Joolz Denby has been a professional writer of poetry and fiction, spoken-word artist,illustrative artist and photographer for over twenty-eight years. I first came across her in a magazine article and was hugely impressed by her wit and intelligence and the fact she was in her forties, covered with piercings and proud to flaunt her body art. She had just released her third novel "Billie Morgan", published by Serpents Tail, the story of a woman who spent her youth in a biker gang. It sounded like nothing I'd read before so I thought I'd give it a go. And I'm so glad I did!
The story is written in first person by the title character Billie Morgan. Its written as if she is literally writing down her life story and she occasionally makes reference to whoever she thinks might be reading it, mainly her friend and employee Leckie. Billie lives a quiet life nowadays. She lives in her countrified cottage with her two cats Cairo and Ghengis, runs her small jewellry shop in Bradford and tries to help keep her wayward godson Nathan under control. Billie is happy with her life like this because she has had a turbulent past to say the least. However it seems that Billie's past may be about to catch up with her, which has driven her to get her story down on paper and ease her conscience. Billie was a member of the Biker Gang The Devils Own in the 1970's, living a crazy drug-fuelled existence that spiralled out of control until it ended in murder. A murder that Billie has tried to forget but for whcih she now has to face the consequences of.
if I had to pick a genre for this novel I would say it is a thriller. Billie starts of by detailing her childhood; her beloved dada who walked out when she was just a child, and her mother who always preferred Billie's picture perfect sister Jennifer and who allowed Billie to grow up believing it was all her fault that her father left. As she enters her teens Billie becomes involved with hippies until she is brutally taught that the peace and love philosophy is all a myth. She's then introduced to motorbikes through a friend, and she discovers a world where she can fit in and belong; almost a ready-made family to make up for her lack of family as she was growing up.
Like all great literary characters, Billie's personality is flawed. And it is these flaws that ultimately lead to the climax of the novel and see her world fall apart as she takes things too far. However Billie has kept a link to her past by staying close to Jasmine, the mother of her godson Nathan. Jasmine was on the scene at the time the murder was committed and although she knows nithing about it, she was a little to close to the victim for Billie's comfort and this closeness is the one thing that may cause Billie's world to fall apart again.
This book is easy to read thanks to Joolz's poetic simple style of writing that brings the story vividly to life. But it isn't a pleasant read at all times, as the world of outlaw biker gangs is brought to life. This story has drugs, rape, murder, incest and severed heads but is most definitely worth a read. Its hard to remember that its just a work of fiction, such is the realism.
Billie is likeable and her flaws are realistic and easy to identify with. She is far from the perfect heroine yet it is easy to feel sorry for her and her predicament. Joolz has a wonderful knack of painting pictures of her characters so vividly that they are easy and clear to imagine - not just physically but their personalities aswell.
Billie's friend and employee leckie is a fun antidote to Billie's dark, brooding character. Leckie is bubbly, bright and fun - the opposite of Billie in every way - yet its easy to see why they get on so well despite being so different.
Jasmine is perfect as the pathetic, strung-out junkie only interested in getting her next hit yet always wailing to Billie about how hard her life is. Jasmine is the mother of teenager Nathan, an adonis of a lad who is always kitted out in designer clothes with a string of young girls fawning over him. Nathan clearly has issues and suffers from a rage that consumes him sometimes. Nevertheless there is a likeable urchin-like quality to him and its easy to see why Billie dotes on him. He is the sole reason she has kept Jas in her life, and she views him as the son she never had.
There are a lot of other supporting characters, all realistic and either likeable or despisable in their own way; such as Billie's foreboding mother who punishes her daughter relentlessly simply because she reminds her of her husband who walked out; gentle biker Mickey, Billie's husband whom she refers to as Little Buddha; vile Terry who wants to be in the biker gang but isn't wanted; enigmatic Carl the leader of the Devils Own who has a soft spot for Billie and looks out for her despite the scrapes she gets herself into. Carl warns Billie that Mickey is weak and that one day Billie will find this out - the combination of Billie's strength and Mickey's weakness is what results in murder.
This book has a dark subject matter but I've read it on more that one occasion as I really enjoy it. Billie is such a great character and it is disturbing to watch the chain of events that are set in motion and which may well bring her world crashing down around her. She has carried many heavy secrets for a long time and I can almost feel her relief as she finally getsthem down on paper and out into the open as they have been eating her up for so long.
This is a fabulous well written book that you won't want to put down, and which will make you thankful for your own controversy-free quiet life!