Hackney: A Guest Post by Joe Thomas, Author of White Riot

I’m a product of the 1970s and 1980s, being eligible to vote for the first time in 1979 and at university studying for my first degree from 1979 to 1982. Consequently, when I heard about White Riot by Joe Thomas I simply HAD to feature it on Linda’s Book Bag. My enormous thanks to Corinna Zifko at Quercus for arranging for me to host a guest post from Joe Thomas in advance of next week’s White Riot publication day.

Published by Quercus imprint Arcadia on 19th January 2023, White Riot is available for pre-order here.

White Riot

1978: The National Front is gaining ground in Hackney. To counter their influence, anti-fascist groups launch the Carnival Against Racism in Victoria Park. Observing the event is Detective Constable Patrick Noble, charged with investigating racist attacks in the area and running Spycops in both far-right and left wing groups. As Noble’s superiors are drawn further into political meddling, he’s inveigled into a plot against the embattled Labour government.

1983: Under a disciplinary cloud after a Spycops op ended in tragedy, Noble is offered a reprieve by an old mentor. He is dispatched in the early hours to Stoke Newington police station, where a young black man has died in suspicious circumstances. This is Thatcher’s Britain now, a new world that Noble unwittingly helped to usher in, where racial tensions are weaponised by those in power.

Supercharged by the music and counterculture of the era, White Riot weaves fiction, fact and personal experience to record the radical tale of London’s most thrilling borough. Politics, music, police corruption, institutional racism and the power of protest all take centre stage in a novel that traces the roots of our current political moment.

Hackney

A Guest Post by Joe Thomas

I was born in Hackney in 1977 and for 25 years I wanted to leave. Now, it’s an aspirational address, gentrified and expensive. I was born in Hackney Mothers’ Hospital on Lower Clapton Road which was later to become known as ‘Murder Mile’. I lived on Mildenhall Road, just down from Clapton Pond. I wrote White Riot to try and better understand the Hackney I grew up in, the time and place, and how the borough, it seems to me, is something of a lightning rod for the political and social currents of the country.

White Riot is a historical, social crime novel about police corruption, institutional racism, the devastating effects of Thatcherism, and the counter-cultural movement of the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s. White Riot is a novel that reveals the dark heart of Hackney, shows the divisive roots of gentrification – and prefigures the political division of contemporary Britain. It is unashamedly political; I want to interrogate the discourses of power, of inequality, think about what and why and how it was as it was, as it is.

I remember the National Front graffiti on the canal towpaths, the sawdust on the floor of the public bar in the Prince of Wales (renamed the Princess in honour of Diana), the seafood stall where my brother and sister and I drowned our cockles and prawns in vinegar while mum and dad were inside fetching drinks.

I remember the day when we sat outside the Ship Aground pub just next door, and it started to rain. The landlord waving the families in, breaking the law to let us shelter. Except for an Asian family enjoying their crisps and their cokes; they weren’t allowed. We didn’t go back there again. I went past on the 55 bus the other day and saw the pub’s set for demolition.

I remember the Hackney Show on Hackney Downs, the Labour Club in Dalston, steel bands and heavy reggae, kids in I Love ILEA and GLC t-shirts, Granny’s takeaway and Chimes nightclub, where, for a period, serious violence was a regular occurrence.

Chimes nightclub is now the Clapton Hart, a hipster pub, all distressed wood and oversized board games, very nice it is, too. I popped in for a pint when on a visit to my cousins who still lived on Mildenhall Road. When I ordered, I asked the barman when the pub opened, when it changed, was no longer the notorious Chimes nightclub, told him I was born up the road. Oh, about a year ago, he said, I’m surprised you didn’t know. I nodded. Well, I said, for the last ten years or so, I’ve been away. What I mean was that I’d been living abroad. When I sat down with my drink it occurred to me that he’d given me a funny look. Local boy, been away, ten years. He served me pretty sharpish when I went back. I didn’t disabuse him, and it made me smile: Hackney’s come a long way if I look like a ten-stretch criminal.

****

I’m sure you look perfectly respectable Joe! Thanks so much for the insight into Hackney and how it has inspired White Riot. Fascinating!

About Joe Thomas

Joe Thomas was born in Hackney in 1977. He is the author of the critically acclaimed São Paulo quartet – Paradise City, Gringa, Playboy, and Brazilian Psycho – and Bent, which was a Guardian Best Book of 2020 and an Irish Times pick of the best crime fiction of 2020. His new novel, White Riot, will be followed by Red Menace and True Blue. Joe lives in London with his partner and son, and teaches at City University of London.

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