Q&A with Patrice Lawrence

Splinters of Sunshine is the latest novel from Patrice Lawrence and when given the opportunity to ask her a few questions, we were thrilled. Thank you for answering these so brilliantly, Patrice!

Can you introduce us to your newest book, Splinters of Sunshine which is set around Christmas time, and the characters?

Splinters of Sunshine is about a road trip from London to the Sussex coast by a father and son who are very different. Spey is 15, a high-achiever at school raised by his mother.  He wakes up on Christmas morning to find Benni, the father he knows nothing about, asleep on the sofa. Benni has spent most of his adult life in prison and now wants to make amends to his children. (You may have spotted him trying to help Becks in Eight Pieces of Silva.) When Spey fears that his childhood friend, Dee, is in danger, the father and son set out to find her. It’s a story about fatherhood, friendship, wild flowers and a hint of Freddie Mercury.

Can you share how you develop your characters and how you have been inspired to develop their personalities?

For me, character always comes first. From childhood through to adulthood, I’ve always lived in multi-ethnic families. Both my mother and I have been lone parents, so I bring both of those experiences to my characters.  Because I have always lived in families where we have different skin colours, I’m fascinated by the way perceived racial identity impacts on people’s lives. Spey is mixed heritage but can pass for white. Benni is rejected by his own family for being too dark-skinned. I also explore my characters’ back stories through their names and how they respond to them.  (My given name is after my father, Patrick and my family name is my mother’s.) In Splinters of Sunshine, Spey and his sister Fi, have names inspired by Latin. Benni’s full name isn’t quite what’s expected. 

Although Spey is the main character, it’s important for me that young women have agency in stories, even more so if they are vulnerable. I wanted to give Dee her own unique voice. I’ve always loved the names of wild flowers and admire their tenacity as they flourish in unlikely places. So Dee has the poetry of flowers!

Do you have a specific writing process and place to write?  Habits you have or rituals you like to follow?

Characters come first. I need to know what they fear, what they want and if there is something that is precious to them. Then I have a bag of ingredients that I usually want to include. I worked in the not-for-profit sector for more than twenty years, so am passionate about social justice and marginalised voices. Naturally, there has to be music… I also mind map ideas and free-write to mine for material.

I was working full time when I was writing my first books, so  they were often written during snatched time at weekends and on public transport on the way to work. So no habits or rituals, though a cup of strong coffee around 10.30am is useful. I’ve always realised that I am definitely a morning person.

Your books have spanned age ranges- do you have a preference?  Is one harder to write for than others?

I love the challenge of telling stories in different ways. Each book is a learning experience for me and keeps me in love with writing.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?  What do you want readers to take from your books?

There were no Black characters in children’s books and no visible Black children’s writers when I was growing up, so being a writer as a job wasn’t something I considered as a possibility. I’ve always written simply for the love of it. I want young people who may not usually see themselves in books to recognise their stories and feel seen. I also think that stories can prompt discussions, shift opinions and push at damaging stereotypes. 

Are you working on anything for 2022 that you can share with our readers?

I have four books being published next year, two picture books, one YA novella and a middle grade. One of the picture books is called Granny Came Here on the Empire Windrush published by Nosy Crow and illustrated by Camilla Sucre. The middle grade is the first in a series published by Scholastic. Shall we say that it’s a detective novel with a hint of fantasy set in Georgian London? The four Elementals, the hot-head Dragons, the airhead Fumis, the slippery Chad water spirits and the earthbound Magogs, have signed a truce to stop fighting and keep watch on London. But when poor Londoners full into a deep unwaking sleep, it’s up to Robert Strong and Marisee Blackwell, the Elemental Detectives, to solve the case before the city is destroyed.

Splinters of Sunshine is published by Hachette Children’s and is available now!

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