Two years ago I was asked by Hogarth Press to take part in their Shakespeare Project, in which writers are invited to write a novel inspired by a Shakespeare play. I chose Othello, for its timeless themes of jealousy and discrimination. I like writing about outsiders.
For once, I did not have to make up a story or characters; I simply had to choose the setting and adapt the story to it. Where in the world can you find passion, jealousy, discrimination, and betrayal, all in one intense place? Why, look no further than a school playground.
One day diplomat’s son Osei Kokote walks on to an all-white playground – his fourth school in as many years. He knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day – so he’s lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can’t stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl.
The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970s suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love before lunchtime and practice a casual racism picked up from the adults around them. By the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.