What first inspired you to write?
Books! I was the sort of child who lived in the library and just devoured anything I could get my hands on. In those days libraries were full of wonderful books, not the drivel they park behind the computer suite nowadays, as if they‘re ashamed of it. My favourite was a book called The Eaglet and the Angry Dove,’ by Scottish author, Jane Oliver. It had Picts, a mute boy, wolves, St Columba, ritual sacrifices - lots of the themes my life later took on! My father bought it for me, the first hardbook book I ever owned and the most precious to me because he gave it to me.
What inspires you now?
More books. But also people‘s characters, ideas, the things people say, locations. My novel, Myra, Beyond Saddleworth, really had a mix of all those things. I’d been at an Arvon course with Marina Warner and Edmund White so was high as a kite. Then I drove across the M62, a very theatrical motorway with a turn-off for Saddleworth, where Ian Brady and Myra Hindley buried the bodies of their victims. When I was describing this to a a friend and he said, ‘Do you think she’s still alive?’ it just took off in my mind.
What advice would you give to a new writer?
To have fun. People always say write about what you know, but I think you should be told to play, to explore the things you don‘t know, whether in your mind or in reality. If you’re too hung up on the history of literature or on producing a masterpiece - which Cyril Connolly suggested was the aim of all writing - then you’ll produce pompous, constipated prose. Have a laugh. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing then you might as well go and do something that earns money!
What are you writing
I’m writing a novel about identical twins separated at birth, for which I have the characters and two different timelines - but haven’t finalised the story. Am just seeing where it takes me at the moment, rather than imposing a plot on it.
I’m also writing dramatic monologues, which I do for the monthly writers’ group at the Scotia Bar, where my sister Mary’s the manager. John Savage, the Scotia’s poet laureate, got me hooked on them when he invited me to his event, The Masque of Poetic Dread,’ run by him and Marc Sherland. I was so excited by the form that I’m working towards a book. Wounded Knee was the last one - Smoke rolls from flesh. Now I have the pleasure of going through John’s themes to find the next.
What are you reading now?
Have just finished Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman, which was hilarious. I’d cracked my ribs after a fall in the house and had to keep putting it down as I was laughing so much, especially the stuff about her family. I come from a large family myself so recognised the surreal quality of life when too many people are squashed into too small a space.
Have also just read Glasgow author Maureen Myant’s book, The Search, about Nazi Germany. What a powerful story, about a young Czech boy taken by the Germans who escapes and goes in search of his sister. A book which shows no-one wins in war.
Now I’ve started on Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child, which is a much gentler sort of read at the moment, though it’s covering decades so a couple of wars may be coming up!
Who is your favorite literary character?
I love Cathy in Wuthering Heights. She’s headstrong and snobbish and utterly alive. That’s one of my favourite books of all time, so engrossing in the first half when you’re reading about Heathcliff and Cathy that you don’t want it to shift scene to Thrushcross Grange. But Bronte’s such a forceful writer that you find yourself equally involved in the second half.
I also love Dicken’s Miss Havisham. The BBC did a series of it when I was a child which will stay in my head for ever. Such a tragic story, based on a newspaper article Dickens read, about a woman who‘d been jilted at the altar. Again, Great Expectations is one of my favourite novels, stuffed full of characters, like the lawyer, Mr Jaggers, and his mysterious housekeeper, Molly, the murderess he’s saved from the gallows.
Truman Capote’s character of murderer Perry Smith in In Cold Blood is brilliantly drawn. It’s from life too - he called the book a non-fiction novel and it has the story-telling that I prefer in novels, so I don‘t care whether it‘s true or not. I just love it.
What future projects do you have planned?
I want to write an opera, music and all! Unfortunately I don’t have any skill in music notation, nor, I suspect, in music composition. I can just about keep up with a score but prefer reading the words to the libretto. I’ve bought some amazing software but am not sure I’m going to be smart enough to use it. I did record a piece of music on my mobile phone, then realised it was the theme music for ‘Jaws!’
What interests do you have outside of writing?
Music. I’m fanatical about opera and even go to singing lessons. They turn out to be incredibly good for my health as I have mobility problems and that can make you prone to chest infections. My teacher Emma Harper is a great singer and a great friend and I’m really lucky to be able to go to her. At the end of the lesson she gets her two year old up after his afternoon nap, so after the pleasure of making music I have the added bonus of seeing his gorgeous wee grumpy-cherub face!
I also like meeting up with friends and family, being in the countryside, art, films, the things that make life pleasure as opposed to survival.
Any last words of wisdom?
Writing is freedom. There’s absolutely no point in being a writer if you don’t have the nerve to say what you mean. So try not to censor yourself. There are many forces out there which will try to censor you, economic in this country, political in others. I don’t know if the pen really is mightier than the sword but I like to think it packs a mean punch anyway!
I’m in Scottish PEN’s Writers in Prison committee, which works on behalf of persecuted and imprisoned writers. I think it’s important for us all to stick together. Only that way will we keep our freedom of expression.
Fiction: Myra, Beyond Saddleworth, published by Wild Wolf Publishing, also available on Kindle.
After multiple unsuccessful appeals, infamous Moors Murderer, Myra Hindley died in prison...or did she?
What if the Moors Murderer didn't die when the authorities said she did?
What if they’d had enough of the embarrassment from her constant appeals for release and Hindley was granted a new secret identity? What sort of person would she have become? How would she live her life with her newfound freedom?
Myra, Beyond Saddleworth attempts to answer these questions in what is being considered the most controversial book in recent years. Not only does it explore questions of morality and personal responsibility, its feminist author engages with
the uncomfortable idea that women can be as violent and cruel as men.
‘A book that is both easy to read, and hard to read. Its exploration of the all-too-credible notion that dehumanisation is only human, is compelling and disturbing in equal measure.’ ~ Deborah Orr, The Guardian
‘Jean Rafferty is a remarkable writer with the bravery to explore the depths and the talent to take us with her.’ ~ Louise Welsh, author of The Cutting Room
Published by Fireopal Press.
From the the Scotia Bar or my website,
The Cruel Game
Published by Elm Tree Books, on a year on the snooker circuit.
Ladies of the Court
Pavilion Books, about 100 years of Wimbledon’s women champions. Both out of print.
Many articles as a freelance writer for everyone from the Sunday Times Magazine to the Sunday People.
Anything you want?
Looking forward to reading Louise Welsh’s new novel, The Girl on the Stairs, published by John Murray in August.
Louise and her partner Zoe Strachan have both written librettos for operas so I have tickets for them at the Edinburgh Festival. Zoe’s is written with film composer Craig Armstrong and is called The Lady From the Sea. Louise’s is called In the Locked Room and is written with David Harsent.
I think the exciting thing is that writers are doing all sorts of things now, moving across through different arts.