Kirstin Innes introduces Scabby Queen

The 30th April would have been publication day for Kirstin Innes fantastic new novel Scabby Queen before the pandemic caused the release date to be delayed. To mark the occasion, Kirstin shared some of the inspiration behind the novel on Twitter, answered readers’ questions, and gave us a sneak peak with a couple of readings from the book.

Scabby Queen is about Clio Campbell, a protest singer and activist who is dead at the beginning of the book. The narrative jumps about in time, through many different voices, but here’s a wee taste of Clio herself to start.”

Tell me about the writing process:
Scabby Queen came roaring out. I wrote it around two pregnancies and raising a toddler, so any idea I had for a character voice at all I found some way of finding their way into Clio’s world. There was no time for writers’ block. There are twenty (?) different narrative voices. There were more. We cut 20,000 words from the manuscript. I kept giving my agent updates and there would be at least five new points of view every time we spoke. I liked the idea of trying to show as many sides of a person as possible, through the people she meets in her life.

Talk to me about the title:
Scabby Queen has always, always had this title. Struggling to remember where I started with it – I applied for funding in 2014 (a year before I started writing) and it was called Scabby Queen then. It just felt too good to waste – I ended up bending the plot to the title a bit!

I want to know when the seed of this idea was planted, was this story brewing for some time or did it come up suddenly for you?
I began with the idea of a person who has short intense relationships (both sexual and non-); how their life story would look told by the people they encountered along the way. I also wanted to look at a woman who continually resisted conventional pressure to settle down.

“To help you get a better idea of #ScabbyQueen without being able to flick through a physical book, I thought I’d share the Pinterest board I made when I was putting it all together:”

What inspired you to take your book into the music world, and give Clio the rock n roll background?
So, Clio is a singer, a one-hit-wonder turned activist/folk singer. I needed her to be (sort of) famous because a lot of the planning of the book happened in 2016, when a LOT of celebrities died, and I was struck by the hypocrisy of the way social/media treated particularly Carrie Fisher before and after she died. We like our famous women as long as they’re young and pretty or dead. She was always going to be a political activist, and so it seemed to make sense that she would be a protest singer, and she would be protesting the Poll Tax.

“This is from the point of view of Neil, one of the main narrators. He’s been in love with Clio since she was about 20 and he was not much older. This bit is set in 1993.”

I’m fascinated by the political activism. Which activists inspired you?
I spent a fascinating couple of hours with Rosie McGarvey Kane right at the start of writing the book, and originally there was going to be a whole section about the M74 protests, which she was so involved with. That didn’t make it in – Clio became a very different person, but the idea of working-class female activism was something I felt really strongly about including. I read books about the women who organised their communities during the miners strikes, and about the spycop scandal, and it all fed in.

So, Clio is a musician, and I am … not musical. At all. But my friend Outi Smith is, and happens to have the voice of an angel. I made a playlist when I was writing the book which you can hear here: 

All this stuff went into trying to think as a musician would. Clio has one big hit, Rise Up, in 1990, then releases an album where she tries to mash up grime with folk songs fifteen years later. So I presented Outi with this playlist; the idea was that we were going to go on tour with her singing as Clio. I can’t write Rise Up, but in my head it was something between 99 Red Balloons by Nena and People Have the Power by Patti Smith. I said that to Outi and she came up with this.

I’d love to know what your normal day’s writing is like, if you have one. Kids and writing and working from home – I still find it hard 2 years in.
(I’m guessing you mean pre-lockdown because fucking hell no writing happening now) – I (used to) write on the days we had childcare; I can’t work from home very well and most of the writing of this book happened in a workspace shop four doors up from me on the days it was empty. I was bloody lucky that my partner (also freelance) realised there was no way I would get this book finished with two tiny children, so three months before our second child was born he took on a GIGANTIC amount of work so that I could stop and concentrate on writing. The book was finished two weeks before the wee yin came along. It is a precious miracle of a thing that I really hope I can repeat at some point. Writing is not possible without childcare though!

Scabby Queen is out on the 23 July. Pre-order your copy now.

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