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 do all books about Africa look the same?

Who gets the acacia tree and sunset treatment? The eyes peering above a swept across veil?  The profile of a soulful black woman?   A grimly, amusing article from The Guardian about book cover cliches.

Meeting my hero, Eileen Browne

20130709_174128 They say ‘don’t meet your heroes’.  I beg to disagree.

Last year, I was lucky enough to work with the illustrator and writer, Eileen Browne, on a project to promote literacy in prisons.  Even though my daughter is now 14, we still flushed out her old copy of ‘Handa’s Surprise’, to get it signed.  However, it was the books about Jo, a child with a black mother and white father, just like my daughter, that I am grateful for.  According to the vast majority of children’s picture books, families like ours didn’t exist.

 

Wait And See Tony Bradman & Eileen Browne

 

Eileen delivered a workshop on writing for children to young fathers in a London prison.  Many of these men were not accessing the prison education service and approached the workshop with great caution.  The impact was considerable and many saw the workshop and the stories it inspired in them as a way to link with their families and children.

Now Eileen, along with other writers, is challenging the publishers on gender.   There is is still a perception that while girls will follow protagonists of both genders, boys are only interested in boys.  Better get Katniss on to that.

From Lambeth Archives: Stories for one parent families

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I love archives.  I’ve recently been rummaging around archives in Hackney to write an updated history of Hoxton Hall.  In such a short time, my head was buzzing with the stories of Hoxton folk from the past.  Counterfeiters, asylum managers, workhouse attendants, fences and costermongers… a Sunday evening BBC series waiting to happen. This leaflet from Lambeth Archives also feels like a historical document, albeit much more recent.   There is the language; one parent families, single parent families, lone parent families – the adjective shifts.  I also smile, a little sadly, because Lambeth has also been portrayed as the ‘loony left’, a gift for any subeditor who fancied a little light alliteration.   I could imagine a leaflet like this being held up as the epitome of political correctness. But the thought that someone, somewhere wanted children to feel a connection to a book, to see a world that reflected their own, makes me feel rather warm.  I really like people who are willing to do that.  Seriously.  I really do.

Who’s that boy?

Demoltion1

 

Four blokes stand in the ruins of a 1930s building.  They are be-suited and flat-capped.  It is 1936 and they are part of the demolition team taking apart the Alhambra Theatre in London’s Leicester Square.

The Alhambra underwent a few transformations in its 82 years of life, including a rebuild after a fire.  In 1936, it was finally demolished and the site is now occupied by one of the eye-wateringly expensive cinemas that host the occasional red carpet do in central London.

I found this photo on the fab Arthur Lloyd website that tells the story of Victorian music hall and theatre and tracks the buildings left behind.

But…  but…

In the middle of this picture, bold as brass, is this little boy of African or Caribbean heritage.  Sure, I know that there were many black people in London before our official history apparently starts in 1948.  But doesn’t this just make you want to tell a story?  Was one of those men his father?  Had he meandered in for the photo?  Has someone’s grandad pointed to that pic and told them about the day the Alhambra came down?

I seriously wish I knew.

Patrice

PS. Three months gap!  Ouch, sorry.

One’s for posing, two’s for the parents…

Come on!  You have to do it, don’t you…

The publisher usually sends five free copies.  I kept one, sent one to my Aunty in Trinidad and gave one to my husband’s parents, my parents and my best friend’s mum. Which leaves… Damn!  Where’s that gone, then?  I’ve always wondered what other writers do with their freebies.

 

One's for posing, two's for the parents...

When a brown boy colours himself pink…

“I was so frightened I set up a publishing company!”

From vexation to inspiration – the wonderful Verna Wilkins, founder of Tamarind publishing company, now an imprint of Random House, talks about why and how she started up.

I’m just off to the Equip conference on equality in publishing, so hoping for a day of challenge, discussion and inspiration.  I’ll also make sure I take good notes!