Cathi Unsworth is a novelist, writer and editor who lives and works in London. She began her career on the music weekly Sounds at the age of nineteen and has worked as a writer and editor for many other music, film and arts magazines since, including Bizarre, Melody Maker, Mojo, Uncut, Volume and Deadline. She was the regular crime paperback reviewer for The Guardian between 2006-2012.
Her first novel The Not Knowing was published by Serpent’s Tail in 2005. Set in London in the early 1990s, it tells the story of movie wünderkind Jon Jackson, who has revitalised the gangster genre with his hit film Bent; Diana Kemp, a young journalist on the make; and Simon Everill, a talented but troubled fiction writer. All three have secrets that connect them, but who knows how much will only be revealed when a killer cuts between their worlds of rackety Camden Town pubs and exclusive Soho clubs, binding them in blood.
This was followed the next year with the Unsworth-edited short story compendium London Noir, an A-Z of what lies beneath the official city maps. Contributors included John L Williams, Ken Bruen, Stewart Home, Patrick McCabe, Joolz Denby, Max Décharné, Sylvie Simmons and musician-turned-noir-writer Barry Adamson, whose story Maida Hell was the recipient of an Italian crime-fiction award.
In 2007, Cathi’s second novel The Singer explored the legacy of post-punk in the story of disillusioned music journalist Eddie Bracknell’s search for Vincent Smith, lost lead singer of a once legendary band, who disappeared twenty years before Eddie got his first byline. Set from 1977 to 2003, between Hull, London, Paris and Lisbon, The Singer was described as: ‘A heartbreaking elegy for the Blank Generation,’ by The Long Firm author Jake Arnott.
Bad Penny Blues, a story inspired by a set of real-life crimes, the unsolved ‘Jack The Stripper’ murders of 1959-65, was published in 2010. Set against a background of rapid social change, the narrative moves through a world of illicit sex parties, pornography and police corruption that extends through Ladbroke Grove’s mushroom clubs to the mansions of Belgravia, uniting the upper classes with the women of the street and those who exploit them, while all the time, a phantom killer is leaving a trail of naked bodies in and along the Thames. The author’s aim with this work was to create a parallel universe in which an explanation could be offered for these bizarre crimes that tied together a series of intriguing coincidences uncovered during the course of its research.
Weirdo (2012) is a tale of teenage trauma and female transgression set on the Norfolk coast between 1984 – when schoolgirl Corrine Woodrow is sentenced indefinitely for the ritualistic murder of a schoolfriend – and 2003, when re-examination of the forensic evidence suggests that the ‘Wicked Witch Of The East’ did not commit her crime alone. PI Sean Ward, pensioned out of the Met after an altercation with a teenage gunman, finds himself investigating another juvenile delinquent when he agrees to take on Corrine’s case for the QC determined to get her a retrial. But in the resort where the crime unfolded, outsider Sean enters a world which has always known how to look after its own. Weirdo was shortlisted for the EDP-Jarrolds East Anglian Book Of The Year, longlisted for the New Angles Prize, the Gordon Burn Prize, the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year and the Grand Prix De Littérature Policiére for 2014 in its French edition, Zarbi.
Cathi’s latest novel Without The Moon picks up on themes from Bad Penny Blues and is based around the true-life cases of Gordon Cummins – the ‘Blackout Ripper’ who murdered four women and attempted to kill at least three others in the space of one week in February 1942 – and the killing of Margaret McArthur, thrown from the Waterloo Bridge construction site in 1943. The cast includes some real-life Scotland Yard detectives, Fleet Street journalists and an amazingly eccentric anti-capital punishment protester, woven in with wide boys, working girls, mediums and spies, all carrying out their assignations under the Blackout. It is the first in a series of novels which aim to follow the course of London criminal and social history, as seen through the eyes of those who work amid the rich and powerful, the powerfully corrupt, the press and entertainment business. Having spent two years researching the 1940s, Cathi was delighted to be asked to provide the introduction to Arthur La Bern’s It Always Rains on Sunday for London Books, and help to promote a real lost classic of this era.
As well as working on her books, Cathi regularly takes part in live events, including screen talks at The Barbican, literary talks at Bishopsgate Institute and for The Sohemian Society; and has led guided walks around Camden, Fitzrovia and Ladbroke Grove. She has worked with musicians including Pete Woodhead, Terry Edwards, The Cesarians, Paul A Murphy and Sophie Loyer in live and recorded situations. Last year, along with fellow authors Travis Elborough and Syd Moore, she co-curated the noir-themed Dragnet tent at the Village Green Festival in Southend, which brought together a mix of noir, horror and Fortean writers and musicians in a wonderful big-top seaside setting. Hopefully the first of many.
For more information, please visit www.cathiunsworth.co.uk