Patrice Lawrence Q&A:“I get to write a black girl into Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers”

The novelist talks Angela Rayner, the bus routes of London, and Artemisia Gentileschi.

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Patrice Lawrence was born in Brighton to an Italian father and a Trinidadian mother. She is best known for her young adult novels “Orangeboy” and “Indigo Donut”.

What’s your earliest memory?

Falling into Aunty Phyllis’s toilet. Aunty was my wonderful foster mum while my mum trained to be a nurse. I was about three and proudly climbed on to the slippery wooden seat to reach the chain flush. I howled until she fished me out.

Who are your heroes?

As a child it was Floella Benjamin in Play School – a brown woman from Trinidad who wasn’t my mum and wasn’t a nurse. Now, I greatly admire Nadiya Hussain.

What book last changed your thinking?

Not profound, but it’s Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers. I read Blyton’s adventure books as a child but never the boarding school ones as I knew I’d never see anyone like me in them. I read them last year and loved them. Great female friendships, flawed characters and I’m getting to enrol a black girl in the school for the reboot.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Angela Rayner, a woman who has burst through so many barriers to achieve what she has while still being reduced to the epithet “glamorous granny”.

What would be your Mastermind subject?

The bus routes of London. I’ve edited on them, eavesdropped on them, seen someone spark up a crack pipe on them –  which after 25 years in London, still took me by surprise.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Harlem in the 1920s to witness that explosion of black creativity. Oh, to meet Langston Hughes and Josephine Baker…

What TV show could you not live without?

Only Connect. I can’t answer the questions but love the team dynamics.

Who would paint your portrait?

Artemisia Gentileschi. I love her strong, angry women and I am feeling rather angry at the minute.

What’s your theme tune?

If you changed Springsteen’s “Jersey Girl” to “Brighton Girl”, that would be mine.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

From my writing group: “Lose the pervy internet guy from the Cook Islands.” I did. It made Orangeboy a better book.

What’s currently bugging you?

Mum’s from Trinidad. Dad’s from Italy. I fear that someone will knock on the door to tell them they don’t belong here and be totally unprepared for the loud and creative swearing they’ll receive in response.

What would make your life better?

Getting my full hearing back. I’m losing the mid ranges.

When were you happiest?

It’s a toss-up between winning the Waterstones  Children’s Book Prize for Older Fiction for Orangeboy, with my daughter by my side, or when my youngest brother was out of nappies. I’m 15 years older and did my time.

In another life, what job would you have chosen?

I’d be staring out the window, talking to the cat, wondering why I wasn’t a writer.

Are we all doomed?

Yes. The next generation are socially aware, funny and clever. They are probably doctoring middle-aged dating apps this very moment to exact their revenge on us for the mess they’ve inherited. 

“Snap” by Patrice Lawrence is published by Hodder Children’s Books for World Book Day (7 March)

This article appears in the 22 February 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The last days of Islamic State