Indigo glow

ya prize 2018

On the first day of March, the shortlist for The Bookseller YA Prize was announced. It’s World Book Week this week – originally a day, but sort of expanded – which means that many children’s and YA writers are shuttling between schools, being sliced at by the wind and tripped up by the ice. Consequently, I missed the original announcement. I’ve come to learn that all schools are constructed from mobile signal-proof materials and no tweet will ever make it in, or out.

As I slowly defrosted over the bus from Ham to Richmond, I checked my phone.

Indigo Donut has been shortlisted for this year’s prize along side last year’s fellow shortlistee, Alex Wheatle and many wonderful authors. (I actually already have five of those books and the rest were on my to-buy list). There was also a very well-deserved special award for Stripes publishers for the A Change Is Gonna Come anthology.

Last year, my debut YA book Orangeboy won the prize. I was stunned, grinning and downright overjoyed. I also hoped that it would push the door open even wider for stories written by and about young men and women of colour. Marlon’s story is just one of thousands. However, with less than ten books by UK YA writers of colour being published in the UK this year, the door feels a little stuck. I am constantly reminding young people that their voices are important. The fact that the English exam curriculum does not celebrate a diversity of voices should not make young people think that they don’t matter. They do. They are funny and creative and full of their own stories.

Orangeboy shouted. Indigo Donut is quieter. It is about enduring love, belonging, trust and grief. The characters have families with roots around the world, just like the people I see every day. ‘Race’ isn’t explicit, but there will be readers who completely get the moments when who you are makes a difference from the exoticism projected on to mixed heritage people to the humour that young Muslim people may use to negotiate a sometimes hostile world. Though, most of all, it is about being a Londoner.

I am startled and downright pleased to be on a shortlist that includes Philip Pullman and Patrick Ness, writers that I read long before I had a hope of being published. But once more I hope that Alex Wheatle and I and publishers like Stripes can help push that door open even more.




Random trigger songs

It’s that moment when you have one ear on the radio and the other – well, it shouldn’t be on anything at all. You should be writing. IN SILENCE. Often, if asked to remember a song that reminds us of a specific moment or puts us in a certain mood, we can raid our memories and come up with something.

But what about those ones that take us completely by surprise? You hear the first few notes and you are thrown back to your childhood or a forgotten moment? You never knew that you remembered it? I use music a lot in my YA books – Blondie rules the soundtrack in Indigo Donut.

What are random trigger songs? These are mine.

Firstly, this. My Aunty Flo who lived above my foster mum took me to see this at the cinema. It must have been a re-show because I was only one when the film came out. I LOVED this scene. My primary school laid on a production of ‘Oliver’ – child abuse, prostitution and domestic violence, what’s not to like? My best friend, Lucy, was Nancy.  Me? I was the flower seller, of course.


This one – I have no idea why. I think it’s because my daughter was little and we put together a little mixtape and this was on there. Luckily, I have no cool to lose by singing along. (Just any friend who may be in close vicinity to witness it.) What became of 3 of a Kind?


When I was little, we spent summer holidays in Ceriana, near San Remo with my stepdad’s family. The first time I went, two English-speaking songs were big. One was Don McLean’s Vincent aka Starry, Starry Night. The other was this. It throws me back to wandering down La Strada stopping for ice cream at Antonia’s and eating watermelon and tomatoes and olive oil on San Remo beach.


Now over to the calypsonian, Lord Kitchener, known to anyone who has seen the news clip of the SS Empire Windrush docking in Harwich. I must admit, I had no idea he was on it until recently. I discovered him through my Aunty Baby in Arouca, in the mid-70s. I loved this. Though, to be honest, the casual mention of slapping his wife really does bump me. Oh, that golden era way back before women demanded equality.


And, finally. ‘Do I know where hell is? Hell is in ‘hello’.’ This. I can not remember a time before this existed. My mum had the double album. I think the film was long and either Clint Eastwood or Lee Marvin were in long johns. Still, rediscovering this is what You Tube was invented for.

What songs shape your stories?

20160205_095020I was asked to write a blog for World Book Day Teenfest, by coincidence on the day it was announced that Maurice White had died. I know some Earth Wind and Fire songs, but Marlon, in ‘Orangeboy’, is one of their biggest fans. So I wrote the blog about the music we inherit and the music pass on… (It is also a snapshot into hairstyles past.)

Check out the blog here.

What are your inheritance tracks?

From disco-y wetlook to virgin Brazilian


In homage to Americanah’, a spot more hair business.  There was actually a sign in a local hairdresser advertising Virgin Brazilian hair.  We weren’t sure if the adjective was being applied to the donator or the hair itself.  I’m afraid I was too much of a coward to ask.

Anyway, it makes the days of wetlook and gericurl seem so much more innocent.