Guest post: Inspirations for Ridley Road by Jo Bloom

11 Dec

Jo Bloom’s fascinating debut novel Ridley Road is out today and to celebrate Jo is visiting One More Page today to share a blog post on her inspirations for the book. Jo has worked in the media in Prague and New York, and was a book reviewer for Time Out for several years. She currently works as a freelancer in arts marketing and press roles, as well as in the e-learning sector. Jo lives in Brighton with her husband and young son. Welcome and happy publication day Jo!

Jo Bloom by Matthew Andrews

Jo Bloom by Matthew Andrews

When I’m asked where the idea for Ridley Road came from, it’s easy for me to locate the inspiration. Even now, years later, I can clearly recall the funeral of my mum’s old friend Gloria where my father and I met an elderly man called Monty and ended up giving him a lift to the nearest station.

During the journey they talked about being brought up in post-war East London and it was the first time I’d heard of the 62 Group  – the Jewish anti-fascist organisation which formed in 1962 to confront the fascist revival in London. In fact, I didn’t even know there had been a resurgence in British fascism during that time. I can still see myself rushing home excitedly, dumping my bag on the sofa and turning on my laptop to search out more information on this relatively unknown chapter of London history. A couple of hours later, after I’d learnt how the 62 Group fought the fascists on the streets of London throughout the sixties and beyond, I went to bed certain that I would set a love story against this political backdrop in a novel.

And yet, I don’t recall a particular moment when it struck me that my lead character Vivien should be a hairdresser who makes her way from Manchester to work in a Soho salon. I don’t remember deliberating about it for very long or with any difficulty, which can often happen when building up a character’s life. She was never going to work in a factory or a shop or be a typist. She was always Vivien, always a hairdresser.

But then, there are lots of personal links between Ridley Road and the world of hair. My mum was a hairdresser for years. A cousin is a top London hairdresser. Three of my mum’s closest friends were hairdressers, including the wonderful, talented Gloria, whose funeral precipitated my chance meeting with Monty. In my research folder there is a photo of Gloria and my mum posing and laughing on a London street in their light blue work overalls in 1964; my mum with her stiff black beehive, Gloria’s curls framing her sweet, pretty face.

However, unlike Vivien, neither Gloria nor my mum actually worked in Soho. Back then, it was still considered a little seedy. If you wanted LOVE ON THE TUBEglamour you looked for work in Kensington, Chelsea or Mayfair salons where the clientele was a little wealthier, a little classier.

But I was never interested in that strand of London life. What excited me was exploring a young hairdresser’s transition from a back street salon to the grubby chic of Soho’s clubs and coffee bars. I could imagine Vivien walking down the busy market streets, enamoured by the bustle and colour, and for her clients to be actresses or show girls or girls from the local clip joints.  In my mind’s eye, I could also quickly visualise the cast of other hairdressers in the salon – girls who would support Vivien and help her settle into London life as she grieved for her father and carried out her search for Jack Fox, the man she had fallen in love with.

My mum proved invaluable when it came to research. She told me what happened if the wrong bleach was used or how hair should be backcombed and introduced me to the work of the legendary hairdresser, Raymond Bessone (Mr. Teasy-Weasy), one of the first hairdressers to have a show on TV. And when we discovered quite early on that the celebrated hairdresser, Vidal Sassoon, was an active member of the 43 Group – a prominent post WW2 anti-fascist organisation which also fought the fascists on the street like the 62 Group – it just confirmed my suspicion that hairdressing was always meant to be part of Ridley Road’s story.

Ridley Road is published today by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in hardback and ebook formats.

Please do check out the other stops on Jo’s blog tour:

Ridley Road blog tour

 

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