Kit de Waal: ‘Make room for working class writers’

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2018-02-11 20:15Z by Steven

Kit de Waal: ‘Make room for working class writers’

The Guardian
2018-02-10

Kit de Waal


‘A writing career never entered my head.’ … Kit de Waal. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

When Kit de Waal was growing up in 1970s Birmingham, no one like her – poor, black and Irish – wrote books. Forty years on, the author asks, what has changed?

Reading at school was agony. A slow, child by child rotation around the class, six pages each. Great Expectations. Vanity Fair. The Mill on the bloody Floss. The boys with their flatline monotones. The girls, careful not to stumble and be humiliated. English was my best subject, so this process was painful. I wanted to race ahead and get to the end of the story. Yet the idea of taking that book home to read later and finish, that never occurred to me. Not when we owned the ultimate big novel: the Bible. We were Jehovah’s Witnesses and three times a week we’d sit in a draughty hall on the backstreets of Sparkbrook in Birmingham, wrapped around a paraffin heater discussing the 66 books that made up the Old and the New Testaments. I’ve read it cover to cover at least five times.

Leviticus and Numbers were hard going, all that counting and recounting, all those laws and exhortations, but there were very beautiful passages, too. The Song of Solomon, Psalms, Proverbs. The Gospels, too, four different takes on one big adventure. They had the ingredients of a good thriller with a hero, a call to arms, a savage tragedy. Without realising it, I was learning what you had to do to write well, how to characterise, how to keep your reader turning the page without the threat of eternal damnation as an incentive.

But writing as a career? That never entered my head. The only writers I knew were dead. And apart from Enid Blyton, they were dead men. And white. And posh. Even when I began to read widely in my 20s, it was still a case of: if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. No one from my background – poor, black and Irish – wrote books. It just wasn’t an option…

Read the entire article here.

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Kit de Waal – on being mixed race

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2017-04-11 21:00Z by Steven

Kit de Waal – on being mixed race

Shiny New Books: What to Read Next and Why
2017-04-11

Kit de Waal

Kit de Waal is the author of My Name is Leon which was published last year to great acclaim – see our review of the novel here. We are taking part in the blog tour for the paperback release of her novel, and are delighted that Kit has written a short piece for us below.

My parents met in 1957. My mother was an Irish girl from Wexford and a bus conductress on the number 8 bus that my father drove in Birmingham. He was from St. Kitts in the West Indies. Their romance was roundly condemned by both sets of parents which, naturally, made them more determined to be together and they married after three years. There was lots of prejudice against the Irish and the West Indians at the time; boarding houses refused to rent to them, lots of employers would not employ them so times were hard.

I was born in 1960 and remember coming home from school when I was six and asking my mother why I was called names. She looked horrified and told me that the other children were simply jealous of my brown skin. I took her word for it and never internalized the racism that I experienced as a child…

Read the entire article here.

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My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal review – a touching, thought-provoking debut

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2016-07-30 02:19Z by Steven

My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal review – a touching, thought-provoking debut

The Guardian
2016-06-03

Bernardine Evaristo


Insight and authenticity … Kit de Waal. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

A young vulnerable boy is taken into care after his mother is no longer able to cope

Kit de Waal has already garnered praise and attention for her short fiction. She worked in family and criminal law for many years, and wrote training manuals on fostering and adoption; she also grew up with a mother who fostered children. This helps explain the level of insight and authenticity evident in My Name Is Leon, her moving and thought-provoking debut novel.

It is set in the early 1980s and, like What Maisie Knew and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is told through the perspective of a child who is keenly observant, although we understand more of what is happening around him than he does. In this case, the narrator is eight-year-old Leon, who becomes a foster child. The novel begins with the birth of his baby brother, Jake. Immediately we realise that there is something wrong with their mother, Carol. Rather than cradle the child she has just given birth to, she leaves the hospital room to have a cigarette. The nurse leaves too and tells Leon, “If he starts crying, you come and fetch me. OK?” Leon is left on his own with Jake. The novel is full of quietly shocking moments like this, which reveal how much child protection has moved on from 30 years ago.

The brothers have different, and absent, fathers. While Carol and Jake are white, Leon is mixed race. His father, Byron, is in prison, while Jake’s father, Tony, has rejected Carol and their child. Home is on an estate near a dual carriageway. Carol often leaves her boys alone in the flat when she goes out…

Read the entire review here.

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My Name is Leon

Posted in Books, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Novels, United Kingdom on 2016-07-30 01:24Z by Steven

My Name is Leon

Viking (an imprint of Penguin Press)
2016-05-31
272 pages
153mm x 234mm x 19mm
359g
Hardback ISBN: 9780241207086
Paperback ISBN: 9780241207093
eBook ISBN: 9780241973394
Audio ISBN: 9780241976203 (Read by Lenny Henry / 07:51:00)

Kit de Waal

A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And a family where you’d least expect to find one.

Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to give Jake to strangers. Since Jake is white and Leon is not.

As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile – like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.

Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a heart-breaking story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we manage to find our way home.

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