When did you first know you were a writer?
I’ve written stories and poems, for as long as I can remember. I’ve always lived in families that are different from those around me. My mum was an unmarried single mother when it was still stigmatised—and there were no families like that in the many, many books I read. I’ve also never lived in a family where we are all the same skin colour, so I always thought that there were so many other stories out there. I lived with a foster mum until I was four while my mum finished her nursing training and found somewhere for us to live. My foster mum signed me up for the library and encouraged me to love reading, which also fed into my writing.
I was lucky that I had very patient friends, who I made read my poems and perform my plays as well as teachers who encouraged me to write and read widely too. Interestingly, though, I thought of myself as a writer but never an author. In my eyes, working class black girls from single parent families simply couldn’t be authors.
What are you working on now?
A new YA about a 16-year-old girl whose older sister doesn’t return from taking their parents to the airport for their honeymoon. She has to brave the forbidden territory of her sister’s bedroom to find clues about her sister’s disappearance. Also, a short story inspired by a young African boy called George Alexander Gratton. He was born with the skin condition vitiligo and was brought to England and exhibited as part of a travelling circus. There are some other projects I can’t mention yet…
What inspired you to write Rose, Interrupted?/What is your favourite part of the book?
It was actually Harry Potter – and the fact that I hadn’t read the books! Many children’s writers are big fans and sometimes I felt like I was missing out. My daughter also had a friend whose faith prohibited her from reading or watching anything that referred to magic or spiritual forces that weren’t God. I wanted to take this to the extreme. What if you left a very closed anti-tech society where you knew the rules and found yourself with all this freedom, including social media, but had no points of reference? I also wanted to explore hidden poverty, people working many low paid jobs and barely surviving.
I really enjoyed compiling the lists! I learned about demons, rebellious women and had a chance to geek out over musical theatre and Simon and Garfunkel. (I also read all the Harry Potter books as research for Rudder!)
Share an interesting experience you’ve had with a reader.
I was visiting a school a couple of years ago and a reader gave me a mixtape – an actual real tape cassette – of music inspired by Indigo Donut. It was even wrapped in ribbons matching the book’s cover. I nearly cried. I’ve also met older and younger adults who share some of the experiences with characters, including being care-experienced or having parents in prison.
In my talks, I always explain why I include mixed heritage characters – it’s about authentic representation. I talk about the many times that people decide to comment on our family or expect my daughter to ‘explain’ her identity to them. Mixed heritage readers always find that completely relatable!
How would you describe your writing style in three words?
Eavesdropping bus talk
What is the best advice you’ve received?
‘Take out the weird internet guy’. That was from my writing group in the early stages of Orangeboy. It took a while to dispose of a beloved subplot, but when I eventually did, it opened up the story to explore the characters in more depth.
What are you reading?
I’ve just finished an early proof of Danielle Jawando’s debut YA And The Stars Were Burning Brightly. I’d cried three times by page 34. It’s outstanding. A friend bought me a copy of The Travelers by Regina Porter for my birthday. I look forward to diving into that. I’ve also been getting into audiobooks recently. I absolutely love the audio versions of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series.