Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

I Don’t Belong Here: Cathi Unsworth’s Weirdo In 13 Albums

Author and journalist Cathi Unsworth talks us through the albums that inspired her new novel Weirdo. This feature will bring dark joy to the hearts of those whose clothes are black, whose lips are purple and whose witches are red

Photograph of Cathi courtesy of Nick Tucker

Weirdo is a novel about female transgression and teenage trauma, partially set in the world I inhabited when I was 16, a seaside resort town in Norfolk, in the fateful year of 1984. It centres on a schoolgirl called Corrine Woodrow, who was sentenced to life for the murder one of her classmates in the summer of that year. Corrine was a goth, or a ‘weirdo’ – that’s pronounced were-do, like were-wolf, in the local vernacular – and the ritualistic aspect of the killing also had her labelled a black magician, a witch.

Twenty years later, Sean Ward, pensioned out of the Met after an altercation with a teenage gunman, finds himself travelling to Corrine’s town of Ernemouth in search of evidence to back up new forensic findings that she didn’t act alone. There is someone else’s DNA on material gathered from the crime scene and if the owner can be found, then there is a chance ‘The Wicked Witch Of The East’, as the tabloids call her, could be granted a retrial. Sean has never encountered the atmosphere of a small town before, let alone one that guards its secrets as closely as Ernemouth. But he does find help in the strangest of places.

Conjuring back the year of 1984 was made much easier by returning to the record collection I spent all my money on back then. I couldn’t cram in everything – conspicuous by their absence are The Cramps, The Birthday Party, The Damned, Lydia Lunch, a ton of psychobilly, The Cocteau Twins, The Redskins, The Three Johns and many others whose work I pillaged in my previous foray back to the Eighties, The Singer. But these records seemed to have the most relevance to the story I was telling, and the most poignancy in the re-listening. There are also a couple that were anathema to me, for reasons I will explain, but which do, I think, best illustrate the cultural landscape we were wandering – or being manoeuvred – into at the time. For the most part, this is the black and purple, patchouli-oiled, anarcho-punk Eighties – the decade that is never remembered on all the nostalgia programmes.

To see Cathi’s Baker’s Dozen, click on the photo below

First Record

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