So to the last two events of the 2021 Clapham Book Festival.
Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of speaking with Rosanna Amaka about her stunning debut novel ‘The Book of Echoes‘ (Doubleday, 2020). The session was hosted by Lucy Kane of Time & Leisure Magazine, media sponsors of the Festival. Rosanna is a long-time resident of Clapham and Brixton and much of ‘Echoes‘ is set in Brixton in the 1970s. It was fascinating to learn about how she began to write the book, beginning with the character of Michael, the young man growing up then, expanding to include Ngosi, the young Nigerian woman, finding her way from her village to the United States and, eventually, Britain. Only after having developed these two characters did she light upon her narrator, an ancestor of both of them who opens the book. Rosanna read from the very start of the book, written in the words of the narrator, a pregnant slave woman. It is a very powerful opening.
Rosanna began writing the book twenty years ago, in an attempt to capture the Brixton community which she knew and had grown up with. It was, she saw, gradually disappearing as the area became ‘gentrified’ and property was priced out of reach of the ordinary person. The older generation was leaving for the Caribbean, from whence they, or their parents, had arrived in the 1950s. Thus ‘Echoes’ was born. She tried submitting to agents and those publishers who accepted unrepresented submissions, but to no avail, so the book was put aside ( taken out and considered every so often ) while she got on with life.
Twenty years later she took it out dusted it off and submitted again, this time with success. The book was short listed for the Royal Society of Literature Christopher Bland Prize 2020, the People’s Choice Award and the Historical Writers Association Debut Crown, prizes, she told us, she hadn’t even known it was entered for ( it was only when the RSL contacted her to ask her to confirm her age that she knew she was up for that one ). It has not, she assured us, turned her head. Her latest manuscript is currently with her agent, Rosanna didn’t want to say too much about it, but we can look forward to another book soon.
Ben Macintyre is rather more prolific than Rosanna, but then he has been writing for many years and with much success as the author of a series of histories and biographies about the world of espionage. I much enjoyed reading his last but one book, ‘The Spy and the Traitor‘ a biography of Soviet spy and double agent Oleg Gordievski. It read like a thriller, with the tension rising as Gordievski was extricated from the U.S.S.R in an operation reminiscent of James Bond. John Le Carre called it ‘the best true spy story I have ever read.’ I haven’t yet read ‘Agent Sonya‘, his latest, a biography of Ursula Kuczynski Burton, the Soviet spy, but I’m looking forward to hearing him talk about that and his other, award-winning books on Tuesday 2nd November in the last event of the 2021 Clapham Book Festival.
Short listed for the Baillie Gifford Prize, the Costa Biography Award and the Galaxy British Book Award Macintyre regularly hits the No. 1 Bestseller spot and his ‘SAS Rogue Heroes‘ is the book behind the BBC series ‘SAS Rogue Warriors‘. He should be fascinating to listen to in conversation with Clapham author Simon Berthon. At under £6 a ticket this is a snip at the price, one would normally pay a lot more to see and hear him, so get your ticket now from Eventbrite.
The Clapham Book Festival will then be over for 2021, but we plan to continue with the zoom events throughout the year, with the help of Time & Leisure Magazine. I’ll be posting about future events here and on the Clapham Writers site. Here’s a little video made by SW Londoner Magazine about this year’s Festival. https://www.swlondoner.co.uk/entertainment/28102021-video-clapham-book-festival-returned-this-month-with-sir-michael-morpurgo/