Billie's Bounce

Billie's Bounce

The tale of a biker chick
Jefferson Chase

26 April 2013

Publication: Issue 111

You might expect a book about a biker chick written by a blogger-journalist-spiritualist-tattoo-artist to be lurid, but you wouldn’t think it would be particularly successful as literature. So I was all the more astonished then at how just how good I found the 2004 novel Billie Morgen by Yorkshire polymath Joolz Denby.

My copy has a fist with skull rings on the cover, and Denby certainly pulls few punches in this tale of a good girl gone bad. But this novel is less exploitative exposé than well-observed meditation on loss, starting with the childhood abandonment of the title character by her father:

I didn’t try to be a rebel, rebellion was thrust on me; in fact, I hated it and rebelled on several occasions against being a rebel

Dad was everything to do with dreaming, and being Welsh, and him reading me Narnia, and poetry I didn’t understand by someone he called Mr Thomas and the smell of whisky and cigarettes and his aftershave… and his grey eyes fixed on far horizons and loose women.

Not a single word about the man’s appearance, yet still we can picture him quite clearly –a mark of Denby’s skill with character.

The lack of a father, and tomboy Billie’s difficulties getting along with her prim mother and sister, makes her drift toward hanging around with the ‘wrong’ crowd in provincial Bradford. By the time she’s 11, she’s gained some insights about the harsher side of human social behaviour:

I didn’t try to be a rebel, rebellion was thrust on me; in fact, I hated it and rebelled on several occasions against being a rebel and tried as hard as I could to be normal. It didn’t work – people sense an outsider like a dog-pack knows you’re scared. It’s atavistic, chemical.

After a brief detour into the drugs scene – this is the late 1960s – Billie begins buddying around with some local bikers.

They form less of a gang like the Hell’s Angels than a somewhat grubby club and a surrogate family. Billie even finds a husband among their ranks, although she does have to mind the prevailing social codes:

To barrack a bloke in public, to draw your man and his brothers into for no good reason other than narkiness and lack of self-discipline – mortal sins…What would it mean to Micky’s career as a potential gang-leader? Round and round it all went in my head until I had to get up and make myself a cup of tea.

The notion of a biker chick making tea probably strikes non-British readers as humorously quaint, but Billie’s story takes a dark turn as a murder ultimately destroys everything she has built up in her life.

Stories about subcultures this far on the fringe have to be convincing to work, and I found Denby’s completely plausible. It’s got the engine grease, bar fights and booziness you’d expect from a biker novel. But it’s also got levels of depth that caught me off guard.

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