Patrice Lawrence | 'I wanted to write [a detective story] with a female lead for a change'

Patrice Lawrence | 'I wanted to write [a detective story] with a female lead for a change'

Patrice Lawrence answers our questions about her addictive mystery novel Eight Pieces of Silva (Hodder Children's Books), which has been shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2021


1. Can you sum up your book in one sentence?

What happens when obsessional love meets obsessionally falling in love with added K-Pop.

2. What inspired the book?

A book called Incurable Romantic and Other Unsettling Revelations by Frank Tallis — a case book written by a psychotherapist of 20 years who talks to people who have been thrown sideways by love. The first case study was reported widely in reviews when the book was first published. It’s about a happily married woman in her fifties. She had a dental operation under general anaesthetic, and when she woke up, she was in love with her dentist. It was obsessional – she would stand outside his house. When his family had enough and they moved to Dubai, the woman kept a small shrine to him. There was another case about a young man in his thirties who was happily married, had a business, but he spent his money on seeing women who were sex workers. He took the women out for meals, to view flats, but as soon as they declared that they loved him, he would move on. So, I thought – what happens when you bring someone who has fallen in love obsessively with someone who is obsessed with people falling in love with them. Well, that and K-Pop. And "Black Panther".

3. Which character in the book is your favourite, and why?

Becks – the lead character. I wanted to write a traditional detective story with clues. I’ve been listening to audio books during lockdown and read quite a few detective stories. I wanted to write one with a female lead for a change, and one that was working class. I felt that it would be hypocritical of me to say representation is important if I always write the same type of characters. So, I wrote a black working class, lesbian, Londoner who is funny, loyal and geeky who really cares, and who also has great female friends. And, of course, she has to solve the mystery.

4. What does being on this year’s YA Book Prize shortlist mean to you?

I was so happy when Orangeboy won the YA Book Prize and it really helped build my career as a writer. It means a lot to me, but there are many brilliant debuts on the list as well, people whose books were launched during a pandemic so as much as I love being included, I would be happy if the prize went to somebody else.

5. What's the best thing about writing for young adults?

The funny thing is I never really thought about writing for young adults, as opposed to writing books with young adult main characters. But what I have enjoyed the most is going into schools and talking to young people who are energising, funny, compassionate, incredibly clever and thoughtful — all of these things. I also love eavesdropping on young people’s conversations…

6. What was your favourite book as a teenager?

It was hard because there were no characters that were Black in any of the books that I read, or no character that was Black that you thought were the heroes. Even in films at that time it was all white characters with an occasional Black sassy sidekick. I did find Paul Zindel books and S E Hinton books, which I suppose were the equivalent to young adult books written in '50s and '60s America. I still owe many thanks to Haywards Heath Library for stocking them. Then I went on to crime books, such as Agatha Christie — my mum had loads of Agatha Christie books, as well as Stephen King, who will always be my first love.

7. What is your top writing tip?

Just write really! But also remember that if you’re younger and still at school, the writing that you do to pass a school exam isn’t the writing that you do for yourself. I would say try writing every type of genre, every type of voice. Also just make notes – it doesn’t matter if you don’t finish things. Even if you just hear a conversation that gets your attention on the bus or in a park record it on the notes section of your phone. Just write, write for the joy and pleasure of it.

8. What songs would be on a playlist for your book?

I’ve already done one! If you look under Hachette’s BKMRK website here, you’ll see a whole playlist and explanations for the songs in Eight Pieces of Silva. They include "Singularity" by BTS, "Weak" by Skunk Anansie, "Q.U.E.E.N" by Janelle Monáe, "Mr Blue Sky" by the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), "Save it For Later" by The Beat and a couple of others. Music is important in my books.

9. Who would you cast in a film version of your book?

Any of the actors in the film "Rocks", many of the young people are from Hackney –  Bukky Bakray and Shaneigha-Monik Greyson – any of them!

10. Which book, film or TV show would you recommend to someone who enjoyed your book?

I talk a lot about Korean drama, because I was very snobby about it until my daughter eventually forced me to watch it. "Goblin" is very surreal — it’s about a guy who is 900 odd years old who died in battle. He has an enchanted sword through his ribcage and he’s waiting to find a bride who will take it out for him. There are a whole load of grim reapers who died 200 years ago. They realise they did something in a past life that means they have to hang around in this world after they die. Their role is to escort the souls of those who just died to the afterlife. It’s a romance but also sad and funny. There are 16 episodes, each episode has an arc, and the overall series has an arc. The last episode made me cry so hard I lost a contact lens. So those are the books I want to write, ones that take the shape of Korean dramas. Also I would recommend the formulaic crime dramas like "Bones" and "Criminal Minds". They show you how you can shape stories with the same characters over series.

You can find out more about Eight Pieces of Silva and Patrice Lawrence, and read the first chapter of the book for free, on the YA Book Prize website.​