In our column Bookworm Beat, read about some of our favorite books written by women and non-binary authors...
"I wanted to go beyond what happens when a character’s resolved everything and we close the book."
Queenie is 25 and living in London, trying to navigate her Jamaican and British cultures while also dealing with her very white, middle class peers at work. If her life was not complicated enough, a break-up with her boyfriend leads her to take on a series of terrible dates with even worse men. But with a little help from her friends (the Corgis) and a lot of self-reflection, she may be able to work to learn something about who she wants to become. Situated in a brilliantly rendered modern setting, the debut novel is powerful and unique: just the story we need for these times.
But before you pre-order your copy, read what Candice Carty-Williams had to say below, including her strange writing process and her unique writing award with the Guardian.
How did you become interested in writing?
Even though I’ve always loved books (which writer doesn’t begin with that?), because I hadn’t really seen women like me in them or writing them, I didn’t really understand that contributing to literature was an option for me. I guess when I started working in publishing at 23, and began to understand the landscape, I realised that I could maybe write a book as well as working on the life of one in marketing.
You worked in media before moving into publishing. Why did you make the career change?
I think as soon as I realised that you could work in books, nothing was going to stop me from doing that. I liked journalism because I love engaging in the culture, and I liked dissecting TV and films, and writing short form pieces, but I didn’t love it like I love books. I’m still a journalist of sorts now, so I think part of me knew I was never going to give it up completely.
Your website says you can only write at night. Is there anything else unique about your working process?
I can read and write fast. I read diagonally, which is a weird way of describing it, but the only way that might make some sense; I take in a chapter at a time by sort of picking out keywords in the first instance and then whizzing across to pick up the connecting words. In terms of fast writing, if you gave me a month to write, say, a short story, if I started the night before it was due it would be better than if I’d had more time and had plotted it out over the month. I hate writing to a plan. I can think very quickly and often trip over the next sentence because I write it before finishing the last one. I did it with this question, in fact. It helps that I have a very vivid imagination, so much so that I scare myself a lot. I imagine myself in so many terrifying situations that it’s a surprise I can leave the house.
What inspired you to write Queenie?
So many things. Too many things for me to carry, I think, I’m such an emotional sponge! There were stories I’d heard growing up, dates I’d been on, dates my friends had been on, the relationships and the anxieties and fears of the generations before me, the Black Lives Matter movement; when I sat down to write, having had no idea what story would come out of me, my head was so full. It all just flew out, first in one big burst, and then every single weekend after. Writing almost felt like therapy; I was almost writing someone kind of like myself in terms of her place in the world, who, no matter what was thrown at her, would eventually overcome it. Without the fairytale ending; I wanted to go beyond what happens when a character’s resolved everything and we close the book.
P.C. Lily Richards
Queenie's life becomes very complicated, which become a concern of her friends, the Corgis (which is brilliant, by the way). What did you like about writing this dynamic of friendship?
I have so many disparate friends here, there and everywhere; some that I met at school a few more from university, some you meet on nights out, one of my best friends I met when I went to get new glasses and she served me; and all of these people who are close to me are there for me, judgement free, and in ways that I am always so grateful for. In Queenie, I wanted to create a character who had a support system around her that didn’t necessarily ever tell her she was doing the right thing, or tell her what she wanted to hear. I thought it was important to give her a set of friends who would call her out when she was wrong. I don’t think any of us are above a dragging, basically. But a very loving one. Not just that, but friends who show that some friendships are hurtful in many ways because they’ve gone on for too long and should have been left behind at school. As for the group chats, it’s just the way that so many of us communicate given that we’re so time poor, or just plain tired at the end of the week. On a Friday you will never catch me out of the house, but if you want to text me, I’m there.
Queenie also deals with understanding her identity. Why was it important for you to include this in the character?
I don’t know anyone, and definitely no black women, who aren’t always grappling with their identity in the UK. Life as a somebody who identifies as a woman can be exhausting and I wanted to write a character so that women like me (be this black, a person of colour, a London dweller, someone with anxiety, with past trauma, whatever) know that they aren’t alone in the processing of identity and all that comes with it. I think that as women it’s sometimes hard to recognise your value if your value has been constructed via the understanding of yourself that comes from your treatment by others.
You have also established the Guardian and 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize. What does this project mean to you?
I think it’s one of the most important things I’ve done or will ever do, mainly because it gives a voice to others. I think that the lack of underrepresented writers on shelves is embarrassing. I strongly believe in getting in the door and holding it open for others, and I will always fling myself in the path of that closing door and let people in behind me. The prize is a great initiative (shout out to 4th Estate for carrying it on and building upon it after I left); I’ll always be surprised that it was the first publishing initiative of its kind given that it’s such a simple concept. I guess it shows that you need people like me in these industries to realise where a problem is and do something – even if only small – to fix it.
Rachel A.G. Gilman is the Creator/Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Creature.