Tue | Feb 25, 2020

The write stuff - British author on selling to 'middle England' and annoying his wife

Published:Sunday | July 24, 2011 | 12:00 AM

COURTTIA Newland has been a busy bee. It's been just two months since the award-winning author published his most recent work, A Book Of Blues, and since then he's completed a novella, added the finishing touches to his play, Look to the Sky , which examines contemporary youth culture and tours in October - and he's also doing readings and writing workshops - all while juggling fatherhood.

Newland first stormed onto the literary scene in 1998, when he published his critically acclaimed debut novel, The Scholar, at the age of 23. The novel, which took him just eight months to complete, won him rave reviews with The Observer describing it as, "An absorbing debut from a writer who clearly has something to say."

His other titles include Snakeskin, Society Within, Dying Wish and Music for the Off Key. He has also written several plays for TV, and tutored the Urban Arvon Starting to Write course from July 15-17.

Tell us about A Book of Blues

A Book of Blues is a collection of short stories, set around the theme of love in a time of trauma. I was curious to see how this would relate to the black British story. I wanted to write stories about people's struggle with love and I liked the idea of what a modern-day blues would be.

When did you decide you wanted to become a writer and what, if anything, triggered this decision?

I was 19 when I made up my mind I wanted to be a writer. It was in the '90s, around the time Xpress Books were publishing titles like Baby Father and Yardie. For the first time, I began to think that people would want to hear what I had to say, hear the story that I had to tell about black British working-class people. Up until that time, I hadn't seen people like me in books.

You tutor Starting to Write courses for the Arvon Foundation - one of the UK's leading creative-writing organisations. How did this association come about?

Arvon approached me to tutor a course shortly after I'd done The Scholar. I was 23 years old and didn't know anything about the organisation. It's a nice environment with people who are really interested in literature. There's lots of laughing and talking about writing for a week - and good food! I try to inject an element of fun into my course so that it doesn't feel like hard work.

Has the black British literature scene changed over the years, and if so how?

It's changed in that it's become more corporate and we're beginning to express ourselves less, and not pushing enough. What we are trying to do is to sell to 'middle England' and, as a result, many of the books being written today, a lot of black people don't fit into. But it's like if we (authors) don't operate on that level the publishers aren't interested.

Where does your inspiration for writing come from?

Art, life and my own weird rambling thoughts. I'm constantly asking myself what if my ideas are non-stop and I often wake up in the mornings with a new one. I just feel sorry for my wife!

Which black British writers do you admire, and who are the ones to watch?

Leone Ross - I think she's brilliant; Steven Thompson; Alex Wheattle; I liked what Diran (Adebayo) was doing with My Once Upon a Time; Biram Mboob - a brilliant sci-fi writer; Gareth Joseph; Rocky Carr and Carlene Smith. Ones to watch are Femi Martin who writes flash fiction and I think Nii Parkes is going to be hot.

What advice would you offer to people who want to write?

Go out there and do things. Read a lot, immerse yourself in art in all different formats - it really helps. Have life experiences and write stuff down.