The author and campaigner talks to Nic Crosara about their memoir A Working Class Family Ages Badly
In Juno Roche’s memoir, A Working Class Family Ages Badly, the writer and campaigner utilises masterful prose to guide readers on a journey through their life. The audiobook for their memoir has also been narrated by none other than the incredible prize-winning poet Joelle Taylor. If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?
DIVA: Thank you for talking to DIVA. Congratulations on your amazing memoir. How does it feel to see the responses you’ve received since its publication?
Juno: I write really openly and honestly, and I think that then you put it out into the world and you go “oh my god”. People send me pictures of them reading it on the tube and I think “no, no”. It’s a weird process, it’s a very beautiful process, I feel very privileged by the process.
In your own words, how would you describe this memoir to those who are yet to read it?
I would say, I’m in my late 50s and I’m trying to make sense of my life. I’m trying to make sense of the parts of me that always felt like an outsider, and how much of that was to do with being working-class, to do with being queer, to do with being trans, to do with being HIV positive. Or how much of that was just to do with the interpersonality of my upbringing, the kind of relationships that were formed or weren’t formed.
It’s a really deep dive into some themes that I think are fairly universal. You know an awful lot of us are working-class, an awful lot of us are queer, an awful lot of us have other intersections that make us feel like we’re outside of something that the thing that we’re outside of is never really clear. So I suppose I really wanted to explore that.
And of course we have to talk about Joelle Taylor who narrated the audio book.
Yes we do! I’d kind of always known their work, I think their poetry is fantastic.
We’d never met and then we were both doing a Polari event a couple of years ago and it was after my second book had come out. And my second book was dedicated to my best friend Avalon, who was a butch Black dyke, who died a few years ago of cancer.
[Joelle and I] were talking, I was like “I just wanna acknowledge that this book is dedicated to my dear friend Avalon” and Joelle said really weirdly that one of the poems they were gonna read out was also dedicated to Avalon.
It was like a really emotional time, Avalon changed so much about the world around them. And so when it came to wanting someone [to narrate the book], I never read my own books because I’m too emotional. I knew I wanted a strong presence, a woman to be really present in the words and it didn’t matter where they were from, it didn’t matter if the accent was right, all that mattered was that they were really present. I just knew it had to be Joelle.
That sounds like it was fated from the backstory. Working-class voices are often left out of conversations, especially in publishing. What do you think could be done to improve this?
Allowing working-class writers to have more of a platform than just writing one, singular traumatic memoir. Because then, It becomes almost pornified in the sense. What they want from us is a rags to riches story. They still want that but then they want it encased in that, and if you go “well no I want to write about the accumulation of sexism that goes in that, or what happens to that violence, what happens to the resonance of that violence, where does it go?”. You always feel like you’re asking for one more present, or one more gift.
Make a commitment to working-class writers, as writers, not as working-class writers, and then you might genuinely change things. I think that’s really important, I think that otherwise we just become “the Black queer writer”, “the working-class writer”.
Well said thank you. And if it’s okay to talk about one of your previous books Gender Explorers for a moment. I was very happy to see it featured in the hit queer show Heartstopper. How did it feel to get that nod?
After a time all of my books become like children that I really care about. I wish I had children but I don’t, but my books become like children and they go out into the world. So genuinely I was just really proud, it was like a kid of mine had done really well. I have a television but I don’t really have access to watch stuff. So I knew nothing about Heartstopper at all, and then I started to get all of these emails from people saying, “what does it mean that your book is in it? What does it mean that this character is reading your book?” I got Netflix on my laptop just to find out. I just felt proud because that book is about people exploring gender, that’s why it’s called Gender Explorers. And a lot of the kids that I interviewed, they didn’t know the word “trans”, they didn’t need the word “trans”, they needed the word “exploration”, they needed to feel free to explore what it was they wanted to explore.
Are there any other projects you’re working on that you can tell DIVA readers about?
I have two more books I want to write, the next one and the one after that. They form a kind of trilogy using the memoir format. Apart from that I just want to garden, I just want to look after my trees and enjoy walking in the mountains. I’m coming over in September to do a small book tour starting in Scotland and working my way down to London.
A Working Class Family Ages Badly by Juno Roche – Dialogue Books, £18.99
Audiobook narrated by Joelle Taylor – Audible, £21.99 or 1 credit
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