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Interview with Jessica Mookherjee

Author of Desire Lines

Photo of Jessica Mookherjee
Jessica Mookherjee

When did you write the book, and what was the inspiration behind it?

I wrote the book in 2019 and 2020 and it was inspired by the story of an artist who was painting the sea from inside the sea. This struck me as exciting as I wondered how scale and dimensions would seem so different from a position of immersion. I was thinking of my relationship to London and how it had shaped and created me in the 27 years I had lived there. I also thought how strange it was that i had lived and worked all over the city, north, south, east , west in a kind of meandering path. This also made me think of animal paths and how underneath London was soil and roots. I also wanted explore subversive language and how we are also created from that.

How would you summarise this book in 100 words or fewer?

A psychogeographic love letter to London and a meandering animal child's progress through a landscape of words through time and space.

How would you characterise the style of your book? For example, would you see it as lyrical, prose or experimental? (to name but a few!) Can you provide some commentary around why you feel it falls into these categories?

It is probably something between poetic prose or prose poetry, a kind of rap through time and space and a little hotchpotch use of underground languages such as cant, Polari, rhyming slang. The lines between prose poetry/ poetic prose and poetry are not as demarcated as we might think and occasionally i break any convention in order to lineate. Much of this is to hold rhythm and beat but also to distract the eye and change tone but also to create tension in the reader.

During the writing of this book, did you learn anything new? either about yourself as an author or about the crafting of the work itself?

I learned that London changed me. I learned that places fuse with us but their stories keep moving. I learned the power of subversive and underground language.

Can you list some of your main influences? Feel free to include writers, literary movements, but also any influences outside of the literary sphere that have had an impact?

Some of the influences in this book were nature writers - Robert McFarlane’s Holloway and Hollow Places, also Ian Sinclair's work as well as Dickens and other flaneur poetry and Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood and James Joyce and Virginia Woolf too. I also love Sean O'Brien’s work so was a little inspired by him too.

Please can you list some stylistic or technical elements contained within your work, and why you feel that these are important?

I was interested in rap and hip hop and spoken word and how this moved rhythm on relentlessly so stole elements of this but in no way is this rap. I was also interested in how Lou Reed wrote about cities. However I did want it to sound breathy and full and packed like London but also expansive and with unexpected twists where nature bursts through - like the under ground rivers and wells. I wanted a very anglo saxon and brythonic cadance to lead but then infuse with elements from a host of cultures so in places i break style, interject and “switchback”.

Can you give some commentary around the book’s central themes and why these are so important to you?

The central theme of this work is change and becoming and how we create and are created by the environment. This is important to me because like raindrops on a windscreen much of life happens to us in a vast backdrop and we may think we have agency but nature and place are bigger then us. However the other theme is the flaneur, the urchin and hidden “pickpocket” inside us, this is important as we can grow up to be adult and responsible but we still carry our broken parts and those parts are also the ones that kept us alive.

For someone who enjoys your work, which other authors do you think would also be appealing to them?

Elizabeth Sennit Clough is a writer I admire, also Julia Webb, Jemma Borg and Yousif M. Qasmiyeh. I would also recommend Claire Trévien’s work and an amazing book by Mary J Oliver called “Jim Neat” published by Seren. There are so many good contemporary poets that I am unable to name them all and many are good friends I am lucky to say. Check out Matt Haigh, Martin Hayes, Joelle Taylor and Helen Ivory and Sarah Corbett- all different but all inspirations. I always return to Ann Carson. In terms of London - Caleb Femi’s Poor and Emily Berry are also excellent choices.

Is there a personal story or inspiration relating to this book? If you feel comfortable, please feel free to share!

I was a green girl - brought up in leafy Mumbles in South Wales and turned goth and arrived on blustery day dressed in a hat and carrying a carpet bag and I thought, like Dick Whittington - i would make my fortune. i was ready to become a journalist - starting a course linked to the BBC in central London aged 18 and very quickly realised i was just a little girl lost. Luckily i also found some poetry in London. One of the tales in this book relates to my ex partner and my ex cat - one of whom brought in a huge London pigeon into our living room which was opposite the Olympics, and one of them killed it - much to my horror and yet relief.

Is there a particular audience you had in mind when writing this book? How did this impact the writing process?

I don’t think i had a particular audience in mind - however many who have read Desire Lines have fed back to me that it sounds like London in the 80s and 90s. I just attempted to be honest to my feelings and perceptions to bring one type of London to life.

Did the book change your relationship to London?

Yes it did - it made me realise how much I loved it, how much it is about money and survival as well as hopes and dreams and how it catches hold of you and hopes to keep you intwined in its history but ultimately it keeps going without you.

Jessica Mookherjee is a poet of Bengali heritage. She was brought up in Wales and London and now lives in Kent. Widely published, She was twice highly commended in Forward Prizes. Her poetry collection Tigress (Nine Arches press) was shortlisted for best second collection in the Ledbury Munthe Prize in 2021. Her latest books are Notes from a Shipwreck (Nine Arches Press) and Desire Lines (Broken Sleep Books).


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