Since 15 February we have published 80 stories of pioneering women with a connection to Sussex, both past and present. Today, we are celebrating the work of acclaimed author and journalist Patrice Lawrence, written by guest blogger, Amy Zamarripa Solis.
Patrice Lawrence first came on my radar through her children’s book Diver’s Daughter (2019). It’s a story set during Tudor times, exploring the life of a young West African girl, Eve, living with her mother in the Southwark slums of Elizabethan London.
With Diver’s Daughter, it was exciting to discover another Sussex writer who was interested in sharing the stories of the Black, Asian and ethnic minority experience in the UK before Windrush, which is when everyone thinks immigration happened. This is not true.
Patrice writes about the 16th century set Diver’s Daughter:
‘I was probably in my 30s before I really knew that there had been black people in the UK before the 1940s or 1930s, and I’m thinking 16th century. I grew up around Sussex, so I remember when the Mary Rose was raised in the 80s. I wish I’d had that connection, knew the involvement in that part of history in time and known that was a story that had to be told. Also, Jack Francis was the first recorded man of African descent to give evidence in an English law court. So that is all expunged from history in a sense, but the problem is if you’re writing for children, I didn’t want to write the biography of a man, I wanted to write something from a child’s point of view. So, I fictionalised a young woman of mixed heritage: her mum had been taken by the Portuguese from the isle of Mozambique, come from enslavement and ended up in Southwark.’
Patrice Lawrence is a British writer and journalist. She was born in Brighton and was brought up in an Italian–Trinidadian family. Her mother came to England from Trinidad to train as a psychiatric nurse. She has an MA in Writing for Film and TV.
She writes fiction for adults and children. Her debut young adults (YA) novel Orangeboy (2016) won The Bookseller′s YA Book Prize 2017, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize for Older Children 2017 and was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Children’s Book Award.
Patrice says, ‘though her primary aim had been to promote hope in her story of a teenager caught in gang violence, she wanted to reflect the real situation faced by many black teenagers in Britain.’
Her follow-up book, Indigo Donut (2017) is set in Hackney and deals with bullying, fostering, and teenage relationships.
The Guardian wrote: ‘Her award-winning debut Orangeboy, a gripping urban thriller, announced Patrice Lawrence as a bold, fresh voice in young adult fiction. This promise is realised in her second book, a tender and complex story of first love, family and belonging.’
Appealing for me is that her writing for young adults features characters of mixed race and BAME backgrounds who experience real life teenage issues, such as bullying, abuse, gangs, and being orphaned.
Patrice writes, ‘I want to write books that have hope in them.’
She also publishes a regular blog about her experiences of writing and having her work published, called The Lawrence Line. She says: ‘There are a lot of people coming up behind you and you want to let them know how it happens, particularly for young black writers. I want to show that I’ve had a good experience of publishing and give people hope that they can tell their stories.’