Hello! I’m Catherine and I’m thrilled to have a story in the new anthology from Stripes A Change is Gonna Come. It’s a brilliant mix of published authors and brand new, brilliant debut writers. It’s still harder for new writers of colour to get noticed so here’s hoping that this book provides a hand up for those writers as well as inspiration to new writers of colour to keep at it. There are stories of all genres, including what I think is seen as the Cinderella genre in YA – historical fiction.
So how did I start writing historical? Well, I grew up watching telly rather than reading. I lived through the three-channel era where everyone watched the same things and played/talked about them in the schoolyard the following day.
And I adored costume drama serials, from the Leon Garfield adaptations of Smith and Adelaide Harris, to adult dramas such as I, Claudius. There were films I loved as well, and my favourite above all was The Amazing Mr Blunden, which I must have seen at least ten times in 1972. The dresses, the action, the drama!
I fancied myself in a frock, swishy and long, or better, in a frock and on a horse, galloping somewhere fast in the modern manner of the modern reincarnation of Ross Poldark, only I’d have my frock streaming out behind me.
But there were never people like me in these shows. Not the world war two evacuee drama set in industrial South Wales, not in Victorian or Georgian London. Of course this was my normal and the normal for all English children in the sixties and seventies. You could read about trolls or dragons or children in the past or the future but they would never, ever look like you.
Of course I just accepted it. Any girl of my age was used to imagining herself as the male protagonist. That’s what we all did. But when I grew up and started writing I realised I could change things. My reading took me to histories I’d never come across.
It started with a man called John Ystumllyn. I have a parallel career writing for the screen and was thinking of writing about him, a black Welsh man in mid eighteenth century Gwynedd. His life was too conflict free to warrant the high drama of fiction. But it took me to some very interesting reading.
And I found all the ingredients to reflect my country and my city. Britain has always been a mixed up country. From the Anglo Saxons pushing us Celts west and rubbishing our language, to 18th century West Indians in houses in Northumberland or Devon pouring tea or riding to hounds in Anglesey. I discovered people like me were there. People like me wore frocks and worked hard, preached the gospel, taught dancing, or were hung for treason.
And so that’s what I do. I try and uncover new stories about our country and our past, that show that people like me and my readers have always been here. I love finding brilliant fascinating truths to build my fictions on, to reveal and to breathe life into stories that show that Black British history is all our history, wherever our parents come from.
Catherine’s most recent novel is Blade and Bone, published by Walker Books. It is the sequel to Sawbones, which won the Young Quills Award for historical fiction. Her YA novel The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo was shortlisted for the YA Book prize in 2016. Her story, ‘Astounding Talent! Unequalled Performances!’ features in the anthology, A Change is Gonna Come, published by Stripes on 10 August 2017. Featuring top Young Adult authors and introducing a host of exciting new voices, this anthology of stories and poetry from BAME writers on the theme of change is a long-overdue addition to the YA scene. Fellow contributors include Tanya Byrne, Inua Ellams, Patrice Lawrence, Ayisha Malik, Irfan Master, Musa Okwonga and Nikesh Shukla. Plus introducing four fresh new voices in YA fiction: Mary Bello, Aisha Bushby, Yasmin Rahman and Phoebe Roy.
This guest blog was provided by Catherine Johnson. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.