Sunday, 3 April 2016

Words of Colour present Yvvette Edwards

Words of Colour Productions, in association with Waterstones Piccadilly, hosted an evening of conversation with award-winning author Yvvette Edwards at the pre-launch of her second book The Mother, a whole week before it’s official release date. Joy Francis, journalist and executive director of Words of Colour, introduced Yvvette, to a packed audience.

Joy asked Yvvette about her reading influences when she was growing up.

Yvvette spoke of how she first started writing as a child after the death of Elvis. "I did my first big piece of work in 1976 when I was ten years old. It was an autobiography of the life of Elvis Presley after he had died. My mother and relatives wailed as if a family member had died so it was a way of working through my grief and trauma."

She then went on to talk about Rosa Guy's The Friends (1995), and how she was so excited that the text had a black protagonist and that Guy was a black author. She devoured the book and looked for more but couldn't find anything.

She also read Stephen King, though the stress of horror means she doesn't read him nowadays. If she comes across a writer she enjoys, she tends to read everything by that author. Toni Morrison is her star writer and she is always thrilled by the beautiful, lyrical and groundbreaking writing.

In her 40s, Yvvette began thinking about her own mortality and began writing about things that aren't written about. Stories from voices you don't hear very often. Women of colour are often presented as caricatures and stereotypes. Yvvette wants to create 3-D characters.

The inspiration for A Cupboard Full of Coats (2011), was a real life scenario. A friend who had got rid of a violent partner. Some years later, she showed Yvvette a newspaper report. The ex partner had been convicted for murder of his then girlfriend.

Yvvette kept thinking about the what ifs, what if the friend had stayed with him. She found herself troubled by the report and wanted to explore different types of love, possessive love that can result in death. Though she was quick to point out, "It is funny in places too!"

It was her agent that pointed out there were no white characters in the novel. And while the agent was speaking about this, Yvvette was doing a silent inventory in her head, thinking "there must be one somewhere".

Joy asked Yvvette how it wasn't until she was 40 that she decided she was a writer even though she had been writing most of her life.

Yvvette spoke about how for her writing is cathartic, a kind of therapy writing, she was always writing, writing. And then one day, thought, I'll send it to the BBC (un-edited).

They sent it back with suggestions. "I thought that's it, I won't be sending them anything more". She did lots of jobs with "no real ambition". Then when she got to 40, she dragged herself up by the lapels and "gave myself a talking to". She reduced her hours at work and began editing.

Yvvette then read an excerpt from A Cupboard Full of Coats.

How would you describe your writing? Asked Joy.

"That's not really my job," laughed Yvvette. And went on to say "...a strong dose of realism, uncompromising, not especially graphic". She enjoyed Silence of the Lambs - found it terrifying even you don't see anything graphic happen. "I try to make that happen with my writing". She went on to say, she had difficulty defining herself and had a resistance to being pigeonholed.

Joy discussed Yvvette's latest novel, The Mother due to be published 7th April, and how it came to be written, whilst observing that she seems to be obsessed with violence and death. But, in a way to convey the humanity of it, and writing about violence in particular.

Yvvette replied she was interested in the "ripple-effect of trauma". A number of things happened that led to the writing of the novel. She saw another stabbing on the news and a friend said, you've got to write about this. And then Yvette's stepson was stabbed. He went out with his friends to Nandos and was stabbed by a random person. He survived but because of his injuries there was the possibility he would have a colostomy bag for the rest of his life.

Yvvette was in shock and couldn't understand how a young boy could go for something to eat with his friends and come back with a colostomy bag. His life changed forever. This traumatic psychological event left her dwelling on stabbings in the UK and led her to question, like many others, "What's going on with young people in this country? Why are they turning to crime?"

Through a series of events, Yvvette found herself interested and listening to experts. And the seeds of The Mother were sewn.

However, there was a novel before The Mother. A second novel that suffered with Second Book Syndrome. When a writing friend had mentioned this, Yvvette dismissed it. But went on to discover the protagonist was too much like Jinx in A Cupboard Full of Coats, and the writing just wasn't happening. She eventually had to admit her writing friend was absolutely right.

But she felt she had worked through some angst in that discarded second novel, so that when she came to write The Mother, it simply flowed.

© Joy Francis
Yvvette then read an excerpt from The Mother, which had the whole audience enthralled. I had been umming and ahhing about reading the book because, I find young boys being stabbed so heartbreaking and thought I wouldn't be able to read it. At the end of the evening there were questions from the audience and I found myself thinking about how writers sometimes write from a place of trauma, when somebody asked:

Had Yvvette experienced a change within herself by the end of each piece of writing?

She had changed since writing The Mother, that even though she was empathic, she had become more so and she understood so much more about the youth of today. As well as the reading that was so engaging, so well-written, this answer intrigued me. Would I be changed after reading it? I found myself buying a copy. In fact I was first in line. I began reading it on the way home and was so engrossed, I didn't realise I had got on the wrong branch of the Northern Line until I found myself in Hampstead. I live in Finchley.

It was an interesting and inspiring evening and I'm pleased to add that Yvvette will be joining us for this year's Finchley Literary Festival 24th-26th June. Readers and writers are in for an absolute treat.

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