Ahead of her YA Fiction Weekender, Patrice Lawrence shares with us her books of the decades. Starting with Cinderella in her childhood years, Patrice lists the stories that have shaped her creative journey – from reader to writer.
Childhood: Oh, those Ladybird hardbacks! There’s a good reason why they stimulate such nostalgia. Cinderella was one of my favourites. (Be still my feminist heart.) The story was over-familiar and I can’t remember the text being particularly exciting. It was those images. Was the pink gown, the blue gown, or the yellow gown the best? It was one of the few times that the pictures in the book were better than the ones in my head. However, it was Kenneth Grahame’s Wind In The Willows that stole my heart. My mum read it first and kept giving it to me until I read it too. I loved the friendship, the food and that moment of poignancy and empathy when Rat visits Mole’s neglected home at Christmas.
Teens: I discovered Stephen King. Horror feels rather appropriate for the teenage years. What a storyteller! I started with Firestarter and spent a few years consuming everything. A masterclass in getting straight to the story with characters you care about. Another strong contender is Paul Zindel’s The Pigman, introduced to me via Mr Jones, our English teacher. I went to our library in Haywards Heath and read all the Paul Zindels and then all the S E Hintons, which unwittingly sowed the seeds for Orangeboy.
20s: I discovered black writers, firstly via secondhand bookshops in the backstreets of Brighton and secondly as a mature student at Goldsmiths in London. James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Grace Nicholls… It was my first exposure to books written by people who looked like me. I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved by accident – I’d been won over by the blurb on the back. The mythology, the history, the love and the brutality was an utter revelation.
30s: Hail bell hooks. I found her while studying for my MA. Thanks to bell hooks, I found my voice as a woman of colour. Nobody before had ever told me that I could challenge the mainstream viewpoint and that my own experiences were valid. My twenties coincided with the rise of American romcoms and a preponderance of Julia Roberts. I was adept at carrying out the big identity leap to sympathise with the white heroine while accepting that I would have to have a whole body skin swap to be an object of desire. Reel to Real: Race, Sex and Class at the Movies unpicked race, gender, desire and gaze. I started to find the confidence to be myself. Also a quick callout to Sam Selvon’s Lonely Londoners, interconnected short stories about the original Windrush generation in London. Written in Trinidadian dialect, it’s hilarious.
40s: I love genre fiction. I love sci fi and crime and horror. Patrick Ness’s Knife of Never Letting Go was consumed in large gulps under a palm tree in Kenya. The world-building, the politics, the pull of the story – it raised the bar to a level to which I can only aspire.