Sophie Dishman

Sunderland author Mark Blacklock reveals first novel.

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The Sunderland Literature festival is an annual event that sees literacy at the forefront of learning for children and young people. There are numerous events being held throughout the city in libraries, schools and other buildings that hold worth for the city. 

On Saturday, October 10, an event was held at the Canny Space in the Holy Trinity Church in Hendon, with author Mark Blacklock. He spoke about his novel “I’m Jack” and offered attendees the chance to ask questions about the infamous “Wearside Jack”.

Sophie Dishman had the opportunity to speak to Mr Blacklock about his first novel, his passions and his reasons for writing “I’m Jack”. Here’s what he had to say.


S: Could you introduce yourself for those that don’t know who you are?

M: I’m Mark Blacklock and I’ve written my first novel. I work during the daytime as a lecturer in English Literature at the University of London. I grew up in Sunderland but have lived down South for about twenty years. Before I was a lecturer, I was a journalist for 10 years.

S: Tell me more about your novel – “I’m Jack”. 

M: It’s in a mode that tends to be referred to as a non-fiction novel. It takes elements of a true crime story and works with those to build a fiction. In this instance, the story of the man who hoaxed the police when they were looking for the Yorkshire Ripper, who sent three letters, two to the police and one to the Daily Mirror in Manchester. George Oldfield also received a tape in the summer of 1979.

Police subsequently analysed it and located the dialect of the man speaking on the tape to a specific geographic area – what they thought was the Castletown area of Sunderland. This is the story told in the form of letters and documents of an imagined version of what the experience of the hoaxer was. He was discovered in 2005 to be a man called John Humble.

S: What inspired you to write the novel?

M: Where did things start? It’s difficult to pinpoint any one moment really, I’m a slightly obsessive reader and I hit on this through reading originally when reading David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet books. His four books which were set in the 1970’s and 80’s in West Yorkshire and the West Yorkshire Police and the various investigations they conducted around the time of the Yorkshire Ripper investigation. That was the first time I discovered that there was a hoaxer that came from Sunderland.

I was also working with ideas of identity in fiction and this seemed like a really useful way of looking at that. And I was very interested in my own obsessions with true crime and what was going on there and why people are and what’s going on when people get very interesting in these quite distressing and disturbing stories.

S: Where has your interest in the case come from? 

M: I spoke to my dad, as he’d been interviewed as were many people who fitted the age profile from Sunderland at the time and then reading more broadly. It’s a particularly interesting case because of course it spans two timelines – there’s the initial investigation that went so destructively wrong and then there’s the subsequent cold-case investigation in 2005, which actually found the hoaxer. I don’t think anyone had ever really anticipated that they would catch him. I was interested in that as well, in the differences in time.

S: What is the best thing about Sunderland and the Literature Festival?

M: The fact that it’s happening in places like this [Canny Space, in the Holy Trinity Church in Horden] and I’m very interested in the book with Sunderland’s own literary history. The fact that we had a monastery of Monkwearmouth that was producing texts that were exported across the world. This was a very important place right at the birth of written English. I think it’s absolutely wonderful that we now have a festival here to celebrate that, that is engaging with the history of Sunderland and enables us to look again at that long, rich literary history. Personally speaking its a joy to come back after being in the south for so long.

S: Do you consider writing to be one of your passions?

M: It’s an obsession. Passion’s one of those words isn’t it. Tends to be overused. It’s something that I do on a daily basis, it’s been part of my life for 20 years. I find that I tend to write things out a lot, that’s my way of thinking – doing it on the page. Particularly with a book as sort of fragmentary as this one, I think it really helps to be able to get stuff out there and to start fitting things together.

You can find Mark’s book in high street book stores and online.

Other events are happening as part of the literature festival. More information can be found on the Sunderland City Council website.

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