Gemma Weekes - Love Me
Love and the city
With her debut novel, Gemma Weekes has created a vibrant tale of obsession, identity and solitude. Claire Sawers hears more than just soundbites
‘A Big Mac and a hot chocolate please,’ comes the voice down the phone. Gemma Weekes is in McDonalds, ordering lunch, pushing her son’s buggy and doing an interview. I ask if I’m calling at a bad time. ‘No, no,’ she insists, laughing and also apologising for any chewing sounds that might follow. ‘Believe me, once you have a kid, you get very good at multi-tasking.’ The novelist is certainly used to a bit of juggling. As well as bringing up her 20-month-old son Isaiah, Weekes keeps busy as a poet, author, singer and musician. When she’s not eating burgers or penning love stories, she performs soulful musings under her MySpace alter ego of Goldyroxx.
But today, between bites, she’s talking about her first novel, which she started in 2005. ‘I’ve grown up with it. I’ve been through so many drafts, seen the characters from all different angles, spent so long perfecting it; it’s exciting for it to be finally published.’ Although writing is her passion, she jokes that sometimes it feels like an abusive relationship. ‘It’s painful, you’re exhausted, but somehow you always go back to it.’
Love Me tells the story of Eden, a twentysomething East Ender who falls in love with a Brooklyn rapper. Her crush becomes an obsession, and Zed, who has eyes the colour of ‘Pepsi with ice’, holds her under his spell when he performs onstage in London. Her dad and friends grow worried as she becomes more fixated, whilst losing interest in her job, her appearance and eventually everything about London life. Escaping to stay with family in New York to ‘find her mojo again’, she finds herself facing up to personal demons and a few skeletons in the family’s closet. After a slightly off-putting introduction, where it looks like frothy, frilly teenybopper prose is going to bridge the gap between gangster rap and Mills & Boon, the characters slowly reveal their disillusionments with British culture, sucking the reader in to a complicated mix of identity, alienation and loneliness. It’s a colourful, chaotic ride that starts in Hackney and finishes in New York, detouring via West Indian wisdom, recording sessions in Queens and childhood flashbacks. Like Eden, the reader is quickly desperate to escape the tedium of fashion victims and ‘undead’ commuters in London, to reach the exotic diversity and creativity of the Big Apple.
‘Like a lot of first-time writers, I guess I was working out a lot of my own issues as I was writing,’ confesses Weekes. The daughter of Saint Lucian parents, brought up in London, she says she spent the second half of her 20s questioning what she should be doing with her life. ‘A lot of people that age are feeling a bit directionless, so relationships automatically take on extra weight.’ Although Weekes didn’t base Eden on herself (‘she’s way more nuts than me’), she did draw heavily from personal experiences. ‘I wanted to convey that visceral feeling of love, and that sense of being overwhelmed by love and the city. Some people are shocked by Eden, others recognise themselves in her. I think sometimes that’s what love does; makes you walk the fine line between normal and crazy.’
Love Me is published on Thu 15 Jan by Chatto & Windus.