Although I’m always looking for items to cover in this column, I do draw the line at fan fiction. I’ve never cared for any that I’ve read — and, frankly, it’s enough to keep up with non-fiction releases.
So I was leery when Jude Kessler approached me about covering her book, “Shoulda Been There: A Novel On The Life Of John Winston Lennon.” When I mentioned my dislike of fan fiction, she was quick to make the distinction that her book isn’t fan fiction, but a “historical novel,” along the lines of Irving Stone’s books on figures like Abraham Lincoln and John Adams, or James Michener’s book “The Origin,” which Kessler cites as a particular influence on her own project.
“I decided to use the fiction format because I wanted to offer something that had never been done before — and in the world of Beatles books, that’s next to impossible,” she explains. “I don’t see well-documented fiction as inferior to non-fiction. In fact, I think it’s more difficult to do well. The writer has to add in the elements of character development, believable dialogue, and careful construction of mood/setting. There are so many factors with which a non-fiction writer doesn’t have to contend.”
“Shoulda Been There” is the first of a planned trilogy covering John’s Lennon’s entire life, the first volume covering the period 1940 to 1961. Jude is a first-generation Beatles fan who was introduced to the group in December 1963, when her best friend brought a Beatles 45 to school; she quickly became a committed Lennon fan. She also was interested in writing — she earned a master’s degree in English — and dreamed of writing her own book someday. Her eventual choice of subject was obvious. The decision to go the historical-novel route was to make the book stand out from the crowd.
“I wanted to create something that had never been created before in The Beatles’ world; I wanted to write a painstakingly researched and documented biography of John housed in a fiction format so that the work would be palatable to any reader,” Jude explains. “I wanted to entice readers who were not Beatles fans — but who simply wanted ‘a good read’ — to curl up with this book and discover the world according to John.”
Jude began work on her book in 1986 and finally made her first trip to Liverpool, England, in 1993, where, shortly after setting foot in the city, she was surprised to find herself unaccountably depressed.
“My husband, who knew how many years I’d waited to make the trek, was concerned,” she recalls. “‘What’s wrong? How can you be unhappy? You’re in Liverpool!’ Almost in tears, I told him, ‘But I’ve found that The Beatles aren’t really unique! Everyone in Liverpool is witty and cheeky and full of life. Everyone here is just like The Beatles!’ My very wise husband smiled and said, ‘Well then, instead of being in love with the Beatles, why don’t you just fall in love with Liverpool?’ And I did.”
And it’s Jude’s love of the city that gives her book its wealth of detail.
“I had to deal with dialogue — and get the Scouse right!” she says. “I had to create an authentic setting by actually going to Liverpool many times and learning how the city sounded, smelled and felt! I had to walk the streets and know how far The Jac was from the Art College and where The Grapes was in relation to The Cavern. I had taske