#JennieEnsor #AuthorQ&A #BlindSide

Blind Side

Can you ever truly know someone? And what if you suspect the unthinkable? 

London, five months before 7/7. Georgie, a young woman wary of relationships after previous heartbreak, gives in and agrees to sleep with close friend Julian. She’s shocked when Julian reveals he’s loved her for a long time. 

But Georgie can’t resist her attraction to Nikolai, a Russian former soldier she meets in a pub. While Julian struggles to deal with her rejection, Georgie realises how deeply war-time incidents in Chechnya have affected Nikolai. She begins to suspect that the Russian is hiding something terrible from her. 

Then London is attacked... 

Blind Side explores love and friendship, guilt and betrayal, secrets and obsession. An explosive, debate-provoking thriller that confronts urgent issues of our times and contemplates some of our deepest fears. 

Blind Side was published by Unbound in February 2017. 

Today I am thrilled to welcome Jennie Ensor to my blog to answer some questions about her novel Blind Side and her writing process. Jennie is coming along to my author event in July so it is lovely to have a chat with her today before we meet again in a few weeks time! If you would like to buy a ticket to the event please see the links beneath the interview.

Thanks so much for popping along Jennie and for taking the time to reply to my questions!

Could you tell me about your novel in a couple of sentences?

In one sentence: Scarred-by-love London girl meets alluring Russian ex-soldier with secrets, and her whole world is shaken. Theme wise, Blind Side is about the vulnerability of love, the dangers of guilt and obsession, and our fears of the outsider.

Your inspiration for your novel has come from real life news or events. What was it about this moment / event / newspaper story that captured you so much that you wanted to write about it?

I’ve long been fascinated by people who appear normal on the surface but have a dangerous, unrevealed side. I wanted to explore the idea of ‘the enemy within’ in my novel – be it within a person (i.e. a psychological enemy) or a community – but wasn’t sure exactly how to approach that. Then in 2005, while my novel was incubating, London was attacked by suicide bombers. I’d been planning to write a contemporary novel but after 7/7 my direction changed markedly. I’ve lived in London a long time and like most Londoners was shocked by the carnage of that day. I was struck when it was announced that the four bombers were all brought up in Yorkshire – one had even worked as a learning mentor in a primary school. Also it resonated with my theme, and I felt I had to make 7/7 and the months before and after a key part of my novel.

What has been the biggest challenge about writing a piece of fiction which is either based on fact or has elements of fact within it?

One big challenge was deciding how to incorporate factual events into the dramatic structure of Blind Side. Although the setting is 2005 London, I describe incidents inspired by real events during the war in Chechnya in 2000, seen through the eyes of my (fictional) Russian soldier Nikolai. I ended up with quite a complex structure with ‘fictional’ present-day events (e.g. an imagined terror plot involving Russians in 2005 London) interspersed with actual events in 2005 (such as 7/7 and the failed tube trains nail bombs on 21/7). Threaded through the present-day timeline are actual events from 2005 Russia and Nikolai’s recollections of incidents in Chechnya.

Another challenge was that I wanted to avoid the real-life taking over – when the ‘ending’ is known in advance, it can make the story seem a little flat. Having reality-inspired events alongside the real ones probably adds to the tension and suspense. Also, the real events are concentrated in the first half of the novel, so there’s plenty that the reader won’t know about.

Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process and that transition from taking a ‘real event’ and to it becoming a fictional story?

This novel took me 10 years to write, on and off, and has had 3 different titles (‘Nikolai’ and ‘Ghosts of Chechnya’ were the first two). I’ve revised the manuscript countless times, playing around with the story and characters (well, pretty much everything). Although I enjoy many aspects of research (going out and talking to people, most of all) I prefer the actual writing. It’s easy to get carried away with exploring some fascinating avenue, so I try to have a good idea how the raw material will become part of my story. The art and the fun of it all is in fitting the real and imagined pieces together to form something totally new.

How does researching a novel based or inspired by real events differ from writing another novel?

Research has played a big part in the other two novels I’m working on – I once spent weeks reading up on brain imaging. If the novel is based on real events however, there’s arguably a greater element of research involved. Blind Side was my first novel involving real events so I was concerned about getting important facts right (e.g. what was known when on 7th July). Also any novel set in a given time and place must feel authentic – the right technology, dialogue, etc to suit the period (for example, smoking was legal in pubs back in 2005). Fortunately, I didn’t have any ‘real-life’ characters to worry about getting right.

The journal I’d been keeping during 2005 proved to be a big help – I used it for checking the weather on certain days, which incidents had been in the news, etc. I kept newspapers from that year, read lots of books and scoured the internet (my search terms were extremely questionable, I’m afraid, everything from the Russian mafia to Al Qaeda). I interviewed all sorts of people and managed eventually to find two men who’d fought in Chechnya who talked to me about the conditions there.

Some people like to read fiction as a way of escaping from the real world. Some people like to read fiction to help them understand the real world or make sense of something they have experienced in the real world. Can you think of any novels you have read that have either provided some escapism, some insight and some comfort for you at any point in your life?

I usually read novels with a strong realist streak, though sometimes the awfulness of life demands something to lighten the void – especially off-the-wall, innovative or dark humour. I loved the humour in Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette? It’s about the relationship between the missing former architect-turned-recluse Bernadette, who can’t stand her restrictive, school-afflicted life in Seattle, and her daughter Bee who is trying to find her. To do so Bee compiles a series of letters, emails, reports, journal entries and so on. The novel is emotionally engaging and often hilarious.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Do you have a favourite author or novel that has inspired you as a writer or reader or is there a book that you are excited about reading in 2017 / best book from 2016?

Never Let Me GoThe Siege

Two books that have inspired me are Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian nightmare Never Let Me Go for the brilliant imagination of his writing combined with characters that you really care about and Helen Dunmore’s The Siege, for a grimly vivid evocation of people struggling to survive in the Siege of Leningrad during World War Two.

In Her WakeAll the Light We Cannot See

Favourite books I read in 2016 would be In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings (a beautifully atmospheric psychological drama) and All The Things We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, set during WW2 in Germany and occupied France, about spirals and the strength of the human spirit. It has luminous writing and strong characters including a blind French girl and her father, and a radio-obsessed German boy forced to lay aside his principles to help the Nazi war machine.

Thanks so much Jennie for a really interesting interview and fantastic answers! 

To book a ticket for this event where you can hear more from Jennie, please click on the link below: 


@unbounders ‏

Jennie Ensor is a Londoner descended from a long line of Irish folk. During a long period overseas she worked for some years as a freelance journalist, covering topics from forced marriages to accidents in the mining industry. These days Ms Ensor lives in London with her husband and their cuddle-loving, sofa-hogging terrier. When not chasing the dog through local woodland or dreaming of setting off on an unfeasibly long journey with a Kindle full of books, she writes novels, flash fiction and occasionally poetry (published under another name). Her second novel, almost finished, is a dark and unsettling psychological drama.

For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk


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