Highgate novelist pens first book on being ‘deeply affected’ by 7/7 attacks

Jennie Ensor, author of Blind Side

Jennie Ensor, author of Blind Side - Credit: Archant

Debut novelist Jennie Ensor writes on the trials of getting her 7/7 inspired psychological thriller finally published

The other day I walked past my local Highgate Bookshop and had a thrill to see my newly released book prominently displayed in the window beside Neil Gaiman’s latest title. And to top that, the bookseller asked me to come in and sign copies!

This is the stuff of many writer’s dreams, including mine. Now, finally my dream has become reality. This evening, the paperback edition of my debut novel Blind Side will be launched at Daunt Books, Hampstead

It’s been a long journey getting to this point. In late 2015, after three novels and years of getting knock-backs from agents, I decided to approach publishers directly with the work I most wanted to get out there: a psychological thriller set in 2005 London, that is a tale of terrorism and sexual obsession.

That November I had two offers in one week, one from the crowdfunding publisher Unbound (known for its prize-winning essay collection, The Good Immigrant) and the other more conventional.

Unbound’s offer was conditional on me crowdfunding the cost of producing the e-book. Whether or not to accept was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make – I was attracted to their reputation for high quality books and dynamic way of doing things, but knew it would be a hell of a lot of work to raise over £3,000. (Funding is via £10 and up ‘pledges’; so to get a book in print requires a large number of supporters.)

Thanks to my persistence (I hate giving up on anything) and the amazing support of family, friends and fellow writers, I reached my target after three months. Blind Side was published as an e-book last July with the input of a leading editor and cover designer, and was the first title released in Unbound’s digital list.

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I started writing what was originally called ‘Ghosts of Chechnya’ in 2005, well before the July terror attacks. Back then, my three protagonists: Georgie, a relationship-averse young woman, her close friend Julian, and Nikolai, a recent Russian immigrant to whom Georgie is strongly attracted, were scarred by incidents in Chechnya where Nikolai was conscripted to fight.

He was inspired by someone I knew who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder due to events in his childhood. I intended Nikolai to be a wounded soldier from the start; his Russian background came after I saw pictures of the shocking devastation resulting from Russia’s bombing of Grozny, Chechnya in 1999, and read of the conditions in which Russian soldiers fought. I wanted to explore the impact of war-time experiences on Nikolai, and I knew that the story would involve guilt, loyalty and betrayal.

But after 7/7, I realised I had to make London and those terrible events in July a significant part of my novel.

Like many other Londoners, I was deeply affected by the assault on the capital and the resulting climate of fear and suspicion. The revelations that three of the four terrorists were ‘homegrown’ from Yorkshire struck me especially and resonated with a theme in Blind Side, ‘the enemy within’. Writing the novel, I drew on my experience of being in London that July, and in the months before and after.

In the early stages of researching Blind Side, I spent long hours tramping alongside the Regent’s Canal and trying not to get lost on the maze of paths covering Hampstead Heath. Although there is a past strand set in Chechnya – the incidents I describe are based on actual and probable events that took place there during the region’s second war with Russia – most of the novel takes place in north London in areas I know well. (I’ve been a Highgate resident for eleven years.)

Georgie lives in affluent Hampstead; Julian has a chic apartment in trendy Camden Lock. Nikolai, a labourer surviving on low-paid work, lives in Finsbury Park only a few miles to the east but a world away from Hampstead’s leafy avenues and fashionable cafes.

I’ll leave it to you to read exactly what happens, where… Blind Side can be ordered from Amazon and is stocked in selected bookshops including Daunts at 51, South End Road Hampstead where it launches Thursday March 16 from 6.30-8pm. All welcome.