Stevan Alcock’s debut novel Blood Relatives is a coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper murders. The socio-political landscape of late 1970s Britain is explored through the story of Rick, a teenage delivery van boy for Corona pop. Alcock was born in Yorkshire but now lives in Berlin, where he works as a writer and translator.
Why did you choose to write the whole book in regional dialect?
I initially wrote a section of the novel in the third person and without any dialect. It felt very flat. Once I rewrote it in the first person, the dialect just followed naturally. I don’t regret writing in the vernacular, but I did question myself about how far to take it. In the end I just went with my gut instincts.
Why did you choose the Yorkshire Ripper as a subject?
The Yorkshire Ripper himself isn’t so much the subject, rather the socio-political fallout of his crimes and what it was like to live through that period. I experienced some of that, although not as viscerally as Rick experiences it in the novel. Nevertheless, the fear was palpable. I worked on the Corona vans and delivered pop door to door in areas such as Chapeltown, including to prostitutes.
Why did you choose to mirror the social unrest of the era with personal unrest, as the protagonist hides his sexuality?
I think they go hand in hand. His sexuality unfolds naturally, bit by bit, over the breadth of the story. I didn’t want it to be a lovely big coming out story. Rick’s conflict is not with himself. He is at ease with his own sexuality – he just doesn’t grandstand it. His conflicts are in the different and separate worlds he finds himself in: home life, gay life, work, the punk scene, etc. The personal unrest enabled me to explore the social unrest.
Rick scrutinises the female characters in the book. What does this say about him and society at the time?
It’s as much a book about women as it is about, say, male gay liberation. Doors repeatedly close on the women, whereas possibilities open up to the men in spite of themselves and their behaviour. This is no less true of Rick. It is also interesting to look at the attitude voiced at the time by the media, and above all by the police, with regard to the Ripper. Women were, bizarrely, blamed for the continuing murders. It was said again and again that a woman somewhere must be protecting the Ripper, that a woman – a mother, wife, daughter, etc – must know who he was and must be living in denial of what she knew.
Is the book coloured by your own life?
Inevitably, to a certain extent – small incidents, places I knew – although not the overall arc of the story, nor the central family, and Ricky is not me. I went to Gay Lib meetings and the punk FK Club is a thinly veiled F Club. So I used all that, although I changed a lot too. I mixed real places with wholly fictional ones, although anything to do with the Ripper murders and attacks I kept mostly factual. Some of the minor characters were drawn from people I knew, but not necessarily from that time or space.