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.

 

 

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Why I am a privileged writer …

This is the piece I have written for Luna’s Little Library Diversity Month. It was hard to choose a subject this year. I felt stuck for choice. I sometimes feel that all we need is a reboot of the Black And White Minstrels Show for the full 1970s flashback to be complete. Or perhaps I should stop channeling my inner pessimism. Perhaps.

Although it took me a while to get published, I never doubted the fact that I could write. I also know that I have an upbringing that, eventually, has endowed me with confidence in certain settings.

So, before we celebrate an increase in UK-based writers who are not white, I want to explore why people like me get through and others may not.

https://lunaslittlelibrary.wordpress.com/2017/11/21/i-am-a-writer-with-privilege-by-patrice-lawrence-diversitymonth/

 

 

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?

My partner knows a coroner. I never saw that coming. (Notes from a debut YA author.)

Yah!  I have a two-book deal with Hodder!  I have signed on the dotted line for my first young adult novel as well as another stand alone one to follow.   I am actually being paid money for this.  Yay, again!  Last Man Standing, will be published in March 2016, Indigo Donut, (title may change…) in March 2017. This is good news.

Actually, it’s amazingly excellent news.  Such good news that it  made our local paper, as well as The Voice newspaper, the website of a prolific local blogger and our local freebie. I was even interviewed on Colourful Radio, sitting in the corner of a north London park, on a bench between the goats and the deer, on my way to work.

And I have wanted to be a writer since.  Just since.

So, how did this deal come about?  I researched the young adult market – that is, loitered with intent in Charing Cross Road Foyles and scanned my daughter’s shelves.  She’s into manga.  Not helpful.  I also started planning a crime novel set in 1940s Port of Pain, a society still facing up to the impact of the second world war, colonial rule and a programme of de-slumming and emigration.  If you’ve seen Errol John’s play ‘Moon On A Rainbow Shawl’, you know what I mean.  A setting ripe for drama and random poisoning.

I took my collection of ideas to an Arvon crime-writing course, tutored by Dreda Say Mitchell and Frances Fyfield.  About halfway through the week, we were given an exercise to help us hide information – a sentence that had to be embedded within a paragraph or so.  The rest of the group had to guess the sentence.  I was presented with ‘He woke up dreaming of yellow’.  So – what was on my mind?

The obvious.  Mustard.

A few weeks earlier, my daughter and I had used the day of a teachers’ strike to check out Hyde Park Winter Wonderland.  Everything was so pricey that after a couple of rides – her, not me, I’m a coward – we only had money left for one hot dog to share. So – what if?  What if two young people are at a fairground? It’s their first date and the boy is a bit uncertain.  He hates mustard but he’s going to eat that hot dog the girl’s just bought him because it’s a sign.  She’s claiming him.  The date’s going well and then what’s the very worst thing that can happen?  After I wrote that, I just carried on writing.

There was no plan.  Characters emerged from a murky subconscious and vicarious wish fulfillment.  The mother I’d like to be, the 15-year-old I wish I’d been, the big brother I wanted, were all there on the page.  And what was at the core?  The press release mentions gangs, drugs and guns, but that wasn’t what really interested me.  I wanted my protagonist, Marlon, to be a lovely young man, a bit quiet, a bit geeky and with an enduring love for vinyl records.  I was fascinated by what would tip a boy like that over.  Why would Marlon Sunday, who can name every Earth, Wind and Fire album in order, risk destroying his family and his future?

First draft done, after a thorough critique from my writing group, priceless mentoring and the complete removal of a subplot, I was getting there. The book had always been like a jigsaw, but now I had the right number of pieces.  I had to keep trying until the picture looked right.

Caroline Sheldon, my agent, sent it to a number of publishers. My first meeting with Hodder was in an office with a wonderful view and premium biscuits.  I fell in love and eventually it was requited.

So what have I learnt from this so far?

1. My partner knows a coroner.  I honestly never saw that coming.

2. Local newspapers really like good news. So –

3. It’s good to have a couple of decent hi res pics to send off.  My hair is its own lifeform.  In the photos you will see it trying to escape.

4. I somehow have to balance shameless and modest self-publicity.  Haven’t quite worked out that one yet.  However, promotion is vital.

5. The joy of getting to the 300th edit.  There will be more polishing, but I feel that we’re nearly there.  (Aren’t we?  Say ‘yes’!)

6. How pleased and encouraging my friends are!

7. I have a full time job, a teenage daughter, a needy cat and a heavy clad allotment.  I should learn to multitask.

I’ll (try and) keep you posted about book cover selection, promotion and all those new experiences as as we edge towards publication. Px