About The Author
Yvvette Edwards has had a varied working life in housing, care and benefits. She was born in Barnet and grew up and attended school in Hackney. She continues to live in East London with her family.
Her debut novel, A Cupboard Full of Coats, introduces Jinx, whose mother was stabbed to death in their East London home fourteen years ago. Jinx has lived with a huge burden of guilt and anger ever since. When an old friend of her mother, Lemon, turns up, wanting to explore what happened that night, Jinx sees an opportunity to move on. But Lemon brings some startling new facts to the story, laying bare a past of jealousy and tragic betrayal.
A shocking, powerful and stylishly written debut, A Cupboard Full of Coats marks the arrival of a distinctive new voice in British fiction. In this piece, written exclusively for Foyles, Yvvette tells about what she herself learned about her characters as she wrote the book.
The Author At Foyles
The day I met my agent was the day I also discovered there was not a single white character in my book. When it was pointed out to me, I have to confess I was shocked. While my agent continued talking about how much she had enjoyed reading my novel, I smiled and carried out a silent urgent inventory of my characters. To my shock, I discovered she was right. There was not the one. It was, for me, one of those bizarre surreal moments that as a writer, I encounter far more frequently perhaps than is normal. How was it possible for someone who had grown up in London, who had written a novel based in London, about a group of Londoners no less, that something so significant could have passed me by completely? The answer, I felt, lay in the process by which the novel had come about.
The seed was sown some twenty-odd years ago when someone I know, who had extricated themselves from an especially difficult relationship, showed me a newspaper article in which their former partner had been convicted for the murder of his next girlfriend. I didn't dwell on it constantly, but regularly it came up, and I'd finding myself dwelling on the infinite what ifs? Over time, a plot started hatching and took shape in my mind. However, when I first tried to write the book, it was disastrous. I had a cast of some twenty characters or so, a truly multi-racial mix. Many were headstrong and uncooperative. Gradually it became clear that I had a substantial piece of work heading in completely the wrong direction, with too many characters fighting to be centre stage. We parted ways for about a year before I had another go at it. I deliberately limited my characters to those who had an essential part to play in the story. Without conscious planning, they were all characters I was most easily able to identify with. And this time, it worked.
A Cupboard Full of Coats does not concern itself with the politics of power, or racism, or black British history. It is a novel that transcends race and culture, a story about the 'human' experience, one that any human being can identify with. My aim was to tell a riveting tale, to write the kind of book I love to read, one that maybe teaches the reader something they never knew before, that would be thought-provoking and impossible to put down. The colour of my characters was never an issue. On auto-pilot, I crafted characters from an established community of Londoners who are generally under-represented in English literature, a community I am part of and know well.
My mother was born in the Caribbean. As did many of my aunts and uncles, she came to England over forty years ago. My generation has grown up in London eating Caribbean food and listening to black music, yet I am, they are, Londoners. A Cupboard Full of Coats is set in the London I've been fortunate to have spent my whole life in, one of the most diverse and truly multicultural cities in the world. My reduced cast of characters was drawn from my life and cultural experience. Lemon, in particular, has a number of my late grandfather's attributes; he is articulate and has the ability to coolly tell a tale with the capacity to blow the socks off anyone listening. These characters are like members of my family. They speak in ways I recognize, like people whose roots were forged in the Caribbean who have made their permanent homes here in the UK. And it is not colour, but that difference, and their beautiful, dynamic eloquence, which singularly distinguishes this book.
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