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Why Kate Bush? On Writing, inspiration and finishing the book

One of the first questions people ask when I tell them about In Search of Peter Pan is, ‘have you always been a fan of Kate Bush?’. And my answer invariably comes as a surprise. I’d never listened to Kate until after I started writing. In fact, I was about five chapters in before I finally sat down with my record player and listened to The Kick Inside from start to finish. What comes as an added shock is when I confess I wasn’t immediately taken by her.


Now, of course, having spent the best part of two years submerged in the Kate Bush fan scene, hunting down ticket stubs, rare interview snippets and watching back footage of what would be a once in a lifetime tour on repeat at three o’clock in the morning, I would say I’m pretty sold on the enigma that is Kate Bush. But still. Why Kate? Why base an entire novel around Kate Bush fandom if I wasn’t already a fan myself? Why not choose a different time, a different artist, a different obsession?


Kate Bush is far more than just her music. Kate emerged, a shy, softly spoken British artist in 1978, at a time when punk rock was marking itself the political voice of youth and ABBA was topping the charts. It was a time of discord and contradictions, with public service strikes, IRA threats, the rise of Maggie Thatcher and the harshest winter on record. People panic bought bread and Ford stopped making cars, Grease was the highest grossing film and the first test tube baby was born in Manchester. It was a period of unrest in every sense of the word, and in amongst it all was Kate singing in this high-pitched ethereal voice, moving in a way that could not then be compared with any other form of commercial dance. She was ‘alternative’, strange even. But seemed comfortable in being so and that, I think, is what made her so attractive.

When I set out to write this book I had one very clear theme in mind, and that was teenage fandom. Teenage fandom to the extent that my main character would base their entire identity on their idol, from the way they dressed and spoke, to the way they viewed themselves in relation to the world.


As it turns out, my MC’s idolisation extends so far that she permits her own identity to be completely cast aside, allowing others to know her as Kate rather than by her real name. She feels so at one with the image and persona she’s adopted that she forms connections with others based entirely on a shared obsession, speaking in lyrics and allegories, and in doing so stunting any opportunity for authentic connection or conversation. By taking fandom too far, my MC exacerbates her already burdening adolescent insecurities and denies herself the ability to take charge of her own sense of self. A classic bildungsroman journey with a soundtrack to bring it to life.

The only novel I’ve found to offer a similar trope was actually released during my writing process, and that was Andrew O’Hagan’s Mayflies. Set in 1980s Glasgow, Mayflies follows a group of teenagers on their journey to the “Festival of the Tenth Summer” – a festival commemorating the Sex Pistols’ first gig in Manchester. With themes of friendship, uncertainty during the rise of Thatcherism and failed fathers, O’Hagan adeptly portrays the gravity and absurdity of youth through the lens of what must be one of the most iconic cultural movements in British history – punk.


In film, Spike Island (written by Chris Coghill and directed by Mat Whitecross) was another source of comparison, conveying the story of a group of friends who idolize The Stone Roses and try to get into their seminal Spike Island gig without tickets.


Of course, music as a means of staking identity is a common theme in all mediums of storytelling, if not specifically attributed to a real living and breathing artist. And perhaps it’s foolish to be so specific. Alienating even? I hope not. But though there are a number of Easter eggs scattered throughout Peter Pan in the form of mis-quoted lyrics, snippets from interviews, outfits mimicking early posters and press-shoots, and even an unnamed character who, if you’re a true fan, you might recognise as one of Kate’s pre-fame bandmates, the book is not written solely for Kate Bush fans. It is a story of fandom, yes. But it’s also a story of growing up, of soul-searching, finding hidden meaning where there is none and of misinterpreting the world and yourself, and calling it freedom.

Okay, okay. Now that I’ve pontificated a little, let’s go back to the start. Why Kate Bush? The authorial answer is that Kate, her early works and her journey to stardom represented everything I needed my MC to feel about herself – her insecurity, sense of alienation, the desire to escape and the closely harboured belief that life has something new and exciting in store for her, all accumulating to a quiet state of imposter syndrome. At the start of my novel you’ll find a quote from Kate, taken from a 1993 interview in Details Magazine that I think encapsulates this perfectly:

“There is a person that is adored, but I’d question very strongly that it’s me.”

The writer's truth though (and trigger warning: this is going to sound really poncy), is that my MC led me to her. My newfound obsession with Kate bush was born, not through research for researches’ sake, but through getting to know my protagonist. By putting the needle back to the start of the record and listening from someone else’s perspective. And that is what I most love about writing. Taking my character by the hand and being led into an entirely new world, leaving my reality behind.


And on that note – calling all dreamers, delusionists and escape fantasists – I wrote a thing, and I think you might like it…




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