One way or another

One way or another

Patrice Lawrence won last year’s YA Book Prize with her first novel, Orangeboy, and is shortlisted this year with its follow-up. She discusses diversity, day jobs and Blondie with Caroline Carpenter.

Caroline Carpenter: Orangeboy, your début novel, won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for Older Readers and the YA Book Prize 2017. Were you surprised by its success?
Patrice Lawrence: Yes! Especially as I originally had no idea that I was writing YA. I thought I was writing a crime novel with a 16-year-old protagonist. I also had no idea how publishing and marketing worked! Hachette was the only publisher interested on submission, so it felt like the book was a risk. I didn’t see many books like it in bookshops and there is very little YA by writers of colour, so although it was fabulous to be published, I carried on with the day job and hunkered down to write Indigo Donut. I still haven’t quite processed the fact that it has won prizes.

Has your your life changed since winning the YA Book Prize, and if so, how?
In many ways, yes. It enabled me to take time off working a day job to write more books, but also to visit schools. It’s inspiring and fun to be able to talk to the young people I write for and about. I am the first in my family to be born in England, to a working-class family. I want young people, especially those who don’t see themselves reflected in books or the school curriculum, to know that their voices matter. I want them to feel as though they are able to become the next generation of writers. I have had the opportunity to meet many, many people I admire in person and to say "thank you" to the people who have inspired and encouraged me. I also hope that I can support new writers coming through in the way that established writers have supported me.

How does it feel to be shortlisted for the YA Book Prize again?
It’s wonderful. I had a little bit of second-book blues. Indigo Donut was harder to write, not least because of the slight romantic element. I am very unromantic.

It is quite a personal book. Some of the issues tackled, such as homelessness and addiction, have affected my family. I wanted to do justice to the real people who have experienced some of the issues at the heart of the book. I also think that the world can never have too much Blondie [the music group and its output has a key role to play in the novel].

How would you describe the scene for YA publishing in the UK and Ireland at the moment?
It’s a tough world for YA and YA writers. The majority of writers cannot live on writing alone and, as school budgets contract, paid visits are at a premium. I think the fact that fewer than 10 UK YA books written entirely by writers of colour are being published (not for the first time) in 2018 shows that while diversity is being talked about, it still feels unattainable.

However, as with adult publishing, smaller indies such as Hope Road, Jacaranda, Ownit!, Knights Of and Cassava Republic Press are publishing and promoting new, fresh voices. Young people are also finding their own routes into publishing— check out Gal-Dem online and in print, and micropublishers such as 3 Of Cups Press, which commissions work for anthologies on issues such as anxiety, bodies and relationships. I think mainstream publishing also needs to find a way to engage with the energy and beautiful lyricism of the spoken-word scene

Read about the full shortlist in more detail here