I’m having a new experience this month. My latest novel, New Boy, is not an historical novel – unless you think 1974 is history. To me it feels like yesterday, since I lived through it. Indeed, I was 11 in 1974, same age as the characters in the book. I had lots of fun being nostalgic about Partridge Family lunchboxes and Big Buddy bubblegum while I was writing the book. (For a little hit of that nostalgia, have a look here.)

Now, during the promotion, I’m getting asked a lot about my childhood, going to an integrated school in Washington DC, playground politics, and the casual racism of the 1970s. It has made me realize how much writing books set in the distant past has sheltered me from all of that personal scrutiny. For instance, I have never been asked if I resemble the maid Griet in Girl with a Pearl Earring, or Quaker Honor Bright in The Last Runaway. Readers don’t assume I have had the experiences those characters have, since they took place in 17th-century Holland and 19th-century Ohio. Actually, though, I think there is indirectly quite a lot of me in both of them, camouflaged behind a historical setting.

Now, having peeked out at the contemporary world, I am heading back to my hiding place, this time in Winchester in the 1930s, sprinkling the odd drop of myself into my heroine, Violet. When you read it in a few years, maybe you’ll recognize those drops.

partridge family lunchbox two

In May my next novel, New Boy, is published. It has been a bit of a shock to start doing interviews and events again just a year after my last novel. New Boy is a special project - a retelling of Shakespeare's Othello - so I wrote it fast; normally there's a 2-3 year gap between books. I don't know how writers who produce a book a year do it! I'll be doing events in the UK and US and Canada, as well as some tv and radio, which I'll post about on Twitter and Facebook.

The very best thing I've done, however, is to be guest DJ on BBC Radio 6 Music, one of my favourite stations.The show is called Paperback Writers and runs on Sundays at 1pm British time. I got to choose and talk about and play all kinds of stuff: from my childhood (Stevie Wonder, Queen, Roberta Flack) to my college days (Talking Heads, Elvis Costello), to my early years in London (The Beat, Billy Bragg), through to the music I listened to on research road trips (Lyle Lovett, Blind Pilot, Gillian Welch). I prerecorded it, thankfully - hard to talk live without freaking out! It runs on April 23rd (Shakespeare's birthday). You can listen to it afterwards for a while, here.

For the Othello fans among you, just to say: Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" is the "Willow Song" in New Boy. I'll say no more - you'll have to read it to see!

 queen    steviewonder  talkingheads  gillianwelch  thebeat

 

 

2 March 2017 is World Book Day. To celebrate, a very cool project called 1000 LONDONERS has posted a short film about me. I talk about the writing process and quite a lot about quilting too! Have a look. And check out the other 200 short films about a wide variety of the people who make up London. Happy World Book Day!

 

 

Earlier this month I went on a short US paperback book tour to St. Louis and three Ohio cities, with Miami FL thrown in at the end for good behavior. One day I went from Cincinnati (18F/-7C) to Miami (80F/26C)! My favorite stop was Toledo OH. I would like to state here that Toledo gets unfairly bad press. It has one of the finest art museums I've ever visited, and I was lucky enough to read there that night to 420 people! Here they are:

ToledoMuseumofArt1

How gorgeous is that room! Thanks too to the Toledo Public Library who co-organized the reading. I was told they have a rocking building downtown. I just looked it up and indeed it rocks!

ToledoMainLibraryext         toledomainlibraryint

In fact, my most successful events on the tour were all organized by libraries. They seem to have taken over from bookstores as the rallying point for book lovers.

[True or false: as a child I wanted to be a librarian as much as a writer. True!]

As for the rest of the tour: as you can imagine, with a new Administration in Washington, and a lot dividing the country, things are a little...tense. If you are curious about that, read THIS. If not (or even if!), go to the library and take out a book. You will be keeping Toledo Public Library happy - or any library, for that matter.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Day, and I am reading proofs of my next book, NEW BOY, a modern retelling of Othello. The proofreading stage is my last chance to make any changes, and is always a little nerve-wracking. Plus I'm tired of the book as I've read it so many times.

This novel is different from my others: nostalgic rather than historical, with a plot given to me by Shakespeare. Why did I choose Othello, and set it on an American school playground in the 1970s? Maybe because of this:

 

tc fifth grade photo reduced

 

Yep, that's me in the middle row, the anxious girl with the pigtails and glasses, wearing - what? - plaid and stripes together. Yikes!

I had a bit of the minority experience growing up in Washington DC, and I wanted to explore that in a novel. NEW BOY flips my experience to the more common black-boy-in-an-all-white-school. Plus it's Othello we're talking about, so it's tragic, whereas my time at Takoma Elementary was...occasionally tense, but mostly peaceful. Certainly the playground was not strewn with bodies the way the end of a Shakespeare tragedy is!

Soon the proofs will leave my desk and I can relax and go back to research for my next historical novel, set at Winchester Cathedral. For now I leave you with a taste of things to come - a map of old Winchester, embroidered onto a cushion you can find on one of the Cathedral choir seats:

 

 winchester embroidered map reduced