Jessica Moor studied at both Cambridge and Manchester University, but perhaps neither had a stronger effect on her forthcoming debut novel, Keeper, than the year she spent working in the violence against women and girls sector.
Dubbed ‘a feminist whodunnit’ by the Sunday Times, the tense Keeper holds to task the gendered presumptions that harm women every day and tempers it with heart and hope.
We caught up with Moor to get to know the author better. Below, she paints a full emotive picture, sounding off on the importance of anger, the goodness of Pret, and her bold, haughty alter-ego ‘Norma Dauntless’.
Which writer do you most admire and why?
Kate Atkinson. A God in Ruins is a perfect novel. So daring from a formal perspective, and yet with total mastery over the fundamentals of storytelling. Her characters are so real that you feel a sense of bereavement when you remember that it’s fiction.
Also Jeanette Winterson, because she harnesses the linguistic power of poetry to write stories, and she knows how much stories matter. Her writing is always bold, curious and compassionate all at once, and so is she. She was my professor on my MA in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester, and it was like she taught me to read all over again.
What’s the strangest job you’ve had outside being an author?
I ghostwrote some romance novels because I needed the cash. A persona was necessary in order to get into it, so I’d put on a pink silk kimono, wrap my hair up in a turban and sweep around the flat pretending that I was some sort of mad 1930s romance novelist called Norma Dauntless.
Tell us about a book you’ve reread many times.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I first read it as an English literature undergrad when I was feeling pretty jaded, but from the very first line — ‘Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board’ — I was enthralled. I think it helped me to love reading again. I reread it once a year or so. I start crying at about page 160, and don’t stop until I’ve reached the end.
What the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Probably also one of the best pieces of general life advice I’ve ever been given: ‘never compare two things as though one were complex and the other were simple.’ Also: ‘first drafts are shit’.
What makes you most happy?
Animals. Being in nature. Grace and Frankie. Landing after a flight with all my limbs intact. Drinking wine with my friends. Harry Potter. Drinking whiskey with my partner. Baths. Jaywalking. Fortunately… with Fi and Jane. Moroccan mint tea. Essays by David Sedaris. New sandwich fillings at Pret.
What’s your biggest regret?
Cutting my own fringe when I was 15. Not being single when I went to university. Being complacent about the referendum in 2016.
What’s your ideal writing scenario?
At my desk, with a good scene to write — and silence. This never happens, because I am cursed and whenever I move flats construction work immediately starts on the building next door.
...and your ideal reading one?
In my armchair, with a cup of tea and the cat on my lap.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read this year?
Motherwell: A Girlhood by Deborah Orr. She describes the world of her childhood with an unflinching eye. I feel that there’s such a huge void of the narratives of working-class British women, so I’m so glad that we have this book. I’m desperately sad that she’s gone; I feel Orr had a great oeuvre of books inside her, and now they will always remain unwritten.
What inspired you to write your book?
Anger at patriarchy. Anger at government cuts to domestic violence services. Anger that women’s bodies are treated as public property. Anger that two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner. Anger that their deaths don’t make the news because it’s ‘just a domestic’. Anger that those cases are written up in the papers as though a lovely man has had his life ruined because he was forced to kill his conniving bitch of a wife.
Also, love. Love for my friends, who deserve good relationships free from power and control. Love for the people who keep working and keep fighting. Love for the women that escape abuse and, piece by piece, put themselves back together.