Meet Jacqueline Roy Author Of The Gosling Girl

"I like flawed characters, they are so interesting to work with" says Jacqueline Roy about her main character Michelle in her latest novel The Gosling Girl. She delves into themes such as systemic racism, guilt, responsibility and identity in this powerful thriller. Michelle was convicted as a child of murdering a white girl. Now an adult released with a new identity, she's called in for questioning about another murder...

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Book cover of The Gosling Girl by Jacqueline Roy

TW: Jacqueline, congratulations on The Gosling Girl. Tell us why this story was personal to you and why you wanted to write it.

JR: I’m very interested in questions of guilt and responsibility and how identities are formed - what makes us the people we are - and when a child kills another child, these questions are thrown into sharp relief. There are some well-known cases of children committing murder at a very young age: Robert Thompson and Jon Venables in the 1990s and a much earlier case, that of Mary Bell in the 1960s. These children were each named by judges at their trial, which resulted in huge exposure and persecution by the media. I followed these cases and was fascinated by them, particularly with regard to the reporting of them and the responses of the public. 

I found myself wondering what it must be like to have killed at the age of ten, before you really have a sense of who you are, and to carry the consequences of this for the rest of your life. The children in the cases mentioned were given new names – new identities - and that was of great interest to me too because it meant that they carried this huge secret around with them, the secret of their crime, and their old names embodied this. Secrets and the need to hide is the stuff of novels, so I realised that a story about a child who kills another child was one I wanted to tell. As a black woman, I’m especially interested in racial identities, so the central character, Michelle Cameron, is of dual heritage. She has to come to terms with her very troubled past and this is compounded by the racism she experiences. 

There is also a black police officer in the story and the murder of George Floyd has reignited the need to think about institutional racism within the police force, not just in America but here in the UK. That too is something that is explored in the novel.

TW: How long did it take to write a first draft and did the finished version of the book change much along the way?

JR: I think a lot about a book before I begin to write it, so it’s hard to say exactly how long the whole process takes. I’ve written a previous novel for adults, The Fat Lady Sings, and several novels for children, and I always redraft extensively. I like to layer a book and I don’t work chronologically, I start somewhere in the middle with a piece of dialogue or scene that grabs me and then I move backwards and forwards from there. This way of writing means that it’s necessary to do a number of drafts to get the cohesion needed for the flow of the story.

TW: What, in your view, is/are the central message/s of The Gosling Girl?

JR: The writing I enjoy most is the kind that generates lots of questions for the reader, and that was my aim with The Gosling Girl. I wanted to prompt readers to think about things such as the way that we, as a society, often neglect children and the consequences of that. I also wanted to generate questions about discrimination and the way that power works, whether it operates through race, class, gender or sexual orientation. I wasn’t aiming to provide answers – the questions were the most important thing. But I also wanted to tell a good story. Readers don’t want to be preached at, they want to be caught up in the story and to believe in the characters in a book.

TW: How did you go about constructing the main female characters in the novel, particularly the character of Michelle?

JR: I wanted Michelle to be someone readers could relate to, despite her crime. This meant trying to make her as believable as possible. I like flawed characters, they are so interesting to work with. I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about what made Michelle tick and getting ideas about her background and her view of the world. I didn’t want to let her off the hook in any way - she killed a child - but I did want to make the reasons for her crime understandable. Once a character’s motives are understood, it's easier for a reader to feel some empathy for them, even if their crime is a terrible one.

TW: This is the first psychological thriller you have written. Is this a genre you wanted to write in? How has your career as an author lead you to this point, and the publication of The Gosling Girl?

JR: The psychological thriller genre is a really interesting one because it allows for some really challenging explorations of the limits of society – what society will and won’t tolerate - and it usually places people right on the edge. The Gosling Girl is the story of someone who is trying to find her place in the world and is also trying to negotiate some very troubled personal circumstances. 

My previous adult novel, The Fat Lady Sings, was also about identities and how we survive the really tough things that life throws at us. It focused on the psychological - it was set in a psychiatric unit - but it wasn’t a thriller, it was more about people and relationships. These are the things that drive my writing most. If my characters lead me towards writing in the psychological thriller genre, that’s where I’ll go, but it’s character that determines genre for me.

TW: The book deals with some difficult subject matter that reviewers have called ‘powerful’ and ‘thought-provoking’. What has the overall reaction been to the book so far, and has it been received the way you thought it would be?

JR: I’ve been delighted with the way that the book has been received so far. ‘Thought-provoking’ really is the biggest compliment. I was worried that readers might think I was ignoring the victims of crime in presenting quite a sympathetic perpetrator in Michelle Cameron but that doesn’t seem to have been the case. I certainly tried very hard not to. The title of the book, The Gosling Girl, refers to both Michelle Cameron and Kerry Gosling, the child that Michelle was convicted of killing. The Gosling family are by no means at the centre of the novel but I did want to show that the murder changed their lives forever too -  that seemed very important.

TW: As someone who writes about Black British Identity, do you believe the future is looking a little brighter in the industry for emerging black writers as well as marginalised voices? Can more be done to help promote their work?

JR: I think the future is looking brighter for emerging black writers. When I was first published - some thirty years ago now - it was much harder for black writers to be taken up by major publishers. It was thought that our books were a minority interest and they wouldn’t sell. There seems to be a recognition that black British writers are part of the mainstream and not just for Black History Month. My hope is that books by black writers continue to contribute to a sense of what it means to be British. I hope the interest will last and not just be about what’s in vogue.

TW: What next for Jacqueline Roy?

JR: I’m working on a new novel for adults at the moment. I can’t say much about it yet but it’s very exciting to be writing another book and to have the space and time to do that.

TW: What do you read for pleasure? What stories in the psychological thriller genre have impressed you?

JR: I read all kinds of different genres of writing for pleasure. In the psychological thriller genre, Dorothy Koomson’s novels stand out for me.

Quick fire questions:

TW: The last novel you read?

JR: I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy of Ashley Hickson-Lovence’s new novel Your Show, which will be published in April. It’s about a black referee and I enjoyed it a lot, it’s very original and well written.

TW: A novel you recommend everyone read?

JR: A Harlot’s Progress by David Dabydeen, a wonderful historical novel about the slave trade – a hard read but a brilliant one.

TW: Your favourite way to relax?

JR: Listening to music, everything from soul to hip-hop, and watching music videos.

TW: Your favourite film or TV adaptation of a book?

JR: Noughts and Crosses.

TW: Your favourite tipple?

JR: I’m a big fan of mocktails.

Thanks Jacqueline, so are we!

Author photo of Jacqueline Roy copyright Clare Wright

More about The Gosling Girl:

Monster? Murderer? Child? Victim?

Michelle Cameron's name is associated with the most abhorrent of crimes. A child who lured a younger child away from her parents and to her death, she is known as the black girl who murdered a little white girl; evil incarnate according to the media. As the book opens, she has done her time, and has been released as a young woman with a new identity to start her life again.

When another shocking death occurs, Michelle is the first in the frame. Brought into the police station to answer questions around a suspicious death, it is only a matter of time until the press find out who she is now and where she lives and set about destroying her all over again.

Natalie Tyler is the officer brought in to investigate the murder. A black detective constable, she has been ostracised from her family and often feels she is in the wrong job. But when she meets Michelle, she feels a complicated need to protect her, whatever she might have done.


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