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April 2017

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Tom Fort asks which Writer Best Depicted the Reality of the English Village
28th April 2017 - Tom Fort

 

Tom Fort asks which Writer Best Depicted the Reality of the English Village

 

 

 

Tom FortTom Fort was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford. In 1978 he joined the BBC in London where he worked in the BBC Radio newsroom for 22 years. He lives in South Oxfordshire with his wife and two of his children and has been travelling up and down the A303 for over five decades. For his new book, The Village News: The Truth Behind England's Rural Idyll, on his bicycle Tom travelled the length and breadth of England to discover the essence of village life and explore six thousand years of communal existence for the peoples that eventually became the English. Below, exclusively for Foyles, Tom reviews some much-loved novels set in English villages and asks where we go for the most realistic depiction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Village News coverWe all love Jane Austen, don’t we, but the idea that she had anything perceptive or valuable to say about country life in the early 19th century is more than a little fanciful.  She set her stories in rural England but had no interest in how those outside her own class lived. They are wonderful stories - all about those like herself.

To get an idea of what a village in 1820s England was actually like, you have to turn to another female writer, who in her time was as popular or more so than Austen, but had a tenth of her talent and is now pretty much unread. Her name was Mary Russell Mitford and the village she wrote about was Three Mile Cross, a few miles outside Reading in Berkshire and still there – although not exactly alive and kicking.

Mitford came to live there in 1820, in a very modest cottage – still standing though much changed – to look after her mother and her father,  a financial and emotional leech of the worst kind who had ruined the family though his extravagance and manic selfishness. In her spare time she wrote sketches of the life and the people around her which were collected into a series called Our Village, which became immensely popular.

She certainly describes the village as it was, house by house and shop by shop. And she describes the small things – a cricket match, the hunt, haymaking, a walk in the woods – as well as the small people: housewives, the gardener, the publican and his daughter.  The problem – it’s all much too twee, too sentimentalised, and too jolly. The sun always shines and the dark clouds – the poverty, violence, alcoholism, abuse, misery and destitution that were rife – are kept away.

A little less than a century later, Laurie Lee – who always wanted to be remembered as a poet but was made immortal by Cider With Rosie – was born in the village of Slad in Gloucestershire. Cider is always hailed as the classic portrait of village life in Edwardian rural England – it’s only when you read it closely, as I did for the first time when in Slad to research my book, that you find out how little he had actually had to say about that life.

Lee’s overwhelming interest was in himself, rather than those around him. This was a working village – men and women toiled in the fields or went to their jobs in the mills in Stroud.  Life there was hard and limited – a struggle to survive.  The cottages were dark, damp and insanitary, and horrible things went on in them.  But for Laurie Lee, village life consisted of a series of stories to be told – sad, hilarious, farcical, sinister, but largely unconnected.  The enduring magic of Cider With Rosie is in the language, and the sense of enchantment it creates – not its faithfulness as a picture of village life.

At about the same time Laurie Lee was leaving Slad on a life’s journey that would take him to the Spanish Civil War and eventually back to the village of his birth, a little girl called Dora Shafe came with her parents to live in a Kent village called Chelsfield (near Orpington and now in Greater London).  She went to the village school for a few years, then to the grammar school at Bromley, then away and she never lived in Chelsfield again. Much later, under the pseudonym ‘Miss Read’, she embarked on a series of stories about village life which appeared at a rate of one a year for 30 years and became enormously popular.

The first of them was Village School, about that little school in Chelsfield – still there, and very sweet.  Weirdly, she casts herself not as the girl pupil she was, but as a female version of the headmaster, who introduced her to literature and inspired her with the love of words. Her fans loved her books because her village life was so innocently mundane. There was love but no sex, rows but no hatred, going short but no real poverty. She made village life what it has never been, and cannot be: an idyll.

So where do we go for truth and reality in the depiction of the village? The answer is Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford – but not, I hasten to add, the sugary BBC adaptation.  The first volume of the trilogy, published as Lark Rise in 1939, gives a uniquely honest, unsparing picture of life in an isolated agricultural village in north Oxfordshire at the end of the 19th century.  It is emphatically not social history – it is literature, and literature of the highest class.  The village – Juniper Hill, more of a hamlet really – is still there, but the world Thompson knew so intimately vanished long ago.  To know what it was like, you have to read her.

 

 

Philippa Gregory Looks Back on Thirty Years of Writing Historical Fiction
27th April 2017 - Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory Looks Back on Thirty Years of Writing Historical Fiction

 

Philippa Gregory is one of the world's foremost historical novelists. The bestselling Tudor Court and Cousins' War novels display her unrivalled talent in discovering the hidden stories, especially of women, in familiar history, skilfully combining period biographical research, psychological truth and fictional detail. In 2016, Philippa was presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Historical Fiction Award by the Historical Writers' Association. She graduated from the University of Sussex and received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where she is a Regent. She holds an honorary degree from Teesside University, and is a fellow of the universities of Sussex and Cardiff. She lives with her family on a small farm in Yorkshire and welcomes visitors to her site www.PhilippaGregory.com.

April marks the 30th anniversary of her first novel, Wideacre, which has been republished to mark the occasion with a new foreword by Philippa, an extract from which you can read below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was a young married woman, in my late twenties, living in a small town in the North of England. I had a newborn baby daughter and I was trying to finish my PhD thesis on the popular fiction of the eighteenth century. To prepare for this study I had read more than 200 novels published between 1740 and 1800 and had painstakingly compared the standard elements like sexual morality, the relationship to agriculture and the countryside, and the wonderfully bizarre: incest, banditti, even aliens. I believed there were identifiable themes in the novels and that they could be read together as a fictional world that sometimes mirrored eighteenth-century England, and sometimes denied and hid it.

 

Hoping to become an expert in the real and imaginary eighteenth-century world, I accidentally served the ideal author’s apprenticeship. Without intending it – for when I started at Edinburgh University I was 26 and really very scatty – I read myself into the art of the novel, and then started to write my own – longhand in a school exercise-type book. Where it read name I wrote my name, where it read form I wrote IVB (I had enjoyed my fourth year), and where it read subject I wrote with simple ambition: Best Selling Novel.

 

That was partly a joke for myself: I had been locked in a library for four years, I was ready to be amused by almost anything, but I found that I loved writing and became more and more convinced that it was a successful novel. I sent it to an agent who refused it, and then to another who accepted it. After a worldwide auction I had a three-book contract in the UK and the US, my first career path and the first steady income for the first time in my life.

 

I rarely tell this story because it is such an extraordinary one, it is not typical and not to be expected; and – worse – it encourages apprentice writers to think of writing as a route to fortune and fame, which it very rarely is. Writing is something so much more: the route to working in the finest and most accessible art form in the world.

 

It is an honour to work as a novelist, I have been learning my trade and practising my skills (for it is also a craft as well as an art) for thirty years – as this anniversary edition shows. To write a novel is to dedicate yourself to an art form which is universally and frequently enjoyed. The first novels I read were borrowed from the library, I bought my beloved collection of second-hand books for small change, and now I can read almost any published fiction in the world at the touch of a button. No other art form is so widely available, so regularly experienced by its audience, and so easily accessed.

 

Reading a novel is an exercise that is escapist – I tumble deep into the story, immerse myself in the fiction, and yet it has a powerful relationship to the real world. Even at the end of a story that is wholly imaginary there may be a sense of truth or a sense of powerful authentic emotion. I feel oddly contented when I have read a good novel. Not for the outcome of the story (though I admit to an unrefined preference for happy endings) but because something about the measured unfolding gives me a sense of delight.

 

 

Foyles' Find Your Way Through ... Depression
24th April 2017 - Frances Gertler

 

 

Foyles’ Find Your Way Through … Depression

 

 

Cover of 13 Reasons WhyThe new Netflix drama, based on the book by Jay Asher deals with the theme of teenage depression, as Clay Jensen receives a pack of cassette tapes in which his classmate Hannah Baker explains what drove her to commit suicide. The series has garnered a lot of attention, much of it negative, for its suggestion that suicide is Hannah’s only option, and for its graphic and disturbing images.

 

Australia's National Youth Mental Health Foundation, Headspace, is among the organisations that feel the series has done more harm than good. In the US, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education has expressed concern that ‘young people are going to over-identify with Hannah in the series and we actually may see more suicides as a result of this television series.’

Depression has been in the news for other reasons in the UK recently, notably with Prince Harry and Prince William publicly discussing the impact their mother’s death had on their mental health. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Prince Harry said, “I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well.” He, alongside his brother and sister-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, founded a mental health charity called Heads Together in May 2016, which has aimed to alleviate the stigma associated with mental health issues.

The interview with Prince Harry has been widely seen as a brave and important step that will encourage others to talk more openly about their mental health, especially depression, and to seek help for it without shame. His voice joins those of other high profile celebrities who have opened up about their mental health issues, including Ruby Wax, Bryony Gordon (who interviewed Prince Harry for the Telegraph), Will Young and Lady Gaga.  Mental health charity Mind reported that it is receiving almost 40 per cent more calls a day since Prince Harry spoke out publicly. Their Chief Executive Paul Farmer said: “This is a monumental time for mental health. It’s inspiring to see Prince Harry speaking out about his experiences. It shows how far we have come in changing public attitudes to mental health that someone so high-profile can open up about something so difficult and personal.’

Concern over teenage mental health has been growing steadily, whether that is because of greater awareness of the problem or the fact that this age group is widely regarded as being under more pressure than any earlier generation of teenagers, due to increased exam pressures and, particularly, social media. Last year, a new initiative was launched to provide 13-18 year-olds with high-quality information, support and advice on a wide range of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and self-harm, and difficult life pressures, such as bullying and exams.

Reading Well for Young People is part of the hugely successful Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme delivered by The Reading Agency in partnership with the Society of Chief Librarians and the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians. Co-created with a panel of young people who themselves have a mental health issue, the new Reading Well for Young People scheme uses book-based therapy to help them understand and manage their condition.

You can see the full list here, but here are our top five picks for helping young people deal with depression and anxiety.

 

Cover of Am I DepressedAm I Depressed and What Can I Do About it? by Shirley Reynolds and Monika Parkinson

A narrative approach with graphic elements, incorporating case studies and including some interactive exercises to provide an essential bridge for young people who have not yet asked for professional help as well as support for those who are waiting for treatment.

 

 

 

 

Cover of Can I Tell you about DepressionCan I Tell You About Depression? by Christopher Dowrick and Susan Martin

An ideal, illustrated introduction to depression - a condition that can be particularly difficult for children to understand. It is suitable for readers aged 7 upwards and shows family, friends and anyone who knows someone affected by depression how they can offer support.

 

 

 

 

 

Cover of My Anxious mindMy Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic by Michael Tompkins and Katherine Martinez

This helps teens take control of their anxious feelings by providing cognitive-behavioural strategies to tackle anxiety head-on and to feel more confident and empowered in the process. It also offers ways for teens with anxiety to improve their inter-personal skills, whether it be with friends, family, or teachers; manage stress; handle panic attacks; use diet and exercise appropriately and decide whether medication is right for them.

 

 

 

Cover of Mind Your HeadMind Your Head by Juno Dawson and Olivia Hewitt

Covering topics from anxiety and depression to addiction, self-harm and personality disorders, Juno and Olivia talk clearly and supportively about a range of issues facing young people's mental health - whether fleeting or long-term - and how to manage them. With real-life stories from young people around the world and witty illustrations from Gemma Correll.

 

 

 

 

Cover of Stuff that SucksStuff that Sucks by Ben Sedley

With a strong emphasis on validation and compassion, this encourages readers to accept their emotions rather than struggling against them. It also shows how to reconnect with what is really important, providing the tools to help clarify personal values and take steps towards living a life where those values can become a guide day-to-day behaviour.

 

 

* More and more authors are speaking out about their own struggles with depression and you can read our exclusive interviews with two of them here:

Debi Gliori discusses how there is still a stigma around mental illness, why there is much work still to be done to educate people about what exactly depressive illness is about. and why we have to evolve our priorities in order to allow our children to grow into the best people they can be.

Ruby Wax talks about how mindfulness has helped her achieve peace of mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meg Howrey on the Impossibility of Avoiding Science in Fiction
24th April 2017 - Meg Howrey

 

The Impossibility of Avoiding Science in Fiction

 

 

Meg HowreyMeg Howrey is a novelist and a former professional dancer and actor. Her non-fiction writing has been published in Vogue, and she is the author of the novels Blind Sight and Cranes Dance. She lives in Los Angeles.

Her new novel is The Wanderers, which fellow novelist Ruth Ozeki described as 'a transcendent journey into the mysteries of space and self.' Helen is an experienced astronaut with a NASA position and a struggling grown-up daughter who needs her but when, at fifty-three, she is offered a place on the training programme for the first mission to Mars, the most realistic simulation ever, she cannot refuse a last chance to walk among the stars. How far will she and her fellow wanderers travel in the pursuit of endeavour, and what will it be like to come home?

Below, exclusively for Foyles, Meg discusses why all writers of contemporary fiction are going to have to deal with science, and the interesting things that happen between and beyond the categories.

 

Author photo © Mark Hanauer

 

 

 

 

 

The Wanderers coverPhysics is often described as the study of matter and energy and the interactions between them. Sounds like a love story to me.

 

But is it a science-fiction love story?

 

In my new novel, The Wanderers, three astronauts have been chosen to be the first human crew to Mars. As part of their training — and as a test of their capabilities — they are asked to undergo a seventeen-month simulation of their mission. They are isolated, observed and monitored continuously; confined to a series of realistic environments, both spacecraft and Martian. The Wanderers is the story of these three astronauts, but also the story of the people the astronauts are leaving behind: a wife, a son, a daughter. It’s a story that concerns itself with identity, ambition and the problems of really knowing anything, whether it’s your family, your limits, or what’s really outside the window of your own particular form of spacecraft.

 

In preparing for the book I tried to learn — or at least absorb the surface of — a great deal of space science in order to ground the book in something that would feel plausible to a reader. For the person who understands in a profound way things to do with aerospace engineering and astrophysics, technical descriptions are as delicious and exciting as a dinner party in an Edward St. Aubyn novel is to me. I knew that I wouldn’t get to a real scientist’s depth of understanding, but  The Wanderers was never a novel about the technology of getting to Mars. (Unless you count the psychology of humans as technology, which the fictional space company of my book certainly does.)

 

So, what kind of book is this? Like most writers, I have this conversation a lot:

 

Person: What do you do?

Me: Oh, I’m a writer.

Person: Movies? Television? (This part is specific to the writer living in Los Angeles, maybe.)

Me: No, no. Fiction.

Person: What kind of fiction? Like, Romance? Mystery? Thrillers?

Me: Um.

 

When I give a capsule description of The Wanderers, which is impossible to do with using the words 'Mars' and 'astronaut', I hear: 'Oh, okay, so like, science-fiction'.

 

I’m not going to wade into the What is Genre debate. Possibly the conversation is in its death throes anyway. Unless you set your story in the past, all of us fiction writers are going to have to deal with science. Robots? Deep space? Genetic modification? Okay, maybe not quite yet. But we’re not that far from having to make the characters in any contemporary novel get into a self-driving car. (And any current novel that wishes to be interesting has to pretend that almost everyone isn’t continually buried in phones and rarely interacting for whole minutes at a time with other humans.) Possibly any novel that deals with contemporary America will need to be shelved in Horror.

 

We all know that putting things in groups is what our brains like to do. We really adore our categories, which not only serve an obvious evolutionary purpose ('that thing is in the group of things I need to run away from') but also make things that aren’t simple seem simple. Simplification makes us calm, more prepared to listen, follow or learn because we’re not busy trying to decide what this thing in front of us actually is. It’s a problem the characters of my book grapple with too. Unfortunately, categories are not built for nuance, which is where all the interesting stuff happens.

 

If I did my job properly, there are paragraphs in The Wanderers that will stand up as Science Fiction. If I did my job properly, there are paragraphs that might qualify as Literary. I hope there are a few sentences that could be filed under Comic. There aren’t any drawings, so I’ve missed an opportunity for Graphic Novel, but I did my very best with a chapter that tips to Erotic. A bit of Mystery, perhaps, yes. It’s probably not a Thriller, alas, although things do get tense.

 

A robot would have no need to put things into sections, or even alphabetize by author, but we are only human (so far) and we need to organize. I’m still a little amazed that something I wrote would make it into a bookstore — along with the Library, the most sacred of all architecture forms to me — and so I really shouldn’t quibble on the location it lands. Still, the book is called The Wanderers and it needs somewhere to land.

 

I just visited the Foyles website and clicked on the elegantly named category: Modern & contemporary fiction post c. 1945. Now, that’s a nice capacious way to go about it. Structured, but not limiting. A genre for all the many ways we are trying to make sense of ourselves and our world and the worlds to come. The first two titles are Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time. Excellent! The Wanderers will feel right at home.

 

 

 

Sara Paretsky Recalls a Childhood as the 'Town Giraffe' in Lawrence, Kansas
20th April 2017 - Sara Paretsky

Growing up as the Town Giraffe in Lawrence, Kansas

 

 

 

Sara ParetskySara Paretsky is the author of twenty-one books, including eighteen V.I. Warshawski novels. She was named 2011 Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and is the winner of many awards, including the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement from the British Crime Writers' Association and the CWA Gold Dagger for BLACKLIST. Visit Sara's website, www.saraparetsky.com, find her on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SaraParetsky, and follow her on Twitter @Sara1982P. Her new novel, again featuring V I Warshawski, is Fallout. Below, exclusively for Foyles, Sara remembers her childhood in Lawrence, Kansas and explains how the town has provided the inspiration and setting for several of her novels, including Fallout.

 

 

 

 

 

Fallout coverMy family moved to Lawrence, Kansas from New York during one of the worst floods in state history. Rain pelted us the day we arrived. I was four, and nervous about my new home: when my older brother went out with the dog, I was afraid they would disappear into the grey rain and never reappear.

I didn’t know then that many people disappeared in those grey rains. In a state with 2 million inhabitants, over 500,000 were displaced, including families who lived in the houses on the north side of the river in Lawrence.

Many of those homes did not have indoor plumbing in 1951. Many had dirt floors covered with a layer of concrete or plywood. North Lawrence was home to the town’s poor, and it was where the small African-American population was expected to live.

My father was one of the first Jews hired in a tenure spot at the University of Kansas. We were like the town giraffes – oddities to stare at, but rarely the target of hostility. However, when my parents decided to buy a house, the realtors informed them that the mudflats of North Lawrence were where Jews and African-Americans (called something rather more vulgar) were expected to live. Since my parents didn’t look or sound Jewish, the realtors said, they could buy property in the WASPy part of town – but people would be watching us.

My parents were furious: they opted out of the situation by buying a Civil War era house in the farm country outside town. My mother became active in the nascent Civil Rights movement of the time; my father kept teaching cell biology and studying his pet organism, coxiella Burnetti.

The way my family’s history twined with the town’s has called me back to Kansas several times. The rural house we moved to in 1958 provided the setting for my 2008 novel, Bleeding Kansas.

I returned to the town’s painful racial history for my new novel, Fallout. Unlike Bleeding Kansas, which was a standalone novel set in the world of my old friends and neighbours, Fallout sends my detective VI Warshawski out of her Chicago comfort zone into flyover country – America’s heartland.

I drew on my personal history more deeply for Fallout than for anything else I’ve written. In particular, I drew on an act of my father’s which continues to haunt me.

My dad was a mercurial guy, prone to numbing depressions, violent temper outbursts, but was also a meticulous scientist. He had no use for authority in any form – he came close to a court martial in World War II for organising a protest in the ranks because officers got Coca-Cola free but enlisted men had to pay for it. One of my mother’s brothers, a fighter pilot in the European theatre, swooped in and got my dad released from the stockade.

After the war, my father worked on rickettsia, an organism that causes typhus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Q Fever. Typhus was a major killer on the Eastern Front during World War II; the Russians spent a lot of time and money in the fifties and sixties trying to turn typhus into a bioweapon. One of their biggest bioweapons labs was in eastern Czechoslovakia.

My father’s own research hovered on the fringes of the bioweapons world. I tracked down someone at Fort Detrick, Maryland, where U.S. weapons research took place. This person looked through old security records and said my dad had never been actively involved in weapons work, but the Army was nonetheless interested in what he did; they helped fund his research.

In 1964, my dad went to an international rickettsia symposium in Czechoslovakia. He wanted to study the Czech strain of his organism, the one the Soviets were trying to weaponize. He persuaded a Czech scientist to inject him with it. He arrived home with a fever of 104 (40 C) but didn’t start antibiotics until his lab tech took a blood sample that he could culture.

Was he mad, obsessed, or thumbing his nose once again at authority by proving he could get the organism he wanted despite Soviet efforts to safeguard it? I’ll never know, but I can’t stop thinking about it. I wrote a short story based on the event for Jeffery Deaver’s 2014 Ice Cold anthology, but I couldn’t let go of it.

When I decided to use a version of this history for a VI novel, I could only imagine it in the Kansas of my childhood – the mad scientist, the angry mother, the racially charged town, the bleak but beautiful prairies. And so I sent VI there, to deal with a small town where everyone knows each other, and where however much they may dislike each other, they band together against outsiders.

In a small town, people may pretend that unpleasant, or even heinous, acts don’t take place. Speaking them out loud can destroy the carefully knit fabric that lets life go on. Dropping VI into that cosmos of lies, secrets and silence was like throwing a ball through a spider web – some of the strands cling stickily to the ball, but the web as a whole comes unravelled. I like to think everyone was better off for her throwing the ball – except, perhaps, for VI herself. She returns to Chicago cold and lonely while the people of Lawrence are celebrating Thanksgiving.

 

 

Angie Thomas Introduces The Hate You Give
18th April 2017 - Angie Thomas

 

Dear Reader... a Letter from The Hate You Give author Angie Thomas

 

 

 

Angie ThomasAngie Thomas was born, raised, and still lives in Jackson, Mississippi. A former teen rapper, she recently won a Walter Dean Myers Grant, awarded by the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Her debut, The Hate U Give, is a powerful and brave YA novel about what prejudice looks like in the 21st century. Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl's struggle for justice. Movie rights have been sold to Fox, with Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) to star. Read an introduction to her book below. You can find Angie on Twitter@acthomaswrites or visit her website, acthomaswrites.com.

Author photo © Anissa Hidouk

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hate You Give coverDear Reader,

 

I remember the first time I saw Emmett Louis Till.

I couldn’t have been more than eight years old. I came across his photo in a Jet magazine that marked the anniversary of his death. At the time I was convinced he wasn’t real, or at least that he wasn’t a person. What was supposed to be his face was mutilated beyond recognition. He looked more like a prop from a movie to me; a monster from some over-the-top horror flick.

But he was a person, a boy, and his story was a cautionary tale, even for a black girl in Mississippi who was born more than three decades after he died. “Know your worth,” my mum would say, “but also know that not everyone values you as much as I do.”

Still, Emmett wasn’t real to me. There was no way I’d ever have to worry about anything like that happening to me or to someone I knew. Things had changed, even in Mississippi. That was history. The present had its own problems.

I grew up in a neighbourhood that’s notorious for all the wrong reasons: drug dealers, shootings, crime, insert other “ghetto” stereotypes here. While everything they showed on the news was true, there was so much more that you wouldn’t see unless you lived there. My neighbours were family. The neighbourhood drug dealer was a superhero who gave kids money for snacks and beat up paedophiles who tried to snatch little girls off the street. The cops could be superheroes too, but I was taught at a young age to be “mindful” around them. So were my friends. We’d all heard stories, and though they didn’t come with mutilated photos, they were realer than Emmett.

I remember the first time I saw the video of Oscar Grant.

I was a transfer student in my first year at the college I’d later graduate from. It was in a nicer part of town than where I lived, but only ten minutes away from it, and it was very, very white. The majority of the time, I was the only black student in my creative writing classes. I did everything I could so no one would label me as the “black girl from the hood.” I would leave home, blasting Tupac, but by the time I arrived to pick up a friend, I was listening to the Jonas Brothers. I kept quiet whenever race came up in discussions, despite the glances I’d get because as the “token black girl”, I was expected to speak.

But Oscar did something to me. Suddenly, Emmett wasn’t history. Emmett was still reality. 

The video was shocking for multiple reasons, one being that someone actually caught it on tape. This was undeniable evidence that had never been provided for the stories I’d heard. Yet my classmates, who had never heard such tales, had their own opinions about it.

“He should’ve just done what they said.”

“He was resisting.”

“I heard he was an ex-con and a drug dealer.”

“He had it coming. Why are people so mad?”

“They were just doing their job.”

I hate to admit it, but I still remained silent.

I was hurt, no doubt. And angry. Frustrated. Straight-up pissed. I knew plenty of Oscars. I grew up with them and I was friends with them. This was like being told that they deserved to die.

As the unrest took place in Oakland, I wondered how my community would react if that happened to one of our Oscars. I also wondered if my classmates would make the same comments if I became an Oscar. I wasn’t an ex-con or a drug dealer, but I was from a neighbourhood they were afraid to visit, the same neighbourhood they once jokingly said was full of criminals, not knowing that’s where I lived until months later.

From all of those questions and emotions, The Hate U Give was born.

I’ve always told stories. When I can’t find a way to say the words out loud, I create characters who do it for me. The Hate U Give started as a short story in my senior year. It was cathartic at the time, and I thought I was done telling Starr and Khalil’s story because I foolishly hoped Oscar wouldn’t happen again.

But then there was Trayvon. Michael. Eric. Tamir. And there was more anger, frustration, and hurt for me, my peers and the kids in my neighbourhood who saw themselves in those gentlemen. So I expressed those feelings the best way I knew how, through story, in hopes that I would give a voice to every kid who feels the same way I do and is not sure how to express it.

But my ultimate hope is that every single person who reads this book, no matter their experiences, walks away from it understanding those feelings and sharing them in some way. And maybe then, Emmett Louis Till can truly become history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Latest Blog
Tom Fort asks which Writer Best Depicted the Reality of the English Village
28/04/2017

Tom reviews some much-loved novels set in English villages and asks where we go for the most realistic depiction.

Philippa Gregory Looks Back on Thirty Years of Writing Historical Fiction
27/04/2017

Read an extract from Philippa Gregory's Foreword to the 30th anniversary edition of her first published novel, Wideacre.

Foyles' Find Your Way Through ... Depression
24/04/2017

How the tv series 13 Reasons Why and Prince Harry's revelations about his own mental health have both sparked important debates about teen wellbeing.

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