Oyez oyez

I marked my 5th blogiversary and promptly disappeared from the blogosphere. Ongoing family stuff, you know how it is… So this is a have-to-write-one-now-or-may-never-make-it-back post. It’s a miscellany of announcements. Are four items enough for a miscellany? A mini-miscellany, perhaps.

First, my enterprising German translator Michaela Pschierer-Barnfather persuaded me to record an extract from The Infinity Pool – me in English, she in German from Der Infinity-Pool. This is for the YouTube channel TranslatorsAloud –  also on Twitter @LoudTranslators. It’s a great site showcasing literary translators and my debut novel is privileged to provide their first item of translation out of English! Literary translators (indeed all translators) are an overlooked and undervalued breed. In the days of foreign travel I often used to marvel at the number of bookshops and the size of their translated stock, the evident enthusiasm of overseas readers for the words of other cultures and languages. Meanwhile we in Brexit Britain point our stubborn, leaky boat vaguely towards Australian harbours that probably don’t want us. I invite you to be the judges of my recording as I can’t bear to watch more than a few sentences of myself. Michaela’s came out really well and I do wish this hard working, professional translator and everyone else on this fascinating site good sales and many enjoyable projects to follow. Here we are in all our glory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDq9QFu2NrQ&t=4s

Michaela

Second, I promised fellow author and blogger Gail Aldwin I would publicise her blog on mine. Gail has many gifts – writing, teaching, warm encouragement of fellow human beings – but also one problem. For some reason Facebook will not let her post items from her blog, which is just rotten for an author. Anyway, back in March Gail approached me for a review of her book This Much Huxley Knows. I snapped that I don’t take review requests. She apologised for asking and offered to review The Magic Carpet instead and to interview me on her blog. I took her up on both offers, and the review was great. How generous is that? I said – in some shame – I would reblog my guest post from her blog. Then WordPress wouldn’t let me. The social media gods really do have it in for this blameless person. So she suggested I copy and paste it. But I think it’s better read in its original home on Gail’s blog because then you can also explore her books and the writer services she offers. Thank you again, Gail, for the opportunity, and I wish you good luck with your books and better luck with social media.

Item three. Many indies dream of getting a “proper” publisher, but fate can still intervene against mainstream publishers and authors. You may have read a rave review I wrote of Kevin Sullivan’s first-in-a-new historic Glasgow crime series, The Figure in the Photograph, published by small but historic firm Allison and Busby. Sullivan writes a jolly good detective yarn with engaging characters, interesting themes and evocative settings. This series opener should have been launched at Glasgow Waterstones in Spring 2020. Does anything about that ring a plague warning bell? Waterstones had put up their Covid shutters and didn’t reopen for months. The stylish hardback edition was destined for a library market but libraries closed too. When the paperback and follow-up hardback, The Art of the Assassin appeared in early Spring 2021 the bookshops and libraries were still shut and launches and festivals were online promise only. Some new books have found a voice via social media but I’m sure these are not the only new books which have gone under the general radar. Anyway – three cheers for another grand yarn of Edwardian wrong doing in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Juan Cameron the Scottish/Spanish detective-photographer hurtles round gracious riverside houses, stations, theatres and slums as he mixes with Viennese professors, Cuban exiles and women who on the whole are brighter than he is. Do track this slightly bumbling sleuth down. We all need good reads this rotten May as hailstones replace lockdown to keep us still indoors.

Sacré bleu! The last laugh lies with my fourth item. Comedian Ian Moore ‘as also created a new detecteev, wiz apologeez to ze French. Death and Croissants will be published on 1st July and already comes recommended by Alan Carr, Josh Widdecombe, Sarah Millican, Adam Kay… If you can’t get to France this summer this may be the next best thing. It’s even been compared to Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club, although I’m too jealous to read him so I can’t comment. I wish Ian every success, and if you can’t wait there’s a free prequel available here, with a quiz thrown in. Amusez-vous bien!

It’s nice to be back, but for now au revoir.

©Jessica Norrie 2021

We’re going on a blog tour!

When I published The Infinity Pool in 2015 I barely knew what a blog was, let alone a blog tour. I didn’t envisage blogging myself, and I had no idea of the goodwill, time, energy and commitment put into spreading the word about books by bookbloggers, helping readers choose and writers survive.

More experienced authors pointed me in their direction and I began to get in touch with them, mostly via Facebook. It could be laborious – not because the bookbloggers were obstructive or unhelpful, quite the opposite. They were generous, informative and kind. But life became full of tasks and lists:

  1. Identify and visit blogs.
  2. Get a deeper sense of their flavour by exploring a number of posts.
  3. Read guidelines, consider if they apply to me.
  4. If they do, construct a polite contact email.
  5. Await a reply, consider whether to contact again (most bloggers are very prompt about responding so this wasn’t often necessary. However, a sub task was keeping a record of who I’d contacted.)
  6. Sort out what I had to do when they replied with an invitation, eg write guest post / send blogger a copy for review / answer blogger’s q and a / fit answers to quirky format only used by individual blogger to help them stand out. Send them.
  7. Put together all the other documents they need, eg extract / links to buy book / author photo and biog / social media links / cover images. Send them.
  8. Make a note of the date the post will appear.
  9. On that date share it on Facebook, Twitter and anywhere else I can think of, bearing in mind that overkill is, well, overkill.
  10. Share it again later (remember overkill though. And underkill.)
  11. Thank anyone else who’s shared it on Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  12. Now I have this blog of my own, reblog the post (having first remembered to ask if the original bookblogger is happy with that).
  13. Respond to any comments, on the original blog and my own.
  14. Thank the bookblogger…
  15. Add details to my file of “online presence” because agent told me publishers like to see authors have one when considering whether to take their books.
  16. Repeat…

It all takes time; my eyes even then were finding it a strain spending too much time gazing at screens; my grasp of Twitter was (and remains) more a case of clutching at straws.  

As one kind early reader of The Magic Carpet said, “Such an impressive leap forward!” Now a proud author second time around, I’m about to have my very own blog tour for #The Magic Carpet. No’s 1- 8 on the list are taken care of by the blog tour organiser – huge thanks to Anne Cater at #RandomThingstours! I’ll certainly still be contacting bookbloggers who aren’t involved at some point, but for now I’ve enough time on my hands to spend some of it adapting a much loved children’s rhyme (appropriate as my book involves children discovering the power of stories and words). 

MC blog tour

To the tune of “We’re going on a bear hunt!”

We’re going on a blog tour. It’s going to be a good one! I’m a bit scared  – What will the bloggers say?

Uh uh! A guest post! A compelling original guest post! I can’t not write it. I can’t write badly…Oh, gee! My audience is waiting!

We’re going on a blog tour. It’s going to be a good one! I’m a bit scared  – etc.

I did write more verses but I’ll save them for a rainy day when I can’t think what else to blog about. A troll comes into it, but I think we have him licked. I’m sure you get the gist.

Anyway, whether readership, reviews and sales rise or not, THANK YOU to the clever, generous, unpaid, sharing bookbloggers from The Bookwormery, The Magic of Wor(l)ds, The Book Decoder, Herding Cats, Random Things Through My LetterboxA Little Book Problem, B for Book Review, TheBookCollector32, Being Anne, and Over the Rainbow Book Blog for showing my book to the world from Monday 16-Wednesday 25 September. Also for spreading the word about books in general, to benefit readers and writers everywhere.

The Magic Carpet Advert 2

©Jessica Norrie 2019

In praise of beautiful writing

Such an obvious thing and so easy to overlook: stories and books are composed of words so it’s the words that matter most. In these days of unreliable heroines, bodies eviscerated in infinitely revolting ways, and rush-to-the-finish plots, what a refreshing pleasure it is to be greeted by an author who won’t let you pass on by without stopping to admire her words. And having paused, you find yourself re-reading and reciting them to benefit fully from the careful cadences.

25064563This week I’ve been reading Edna O’Brien’s The Little Red Chairs. I haven’t finished it yet, I’m not even half way through. I’m on a walking tour through musical Irish prose and I’m in no hurry for it to end. The plot is important, she makes that quite clear, and so far it has included many different ideas as well as events, with first hints and then revelations of domestic betrayals and terrible, true war crimes. But I’ll consider the plot as a whole when I reach the end. For now I’m lingering in the language.

Note: I started writing this when I’d read about a hundred pages. I read some more this morning, and O’Brien has jolted me back into the plot with a twist more shocking than I’d anticipated. Interestingly, now I’m propelled by events, I’m not finding the language so engaging. Nonetheless for those hundred pages I was enraptured by words as mesmerising as waves breaking onto the shore. Since they’re what I set out to look at, they’re what I’ll continue with for now.

Some of her language is poetic; these lines occur within just four pages:

“Clouds chased each other across the heavens that bright afternoon, when she drove into the hotel car park. It was much further south and the air was balmy. Yes, clouds on a great maraud, up there staging a tournament.”

“…she heard the lilts and hollers of children.”

“From the slant of the hall light she saw the spray of rain on his hair…”

Some is indirect speech, rhythms and phrases caught in the present tense like pinned butterflies:

“Sister Bonaventure is lost for words and also worried about the palpitations. She can hardly believe it. A surprise party and she thinking she was going to the chapel to say the rosary.”

Some is fierce: “As for the bodies, that was a matter for the engineers, hence the zillions of secret graves that litter our land.”

“He is all alone (…) with the frozen lostness of the abandoned.”

Such care taken: active  “clouds on a great maraud” where most would settle for “marauding clouds”; an “also” added to Sister Bonaventure’s worries, mirroring her speech and also echoing the sounds of the word “lost” that preceded it; “zillions” – I thought, is zillions a real number? Is it childhood slang for a massive uncountable amount beyond thinking and reason? Juxtapose “zillions” with engineering projects to create “secret graves” and you see how naivete and carelessness, attractive attributes in childhood, can lead adults to genocide. I’m still only a couple of pages further on, and the pickings are rich. Yes, words on a great maraud, staging a festival between the covers.

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See “Country Girl” for O’Brien’s own account of her writing and her life.

I don’t have the patience to take such care crafting my own prose. I didn’t start writing, like Edna O’Brien, in my late teens and I haven’t nearly reached my late eighties, and even if I’d had her time, it’s unlikely I’d have developed her skill. I do try to write well. I try to construct clear sentences, of varying length for interest, with one appropriate word instead of a blitz of six. I try to make them lead on from the one before, without unnecessary length or repetition or cliché. Unlike O’Brien, I haven’t spent a lifetime listening, adapting, honing and polishing, consorting with Marianne Faithful and Marlon Brando and undergoing therapy with R D Laing, interviewing terrorists and piling up literary prizes in the bulging trophy cupboard. Nonetheless, I – we all – can learn from her.

In this matter of cadence, what makes a beautiful sentence? For O’Brien, her Irish heritage provides a sound (in all senses of the word) foundation. “Lilting Irish” is a cliché, but clichés only come into being because they are true. So much Irish prose, poetry  and song does lilt – but lilting implies lulling and Irish writers inevitably go on to pack in a shock. Think of Yeats’ first lines: “Although I’d lie lapped up in linen”; “I think it better that in times like these”; “On the grey sand beside the shallow stream” – then look up what comes after. Think of Beckett, Molly Keane, Toibin, Boyne, Anne Enright…no, I’ll think of them for another post, on Irish writing, another time.

The Irish are front runners but often the language of a title signposts a book from elsewhere whose language will stop you in your tracks: “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller” (Italo Calvino), (as beguiling in translation as in Italian); “After Leaving Mr MacKenzie” (Jean Rhys)“If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things” (Jon McGregor); “By Grand Central Station I Sat  Down and Wept” (Elizabeth Smart). (Note how many of these titles start with what is now inflexibly labelled a “connective” in school English teaching.) Or the effect could be gained from something as small as a comma: “Cry, the Beloved Country” (Alan Paton). These elegiac titles precede lyrical prose, while economical, clean, precise writing may be heralded by a single powerful word: Persuasion (Jane Austen); Futility (William Gerhardie); Atonement (Ian McKewan).

 

Exposure (Helen Dunmore), which I reviewed here, also has a one-word title announcing gleaming prose. Dunmore is of course a poet as well as a novelist, her words as thoughtfully arranged, selected and refused as in her verse – test any page by reading a paragraph aloud. Another of my favourite writers, Julian Barnes, has written extensively of his debt to Gustave Flaubert. 10746542Nobody took more care with prose than Flaubert, who would spend weeks on a single sentence and coined the term “le mot juste” which ecompasses infinitely more meaning than the translation, “the right word”. In my review of The Noise of Time, I discuss how Barnes uses language to make the reader stop, and think.  Incidentally (but perhaps it’s not incidental) good prose can be more successfully re imagined in other media: the recent film of Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending is concise, clear, meaningful, allowing the reader/viewer space for reflection, as are the successful film versions of McEwan’s novels.

This was a small reflection on words. I could go on, but I’d like to hear examples that you have found beautiful, and we can take a moment to share them. Perhaps as well as the words themselves, space, and silence – the spaces between words, the sounds between the notes – are what make these works so special. I think I’ll look at that next time.

©Jessica Norrie 2017

 

Prose and Prosecco

Sadly, “Prose and Prosecco” isn’t a newly unearthed Jane Austen novel whose intelligent heroine triumphs over a bubbly rival. The two words describe a more mundane dilemma: how to take up the pen (well, mouse) again after Christmas and New Year?

hibiscus-2Rich food has clogged my plot, chocolate stuffed my characters, and I certainly wasn’t inside the head of my devout Muslim heroine while glugging snazzy cocktails. This year there was an unexpected and beautiful present on Christmas Eve: a jar of hibiscus flowers and a bottle of Crémant de Loire to start us off in style. I thought I deserved it – I’d posted off a seasonal article that very day and another the day before on this blog.

The label on the hibiscus flower jar said “average contents 11 flowers” so in order to waste not and want not we also tried them with Prosecco and pink champagne (too sweet, crémant is best). I’d promised myself the week after Christmas off (though I hankered after escaping the clutter and decorations for the quiet of my study), and since my blog posts oil the wheels of the Great Second Novel, it too ground to a halt. prosecco-1I spent days sofabound, reading. Reading is essential for any author and these books were gifts: Margaret Drabble and Somerset Maugham and a new Austen biography, tales from and of establishment figures happily received despite my having been rather preachy about diversity just before the Prosecco season began. Such reading is not helping the Somali mum take shape. The plot, never very distinct, has receded altogether and the characters gone on leave. The world looks fuzzy…

When I remembered to make a resolution, it was to spend less time on social media. Authors are supposed to use social media for marketing, but with only my debut novel still to market, and that now identified with the year before last, I need to produce Novel Number Two more than I need to faff about on Facebook and Tweet to an unlistening world. Although, perhaps one of the Facebook book groups would give me the stimulus  I need? Maybe in the form of a review to investigate or a discussion of writing methods and procedures? I broke my resolution in five minutes.

How depressing, to be honest. The main thread in the first, usually supportive, positive group I visited was about the objectionable behaviour of a self-styled reviewer/blogger who gets as many books as he can free and doesn’t bother to review them. I agree this is dastardly behaviour – no, seriously, I do – but by comparison with all the dishonesty, violence and abuse the world has seen recently the length, outrage and personal sniping of the comments thread did seem excessive. (Fortunately the threads were very soon back to their normal sense and sensibility.)

I tried another group, also usually helpful. This was even worse. More outrage, some justified, this time aroused by a tactlessly written, poorly researched Huff Post article about how bad indie authors are, on the lines of “If you can’t sell to an editor how will you ever sell to the public?” As I begin to note ideas for this post (Monday 2nd), the writer has issued an apology and claims to have received threats of rape and death. Her initially enraged critics have variously commiserated with her or disbelieved her, and the argument has set off again. The indie writers stake their claims to respect (rightly, though some would aid their cause by checking their spelling and grammar first). The traditionally published writers weigh in, one so aggressively I couldn’t work out whether the post was intended ironically or to be taken at face value – if the latter, just imagine you’ve been knocked out cold. Whichever side they’re taking, these people are all so FURIOUS! Happily it’s Friday now and either there’s a ceasefire, or everyone’s just worn out.

Those were books, authors and reviewers you were talking about, folks. People can discuss them in a light hearted way or a scholarly way. People can enjoy them, dislike them, ignore them, be mystified or delighted or amused or frightened by ambiguitythem, but they are only authors telling stories or reviewers of stories (most of the books referred to were fiction. I agree non-fiction has a different range of influence and importance.) Fiction is written and published via various economic models, one of which is currently threatening the market share of the other. How that will pan out is not yet known. But nobody is getting killed (except in fictional ways); nobody’s home has been bombed, nobody has been forced into hiding or tortured or lost their families. In every culture and every market, the majority of authors have always struggled to make a living, and that matters, but it won’t be solved by a mass throwout of toys from the pram.

The world has huge problems. No point listing them, we all know what they are. In 2017 we’ll need intricate, complex, long lasting, multi faceted diplomatic conversations and careful, damage minimizing action to resolve even a small number of the political, environmental, and economic difficulties we face. And we can’t even talk about book reviewing and publishing without flying into a rage?

It makes me wonder whether it’s even worth writing my Somali mum, supposing I can beckon her back from the shadows? The Prosecco tastes sickly in the light of so much anger: I need to find a more serious drink to divert my attention. If the new book ever sees the light of day, please don’t use it, me, the publisher (if any), the reviews, the price, the genre or any other aspect of its existence as ammo in a slanging match.

(Update January 2021: I just re-read this post. The Magic Carpet – link above and on my home page – was published in summer 2019. In other respects the world has got even worse. I still stand by everything else I said here, but I’m learning to use shorter words and sentences.

prosecco-5
Happy New Year!

©Jessica Norrie 2017

How well do you know your characters?

An author of fiction must inhabit the world of their characters convincingly. But how far may they travel from their own experience to do so?

Clearly, authors of fantasy and science fiction have the most leeway. Nobody can know what it’s really like to be an imaginary creature, an alien or someone/something from the future. Authors of historical novels must make an imaginative leap fuelled by as much accurate research as possible. But how about those of us writing contemporary fiction? Can men write as women, gay people as heterosexuals, white people as Asians or Africans, the British as Poles or able bodied writers as those with a disability? Can Ian McKewan write as an unborn child? (Of course that is an experience we’ve all had, and it seems from the reviews  that he can.)

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A fellow author recently posted in an online forum that she had been taken to task in an Amazon review thus: “You are unbelievable as an adolescent black girl from the South“. It’s one of only 2 poor reviews out of 66 excellent ones for a prize winning book that involved many years of research, but it concerned her. It’s clear from her Amazon page and other reviews that she had thought deeply about her right to tell the story, but the reviewer’s complaint worried me too, as I’m currently writing my second novel set in East London (UK). It would hardly reflect the location if I didn’t include many different ethnicities, so I have to speak in their voices. Previously, in The Infinity Pool, I didn’t find the voice of a young girl from a rural Mediterranean community a problem and no one (yet) has suggested I’ve got it wrong. But are a Punjabi grandmother who grew up in India, a Hong Kong Chinese father and a Somali single mother who came to the UK as a toddler steps too far for this middle class, solvent white woman? Having taught in multicultural schools for 33 years, I thought I knew their user groups well, but now I’m stepping inside their homes and their heads, and there is a scary amount of scope for accidentally giving offence, misrepresenting or simply promulgating stereotypes. At times I think I’ll give up, but I have my story, and my teaching experience, and I don’t want to waste either of them.

In one area I looked at, I found at least two YA authors who’d overcome my reservations. Here’s a 51ch1bjotslmale author in the voice of a Somali girl who is about to be cut, and a white female author in the voice of one who manages to avoid it. Do they sound authentic? It would take a Somali woman to tell you, but the stories were vivid, compelling and exciting. Cutting is not a major theme in my novel, but in the course of checking assumptions about my own Somali character, I did background research and found UNICEF reports showing the almost universal prevalence of FGM in Somalia has only dropped by 2% in recent years despite all the efforts to oppose it. (In other countries campaigns have been more successful, as they have among Somali families in the UK.) I asked one such campaigner whether white western authors should attempt to speak in the voice of somebody whose experience is so far removed from their own. Her reply was that given the lack of success on the ground her colleagues now look to writing and journalism to change hearts and minds. Fiction may put the case where other means have failed. But of course, the fiction must be well written, well researched (and available, but that’s another story).51mrzlcrrml-_sy346_

So why have doubts? Let’s consider these scenarios: men writing as women and vice versa; parents writing as childless adults and the other way round; adults writing as or for children; social drinkers writing as alcoholics, healthy people as invalids; vegetarians writing as meat eaters; humans (well obviously) writing as animals? Some of these sound ridiculous: of course writers should tackle such challenges. If we only write about ourselves, there would be even more navel gazing white dinner party novels than the indigestible number there already are. But may I, a solvent, educated white middle class woman write in the voice of a refugee on an overloaded boat somewhere off the coast of Greece? May I write in the voice of a prisoner despite a parking ticket being my biggest ever brush with authority, or in the voice of a doctor even though I failed chemistry O level? I think I’ve decided yes, if I write convincingly, do my research, avoid stereotypes and above all if those people are necessary to my story. (Although they could also be bystanders, mentioned just to acknowledge they exist, so the default model for fictional characters isn’t white, middle class, able bodied, hetero…) There, problem solved. I’ll get on with it.

But then I read The Good Immigrant, a collection of essays by BAME writers in the UK, recently featured on BBC Radio 4. This is timely, entertaining, angry and should be compulsory reading for…everyone. Do you get stopped at airports? Searched when waiting at a bus stop? Have you had a headscarf ripped from your head as you go to buy a sandwich? Won all the school prizes, graduated with first class honours, and still not been shortlisted for a job unless you change your name? Do you never see yourself reflected on a screen or in a book, or if you are, only as a stereotype (minicab driver, terrorist, arranged bride)? You probably know actors no longer “black up” to play Othello nowadays, but did you know “yellowface” is still in common use? These writers are angry with reason. They want to be portrayed in all kinds of media, but they don’t want to be portrayed as stereotypes (I must take very good care) or with tokenism (I mustn’t use “namaste” as a shortcut to showing how well I understand people of Indian ethnic origin). Above all they want to be portrayed as everyday characters whose ethnicity is incidental and who do not have to win Olympic gold medals or have their skins lit like Beyoncé’s to be an acceptable part of UK society.

61twx2rf9vlI saw what they meant about stereotypes and authenticity when I looked at the time scale for my novel. A digression will illustrate the point. I do not follow any religion (an idea the children I taught almost unanimously found appalling). But my family celebrate Christmas, in that we eat special food and drink a lot, buy presents, spend £35+ on a pot plant that we throw away two weeks later, and give more money to charity than at other times of year. Now imagine a novel with my family in it, set in December, that didn’t mention Christmas. Or imagine one that does, but gets fundamentals slightly wrong: Midnight Mass on Boxing Day, for example, or Father Christmas driving a sleigh pulled by ponies. These are the pitfalls I face if I write about “other” cultures – which I have been conditioned to think of as “other” even when I mean third, fourth generation “immigrants” who speak English better than I do. Mistakes that wouldn’t be noticed by some readers could well be offensive to others, and add to the pile of examples of “host country” ignorance. For that reason I’ve moved my six week long story to a year when it doesn’t fall during either the important Muslim festival of Eid-al-Adha or the important Hindu festival of Diwali (and yes, I do know Eid moves around the year). That way it makes sense that I barely mention them AND I avoid the pitfalls of getting details wrong. Of course, much other daily background detail remains and must be researched and referred to, both in the sense that it’s the same as for the majority community and for where it differs. But what do I mean, majority community? The parents of over 90% of children I taught in East London ticked a box other than White UK on their entry forms, and among that 90% around 25 different languages were spoken. There was no clear majority.

What if I get something as fundamental as names wrong? Somali women do not take their husband’s surnames (although now, in the UK, some do). Bhangra is not the only music Sikhs enjoy (and maybe some Sikhs don’t). Hong Kong has rural areas as well as the twinkling skyscrapers we all associate with it. Is Gulab Jamun a Bengali sweet or a Gujarati one? (Perhaps it’s both.) And the grandmother – what will her grandchildren call her?

Will every moment of every day be informed for my characters by their ethnicity? Here’s Bim Adewunmi In The Good Immigrant: “Here’s what black people do: we breathe air, we drink water and we fart noxious gasses, just like other people. Our hopes and dreams are similar, and alongside the various hardships we may suffer because of the way we look or where we come from, we largely do the same things – and that includes all the frivolous things too.” On the other hand will it not be? Himesh Patel writes: “In discovering so much about how my family arrived here in the UK, I discovered how rich their story is with the culture and traditions of their homeland, but at its core it’s a universal story about love and life.” In the shoes of my characters, would I be in fear of racism, or hate and despise it, or fight back against it, or not actually experience it much? globe-1There is one way I can respond. It’s true I’ve never experienced racism, but, having lived and travelled abroad, I have come across xenophobia – not so serious, but it may give an inkling. And there’s a better parallel. I am female, so I do know what it’s like to walk into a public social place and not see anyone else like me there (less so nowadays but that used to be true of all pubs and bars, and it was very intimidating). I do know how it feels to walk down a dark street and hear footsteps behind and think they may be those of an attacker. I have been on the receiving end of hatred and aggression, derision and disgust, purely because of the body I was born with.

And so I’m going to take the plunge, and write my Somali single mum, my Punjabi grandmother and my father born in Hong Kong. They will, after all, only be characters in fiction. They will not represent the entirety of their culture, any more than I represent the entirety of mine. The story is about family relationships and relationships with the school the children go to, before it’s about ethnicity. It’s just that – hooray! – I can’t write a London based story nowadays, with an all white cast, or even with a white majority. (I wonder what Dickens would have made of it?) I’ll give Himesh Patel the last word: “My heritage, while inherently linked to my ethnicity, only makes up part of the role I play in society – day to day I’m just another face in the multicultural population of twenty-first century Britain.”

©Jessica Norrie 2016