I was born in Brighton, a Caribbean cliché where both parents were nurses. I was looked after in a private foster arrangement until I was four and then brought up by my Trinidadian mother and Italian stepfather. I have never lived in a ‘traditional’ family. My households have always been people of different heritages, different skin colours and different family structures. Growing up in Sussex in the 1970s, I experienced overt racism, but also kindness and support. I am especially grateful to two English teachers – Mr Jones and Ms Clarke – who encouraged me to read widely and spurred me on to becoming a writer. I also grew up knowing that there were so many different stories, hidden stories, and I wanted to tell them.
Orangeboy, my debut novel for young adults won the Waterstones Prize for Older Fiction and the YA Bookseller prize as well as being shortlisted for Costa Children’s prize and a number of other prizes. This all happened as my 40s drew to a close. I have been writing as long as I could write. Life circumstances has meant big time gaps between writing opportunities. I studied for an MA in Writing for TV and Film while working and with a one-year-old child. I gained a Distinction. I received a bursary from the BBC to explore comedy opportunities and an Arts Council grant for time to write my first novel. As my daughter turned four, I became a single parent and my focus was on her and trying to financially survive in London. I consciously side-lined my first love, writing and hoped it would still be waiting for me later. It was.
My guiding principles – try and be kind, try and be patient and remember how it feels to be the outsider. With the success of my books, I’d add – pass it on. All the young women who tell me they write, ‘but I’m not very good’. I want them to know they are good. They are finding their voice and their words. It is good and necessary.
A big challenge for me was my biological father’s death. He was an intellectual, musical, book-loving man into Star Trek, guitars and Marxism. He was also troubled. His last years were spent homeless, a problem drinker struggling with his mental health. He died in his mid-40s, He was living in a squat and fell asleep with a lit cigarette. The flat was set on fire and he couldn’t escape. Talking about bereavement is always difficult, even more in those circumstances. This is why I talk about it in school presentations as I know that out there in the school hall will be young people who share those experiences but feel silenced.
I came to London in 1994 as a mature student at Goldsmiths. I lived in Blackheath and Deptford was my hang out for cheap okra and Iceland. In 2016, I returned to Deptford to work after nearly 20 years absence. Yes, there’s been gentrification, but not as much as Hackney. The gentrified bit included the Gitas Portal site! I walked past a few times, but never went in. One day, I was having a terribly Friday. Ten days before, I’d been diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis out of the blue. I’d been to my GP that morning in Hackney, but a railway power cut meant a frustratingly long journey to work. I was clutching my prescription but no pharmacists in Deptford stocked the drugs I needed so urgently for the weekend. I pushed my grumpy face against the Gitas Portal window. A hand beckoned – come in…
That day, I bought the dress I wore when I won the Waterstones Prize. I also bought the dress I wore for a packed event with Angie Thomas, whose astonishing book The Hate You Give won this year’s Waterstones Prize and is shortlisted for the prestigious Carnegie Medal. In May, my wonderful work colleagues in Spread The Word, based in the Albany, gave me a Gitas Portal voucher. I bought the dress I wore when I won the YA Bookseller Prize at the Hay Festival. A Gitas Portal dress features in my best ever professional author shot at the Edinburgh Festival last year. When I wear Gitas Portal dresses, they are always admired. I love the colours, I love the way they speak to my heritage and I love finally finding dresses that celebrate my body shape.
Patrice Lawrence is an award-winning writer of stories for children and young people. Orangeboy, her debut book for young adults was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award, won the Bookseller YA Prize and Waterstones Prize for Older Children’s Fiction and has been shortlisted for many regional awards. Indigo Donut, her second book about young adults, was published in July 2017. It was book of the week in The Times, Sunday Times and Observer and one of The Times top children’s books in 2017. It won the 2018 Crimefest Award for best YA Crime Novel. Both books have been nominated for the Carnegie Award.
Blog: The Lawrence Line