By Jayne Joso.
A common thread in my work seems to be an interest in debating what constitutes the right place and space in which to feel at ease, be it psychological, geographical, architectural… In Soothing Music for Stray Cats the main character dreams of finding better ways of negotiating his sense of the disconnectedness of modern life alongside the loss of a friend through suicide. This he attempts to do as he wanders the streets of London finding himself lost at times, at odds with the environment, the urbanity, and at times quite literally with the ground beneath his feet.
I wanted to write about someone who managed to walk away from a life that was leaving them feeling empty. I researched cases of people doing this in real life, and it seemed that it always took the most ferocious courage for them to do so. In many cases, it seemed that people had grown into their adult lives and taken on relationships and responsibilities and then found they were simply too far in to bail out. People are sometimes locked into a life that doesn’t fulfill them, or lines up roles they find they are struggling to live up to, but by this time a certain standard of living is expected, or the roles they play have to be maintained (in what can be a strange adult dance or drama that they feel they hadn’t quite signed up for), and they cannot, or at least, feel they cannot simply stand up and holler ‘No, really, I can’t do this!’
Often it seemed that the individuals in these cases were considering suicide as an option, but what actually happened was that rather than take their life they quite literally just kept on walking — I was fascinated by this, and I wanted to work with this in the novel, not being able to cope at all, not being able to tell anyone, and the idea of leaving the house one day and walking, not to work, not to the grocery store, but to some as yet unknown, unplanned destination. In fact, there often isn’t a destination, what seems important at that time is the need to just keep on going, travelling, moving away in the physical sense from all the emotional distress of their current situation.
In that sense, I wanted to chart the main character’s journey through the underground and parks, wandering the streets of London absently as he steps out of the fast lane of life. And I wanted to show him wrestling with ways of making sense of difficult things, drawing on music and lyrics that have meant something to him at different times, and lines from the novels he’s read over time — which is, I guess, at some moments useful, and at others totally futile. I was curious about this idea of drawing on music and fiction to help work things through, and the experience we might all have had at times of running particular lines through our heads. I thought about trying to map out all the lines I can recall myself in this regard, but I had no real point in doing so, instead I chose to create this kind of mapping around the character of Mark in the novel (a guy who is something of an autodidact), and chart this guy wrestling with lines committed to memory, some intentionally, some less so — for I think that along with all the words we choose to recall and therefore deliberately lay down in our heads, there are a surprising number of lines that seem to find their own way in, and these often bed themselves down quite nicely — again, these are at certain moments useful, sometimes profoundly so, and at others just part of the clutter we carry around.
Soothing Music for Stray Cats is a close-up on a disaffected adult life alongside a nearside view of the lives of several disconnected young people in a modern-day urban Britain; with the larger part of the novel set specifically in London… a brilliant city, a city that’s a mash-up.
“I bet there isn’t anyone on this planet that hasn’t, at some point, just wanted to stop the world a while, and step off; and no one that hasn’t felt as though all they wanted to do was just leave the life they’ve got, set out of the house one morning, and just keep on going. Just walking, and without looking back. Go on, tell me, tell me it’s never crossed your mind?” The character Mark Kerr in Soothing Music for Stray Cats.
Read 3:AM‘s interview with Jayne Joso.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, September 12th, 2011.