On August 6th, 2011, at The Fest for Beatles Fans Chicago, I had a chance to sit down with an author who has devoted her whole life to The Beatles Specifically, John Lennon. At 9:30 at night, I went down into the basement Beatles marketplace and walked up to a table, resplendently piled with books with John Lennon's gentle face gracing the covers. A vivacious blond-haired woman immediately bounded into my midst and my life, and the planned interview began. And what an amazing half-an-hour it was.
Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of two novels (out of a planned nine novel series) about the life and legend of John Winston Lennon, Shoulda Been There (published in 2008) and Shivering Inside (published in 2010.) Shoulda Been There covers his birth in October 1940 through December 1961, while Shivering Inside picks up in December 1961 to April 1963.
In this interview (which will span three separate blogs- to view Part One, published yesterday, follow THIS link and to view Part Three, follow THIS link), Jude will tell me about her life and John Lennon's life: both of which are equally fascinating and revelatory.
In this second set of questions, we learn about the difficulty of researching The Beatles, we meet some of the people who helped Jude with her project and also how she duplicated and learned the language of Liverpool:
Steven Krage: It truly is a fascinating story. In the prologue to your book Shoulda Been There, you bring to question the often-told story of John’s Auntie Mimi running though the streets of Liverpool during a bomb raid by Hitler's Nazi forces to make it to the hospital where baby John was born. You explain that this story, though it may give you Goosebumps, is not entirely true. She was there, but she made her trip by public transport and not by her own two feet and certainly not during a Nazi air raid. This seems to be a running theme when researching The Beatles. There has been so much written, and spoken, about The Beatles and a lot of it seems to have its roots in falsehoods. You say that even The Beatles themselves had some hand in spreading and muddling misinformation about their careers. So my question is: in researching your two novels, so far, how have you shucked through the proverbial clams of misinformation about The Beatles to find the small pearls of truth?
Jude Southerland Kessler: It’s very difficult and as you’re saying, they love a good story. You know when you take any figure in History, let’s say Alexander the Great. Alexander the great marched his troops to the foot of the pyramid so that he could deliver a speech at the foot of the pyramid to add to his aura. George Washington, think about all the stories you hear about George Washington and there was enough truth that was honorable and great in his life, but people made up stories. People love legends and The Beatles knew that. They know that a good story, you know what Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” And just give the people a show! So , it’s very difficult to find the kernel of the truth. In fact, I just wrote an article on The Beatles Internet Album about the truth about how the song “She Loves You” was written. It was not written on one magical night, it was developed over four weeks on the Roy Orbison Tour Coach with Paul and John working together and coming up with the song and honing it and bringing it to the great song that it was. But people love the story on the one magical night, so I’ve just had to research and research and research and lay out all of the facts and when I see someone who doesn’t jive with the facts I try to find out if that person is wrong or if that person is right. It’s very hard.
SK: While you’re squashing these myths, at the same time some people who have lived with these stories about The Beatles all their lives will be a bit disappointed, but you really want the truth.
JSK: Right, because the truth is always so much more magical. When you hear that they sat on that tour coach when they could have been sleeping or playing cards and they were industriously working together to create this song that was going to change history, how much better is that than, “I went to a hotel room and popped the song off in two hours”?
SK: It hardly sounds like a story at all, after hearing the original. In researching your novels, who did you contact that turned you down?
JSK: Well, everyone was willing to talk to me if I had money. One of the key players that I really wanted to talk to wanted a thousand pounds a day, and I couldn’t do that. And some of the people, for example, Pete Best, at the time, I didn’t have the money that Pete wanted for his interview. But, Pete was at The Fest for Beatles Fans and I attended and went to his Question and Answer and asked him the questions! So, there’s always a way to get around it. Since them, I must say, I have great respect for Pete and Pete just finished reading Shivering Inside and sent word to me that he felt he was represented fairly in the book, which he often isn’t, and I think the world of him and I wish I had had the money to actually interview him.
SK: It’s actually the details that make the books wonderful. And having all those people help you, as you were saying before, so many people contacted you and helped you correct the little details, including what kind of lozenges they had at the recording sessions, etc… Those little things are what make the truth so much better.
JSK: It has taken many many people to get it right.
SK: What have been the biggest challenges in writing these novels? Did the fact that you were writing novels provide any specific challenges?
JSK: Absolutely. First of all, I have to have more details than a person who is doing a nonfiction book. Because you can’t just have them on a lunch break, you have to know what they ate. And you can’t have them show up if you don’t know what they were wearing. You need to know about minute details to make it real. That has been a challenge. And then it’s been a challenge because people come up to buy the book and the minute I say this is a novel, but it’s all documented and factual, they’ll roll their eyes and say “Oh, make believe!”, and put it down. So, you have to convince people that you’ve put 26 years of research into it and you know what you’re talking about and it’s very difficult.
SK: To quote Kathy Bates from the Stephen King movie Misery, “The Language” Jude, “The Language.” How did you so perfectly capture the unique dialect and language intricacies of Liverpudlians?
JSK: Living there. Going back and forth and talking to the people. In the first year, I was in a cold sweat the whole time because I did not know what they were saying and I was constantly saying, “Pardon me?” and the next year, before we went out, I thought, “Well, I’m going to be honest and I am just going to say, I don’t understand what you’re saying.” And when they would say, “Want cooked”, and I’d say, “Excuse me?” Finally I would say, “You have to tell me what that means.” “Oh! Do you want a cooked breakfast?” And then I’d write that down. And I would listen to people on trains and at lunch, everywhere we went and I would write down everything they would say and gradually I started to learn the language. It took a long time.
SK: Most people don’t think of subsections of English as different languages but they really are. They have as many intricacies as Spanish or any of those other languages. If you would, please give me your thoughts on creative nonfiction, like your biographical novels of John Lennon. Do you think that the American populous is fully ready for books that blur the line between fiction and nonfiction, such as yours does?
JSK: I think you have to be responsible. If you make up things, then no one is ready for that because that’s not the truth and you’re dealing with someone’s life. I don’t want someone writing a story about my life and putting things in it that aren’t true. I think, for example, Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code, he’s talking about some of the practices of the Catholic Church- he’s saying things that aren’t true and that’s very damaging and very dangerous. Because you’re talking about something that exists and are telling untruths about it. If you are responsible, and you strive to tell the truth, and then when you read a book by Irving Stone, let’s say his book about Abraham Lincoln, I felt like I knew Abraham Lincoln the way I had never known him before. When you read The Agony and the Ecstasy, suddenly Michelangelo is living human being to you. When they cut his boots off because he won’t come down from the scaffolding in the Sistine Chapel for days and days and his skin grows into his boots, now I know who he is. But, if you don’t do your research or you make things up, you are going to totally blur history.
SK: Exactly. I read a novel about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, called The Secret Memoirs of Jacqueline Kennedy, and it was a horribly trashy book because nothing was true. Even though they had a bibliography at the end there was nothing true about her life or personality in that book. And that’s what is so wonderful about your novels, they’re fully-documented, every little thing is documented, and it’s wonderful to see the truth like that.
JSK: I want people to know John. I want them to know what he was really like, not what I think he was like.
I hope you all have enjoyed this interview! Jude was a wonderful interview, and we will certainly hear from her, on this blog, in the future!
If you want to read Part One, follow THIS link.
If you want to read Part Three, follow THIS link.
Be sure to comment on this (and all the other) blog and visit Jude Southerland Kessler's Website to contact her and learn more about her project!
You can also follow her on Twitter! (Follow THIS link.)
Filed under: Interviews
Tags: abraham lincoln, adolf hitler, aunt mimi, catholic church, dan brown, george harrison, hitler, irving stone, john lennon, john winston lennon, jude southerland kessler, michelangelo, mimi, on the rock books, paul mccartney, ringo starr, shivering inside, shoulda been there, sistene chapel, the agony and the ecstasy, the beatles, the da vinci code, the fest, the fest for beatles fans