‘The Whale Tattoo’: Jon Ransom on the Genesis and Journey of Writing His Debut Novel.

We caught up with the talented author to hear about how this unique story came to the world and what the readers can look forward to from the audiobook.

  • For fans of ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride, ‘Peach’ by Emma Glass and ‘Box Hill’ by Adam Mars-Jones
  • “With assured narrative, a vivid sense of place and atmosphere, and flint-sharp dialogue, Jon Ransom has written a novel that is bleak and brutal, but never sentimental.. utterly authentic and cruelly beautiful” – Matt Bates

Can you tell us about the genesis of the novel; how and where did the idea for the novel originate?

The Whale Tattoowas inspired by the sperm whales that wash-up on the Norfolk coast. These gigantic creatures are both surprising and disturbing out of water, with an almost prophetic nature about them. From here, sprung Joe Gunner – a working-class, queer lad, who believes death is chasing him after the whale tells him so.

How would you describe the journey of writing this novel? Were there any surprises along the way?

Writing became a way to navigate grief, after the death of my parents. I decided to write down the stories I’d kept out of sight inside my head – writing the first draft of The Whale Tattooon my mobile phone while riding the Citi 4 bus to and from work. Writing felt very visual and somehow musical. I just went with my instincts.

Water has a very visceral presence throughout the story. What is your connection to the water and what does it mean to you?

Norfolk can be wild and unforgiving, perfectly fitting Joe’s unsettled state of mind in ‘The Whale Tattoo’. The rhythm here is controlled by water. Tides shape everything. The ebb and flow of the water became the pull that carried the characters along, always moving, sometimes backwards, frequently with no real understanding of what is beneath the surface. This uncertainty drove much of the writing – in the sense that I didn’t really know what I was doing both in my own life and in the world I was writing about.

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How do you think listening to the audiobook will impact the reader’s experience of ‘The Whale Tattoo’?

Norfolk has a big oral tradition, and stories like ‘The Whale Tattoo’ lends itself perfectly to this medium. Listeners will find themselves immersed in Joe’s world, where the tides roar and the endless sky stretches out overhead.

(Scroll down to see a behind the scenes clip of narrator Luke Francis in the studio recording ‘The Whale Tattoo’, Jon Ransom’s stunning debut novel)

What do you most enjoy about the audio narration of ‘The Whale Tattoo’?

Luke’s enthusiasm and understanding of the characters in ‘The Whale Tattoo‘, and how they navigate the landscape, is infectious – as if he has lived these lives himself.

What is the one thing you hope readers will take away from this novel?

We all have the capability to hate, and that we can all make the choice not to.

Are there any words of advice you would give to the Joes of the world?

Recently, I was asked by The Big Issue to write a letter to my sixteen-year-old self. This is a brilliant thing for the Joes of the world to do – to remind yourself how you got where you are today, and that everything, even the hard stuff, will be alright.

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Luke Francis in the studio recording ‘The Whale Tattoo’, Jon Ransom’s stunning debut novel.
(Warning: contains strong language)

When a giant sperm whale washes up on the local beach and tells Joe Gunner that death will follow him wherever he goes. Joe knows that the place he needs to go is home.

Having stormed out two years ago, it won’t be easy. Nor will returning to the river alongside the house where words ripple beneath the muddy black water washing up all sorts of memories and disturbing prophecies.
Joe turns to his sister, Birdee, the only person who has ever listened and to Tim Fysh, a local fisherman and longtime lover – but reviving their bond leads to trouble.

Joe tells himself that the whale’s predictions are wrong but the river is relentless. As the waters settle, Joe learns the truth and finds that all of us can hate, but we can make a choice not to.

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