In Fire Rush, Yamaye lives for the weekend, when she can go raving with her friends at The Crypt, an underground club in the industrial town on the outskirts of London where she was born and raised.
A young woman unsure of her future, the sound is her guide – a chance to discover who she really is in the rhythms of those smoke-filled nights. In the dance-hall darkness, dub is the music of her soul, her friendships, her ancestry.
But everything changes when she meets Moose – the man she falls deeply in love with, and who offers her the chance of freedom and escape.
When their relationship is brutally cut short, Yamaye goes on a dramatic journey of transformation that takes her first to Bristol – where she is caught up in a criminal gang and the police riots sweeping the country – and then to Jamaica, where past and present collide with explosive consequences.
Q1. How does it feel to be shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and what would it mean to you to win?
“It’s quite overwhelming to be on a shortlist with award-winning authors. I feel that shortlisting is winning.
“It’s wonderful to have Fire Rush on a platform with these award-winning writers. I’m staying in the moment and enjoying this.”
Q2. How would you describe Fire Rush in three words?
“Supra-watt sound-system literature.”
Q3. I’ve read that Fire Rush is a fictionalised account of your own life.
What was the writing process like with this? And Which parts of Yamaye do you resonate with the most?
“I enjoy writing, I write every day, it’s something I need to do, a way of getting feelings, thoughts, and ideas onto paper.
“Fire Rush started off as entries in my diary. After six months it became a draft novel. I have restructured it many times and have collaborated with lots of writers, musicians, and others.
“Collaboration is an important part of my writing process and something I enjoy. I learn so much from other artists.
“I resonate with Yamaye taking to the decks and singing and toasting her lyrics. On the surface she is quiet sometimes passive, but as the story unfolds, we see other sides of her that are not expected. I like to tap into the other parts of myself every so often and be one of my other personas. That’s why I’ve gone from reclusive writer to performing extracts of Fire Rush with a Jamaican dancehall dancer and a toaster/MC on stage at the Southbank Centre.”
Q5. Fire Rush is full of heavy and powerful topics such as racism and sexual assault.
How did you go about writing these parts of the book? Were there any parts that were particularly challenging to write?
“I’ve been affected by racism and sexual assault and these parts were challenging but also rewarding as it provided a means of working through some of those issues, getter a deeper understanding of my responses to them, whilst trying to explore sociological questions around agency and structure.
“How much of our behaviour is down to personality and choice and how much of it is down to our environment and the structures of society. More than anything, the process of writing is an opportunity for me to let things go. Once I’ve channeled issues into fiction, I’m able to let some of them go.”
Q6. How important was it to you that your book had such a strong female lead?
“As a woman living in the dub-reggae subculture of 70s and 80s, I felt voiceless and often powerless. Most of the books about dub-reggae are men. It was therefore important to privilege a woman’s perspective and also show that women’s voices are at the heart of dub-reggae.”
Q7. Music is such a big part of the book, with Yamaye’s relationship with the underground dub reggae scene.
Could you talk a bit about the relationship between identity and music?
“The characters are fighting against social exclusion, racism, poverty. They are drawing on the supra-watt power of dub-reggae music. This music connects them to their homeland, their ancestors, in a way they can’t survive without this music.”
Q8. As an author, what drives your writing?
“I write political fiction. I have a degree in social policy and a Masters in Creative & Life Writing and these subjects are in all my stories: intersecting issues and lived experiences.
“I’m interested in the outsider. The initial impulse to write comes from a desire to explore a personal experience or someone who had an impact on my life who I want to understand in some way.”
Q9. There’s a rhythmic tone to your writing, almost like poetry. Was this intentional? Is it another link to music?
“I feel that writing and music intersect. Often, a melody or rhyme comes into my head before the words. I write whilst listening to music or I create music in my head as the words flow.”
Q10. What is the most important message the book is trying to convey?
“We all need to rebel sometimes and we all need to do this in our own way, whether it’s starting a campaign or taking to the music decks.”
Q11. Which was your favourite part of the book to write?
“The scenes where Yamaye is at the wheel of the car or at the decks. Anywhere where she is running the show.”
If you liked this post then read Lillie Lainoff: There’s a lack of representation for chronic illness in books or Why our books need more black female leads and five novels that do it well next.
Jacqueline is a Jamaican-born writer who writes about Caribbean migration and sub-cultures, in particular the supernatural and supranational stories that sustain the diaspora. Her short story collection, The Ice Migration, was longlisted for the 2019 Orwell Prize in the Political Fiction category, and she has also been shortlisted for the Asham and Wasafiri New Writing awards. Jacqueline’s debut novel Fire Rush is nominated for the 2023 Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Maddy is a journalism student who enjoys writing about culture, entertainment and the arts. If she’s not reading a book, you’ll find her listening to Taylor Swift. She’s passionate about books that reflect what’s going on in society and lead us to ask important questions about the world around us.
Favourite genres: Contemporary Fiction and Romance.