’s Japanese connections. Having lived and worked in the country, and continuing to write extensively on Japanese arts & culture, Jayne Joso explains the Eastern inspiration for the novel’s character, manic student Kazu, struggling to survive as a lonely and isolated student in London,

“I came across The Way of the Samurai when I was living in Japan. For Kazu, the single biggest influence on his life is Hagakure – the code of the Samurai. But it was a British work of fiction that first enticed me to the country: Angela Carter’s “Fireworks”. This short story about a young Englishwoman and her Japanese lover in Tokyo, captivated me as much for its descriptions of space and environment as for the erotic elements.” Fiction, and fiction reading indeed, are the main themes of Soothing Music for Stray Cats, with songwriting being included under the same banner. “In the protagonist, Mark, I wanted to show a character both sub-consciously and consciously engaging with ideas and thoughts – even snatches of sentences - presented in fiction. Great songsters such as Leonard Cohen and bands like The Clash and The Verve also help him face the crisis following his best friend’s suicide.... Another recurrent theme in my work, however, because of my tremendous passion for architecture, will always be “finding the right place”, be it geographical, physical or psychological.”

Jayne Joso has written extensively on Architecture, including for Architecture Today magazine, and on Japanese arts & culture. Her first children’s book, How Do you Feel? was recently published by Benesse in Japan, and her first play, China’s Smile, commissioned for China’s Children’s Day, enjoyed a long theatre run and was later televised. This is her first novel.

Jayne will be signing her books at Llandudno Waterstones, Monday 18 May at 11am and 3p

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