THE WRITER'S CRAFT Patrice Lawrence

In the latest in his series of in-depth interviews with published children’s authors, Geoff Barker discusses the difficulties and the joys of the writing process with Patrice Lawrence, acclaimed author of Orangeboy and Indigo Donut.

Patrice Lawrence at a recent SCBWI event

How does the seed of a novel emerge?

It comes from random places, actually. I hear lots of conversations, and I spend a lot of time thinking What if? With Orangeboy, it was an accident. I'd gone on a writing course and I was going to write something completely different: it was a crime-writing course. I had no anticipation that I'd be writing about a young man of sixteen—it did not cross my mind. And on this particular course, the prompt that I pulled out of the hat was: 'He woke up dreaming of yellow'. All I could think of was those tokens that you get in fairgrounds. But also mustard, because I'd taken my daughter to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and everything was so expensive, so at one point we got a hot dog and shared it between the two of us... so I thought about mustard.

Also, in London at that time, there were lots of young people involved in knife incidents, and I've always wondered what would make a really lovely young person change, and pick up a knife. Whether to protect himself or, if he had it, would he hurt someone? So, lots of things came together. When I got the prompt, it was utter free writing. I had no idea where it'd come from. I just wrote that scene in the fairground, like there's this girl with a hot dog, and I carried on free writing (because I'd paid for my Arvon course!), and suddenly had this brother called Andre... and that was it really.

What's so special about writing for you personally?

It took me a long time to find my voice, to know what and who I want to write about and how I want to tell those stories. I want to write about the wildness and weirdness of London, the multiple identities that young people must assume to navigate their world, and the emotional pull of music. There are still so many stories to be told!

In your writing so far, what are you most proud of?

I'm proud to have actually finished writing books, because it is slightly hard to keep going. This will sound a bit weird, but with Indigo Donut, I had to write a teenage sex scene: I'm really proud of that! That book was quite hard because it's sort of, but not quite a 'romance'—and I'm the most unromantic person in the world—and a lot of that stuff was a real challenge to me. So I'm really proud I finished that one, and it's come out well.
Both books have been read on Audible by Ben Bailey Smith [aka 'Doc Brown'], and for Indigo Donut, listening to some of it, I thought Bloody hell, I wrote that?... and what I really liked was the character Austin - he is made for Ben Bailey Smith. And some of the dialogue is just quite funny. At the time you're writing, you think it's all right, but then when you hear a comedian say those lines, you think, I'm really proud of that! 

Find the fascinating full interview with Patrice at Geoff's website the mind bloggles, including:

What's so important about voice?

What's really helped Patrice as a writer?

What's Patrice's third novel about? 

Header image: Photo of chimpanzee (ca 1906) from Wikimedia Commons
original by New York Zoological Society at Library of Congress, USA

Patrice Lawrence was born in Brighton, brought up in an Italian-Trinidadian family in mid-Sussex and now lives in East London with her daughter, partner, and Stormageddon, the tabby.

Patrice's debut YA novel, Orangeboy (Hodder), was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Award in 2016, and won Waterstone's Children's Book Prize for Older Fiction and The Bookseller's YA Book Prize (both 2017). Indigo Donut (Hodder), Patrice's second novel, also met with critical success and was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize in 2018. 

Patrice's blog about writing, selling writing and the family stories that inspire her writing.

Twitter: @LawrencePatrice

Geoff Barker may have written over 50 published non-fiction titles, but what he really loves to do is to create children's stories... once upon a time written for his long-suffering kids, but now for anyone who thinks funny, quirky animal stories are essential for a long and happy life. He is currently working on something completely different: The Scare Crowd, a creepy folk-horror tale he's written to cause children sleepless nights. Geoff is also a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow.

Geoff thanks the generosity of those authors who have given their time to eloquently express their thoughts about their work, providing fascinating insights into the creative experience of writing. Discover more about the difficulties and the joys of the writing process! 

[Editor's note: Geoff also won Words & Pictures's July Slushpile Challenge. Congratulations to him!]

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