Author interview: Jenni Fagan chats about her new Edinburgh-set novel ahead of live event at The Portobello Bookshop
“If Alasdair Gray's Lanark was a masterly imagining of Glasgow, then this is the quintessential novel of Edinburgh at its darkest”.
So said Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh ahead of the publication of Luckenbooth – the deliciously dark and outrageously entertaining third novel from Edinburgh-based writer Jenni Fagan.
Livingston-born Fagan – who was raised in the Scottish care system, and had moved 29 times by the age of 16 – is no stranger to plaudits.
With the publication of debut novel The Panopticon she was listed by Granta as one of the 2013 Granta Best of Young British Novelists, while the New York Times dubbed her “The Patron Saint of Literary Street Urchins”.
Her second novel, The Sunlight Pilgrims, released in 2016, cemented Fagan’s status as one of the most talented young writers of her generation.
Newbie Luckenbooth is arguably her best novel yet.
It begins as the devil’s daughter rows to the shores of Leith in a coffin. The year is 1910 and she has been sent to a tenement building in Edinburgh by her recently deceased father to bear a child for a wealthy man and his fiancée.
The harrowing events that follow lead to a curse on the building and its residents – a curse that will last for the rest of the century.
Among a motley cast of characters who pass through No. 10 Luckenbooth Close over the course of nine decades are an infamous Edinburgh madam, a spy, Beat writer William Burroughs, a coal miner who fears daylight, and a psychic.
“I had the tenement book in mind for decades,” says 44-year-old Fagan, who takes part in an online event this Thursday (January 21) live from The Portobello Bookshop.
“I wanted to wait until I thought I was a good enough writer to really give it a go – the devil’s daughter turned up on cue, it was always going to be her book.
“I lived in a very creepy dilapidated Edinburgh tenement for a long time. I moved there when I was 18 and my flat was like a tall cupboard – the traffic was so loud that when I called people they thought I was in a phone box.
“That building made an imprint on me for many reasons and seeing the past, present and future just walk by each other on those stairwells for hundreds of years, it felt like there were many secrets held in that building.”
“Researching nine decades was a huge task,” she adds, laughing. “I used to have to draw the entire building out floor to ceiling on my bedroom wall to keep track of it all!”
Lockdown means Fagan will miss the chance to do a proper book tour, but she’s hopeful that can happen later in the year.
“I've been really blown away by the amount of people coming to my online launch and events though,” she says.
“I am signing lots of personalised books for them and sometimes you meet readers in zoom chats afterwards. It has its own magic.”
Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan, The Portobello Bookshop Online Events, January 21, 7pm-8pm, £16.99 (ticket price includes a signed and dedicated first edition of Luckenbooth), for tickets visit www.theportobellobookshop.com
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