Lime interview - Books & Spoken Word
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Yvvette Edwards talks about her new book A Cupboard Full of Coats
Tell us how the themes for A Cupboard Full of Coats came about?
I find the process of writing cathartic, so my themes arise from issues I wish I understood better. One of these is single parenthood. I am an avid reader and I think that contemporary family structures are not depicted enough in fiction.
There are lots of families living, (as I have done) in single parent units, or where the parent is involved in a relationship with a new partner, some of which I explore in my book. I’m also seriously info food, and I was very keen to give airplay to the yummy, nostalgic dishes I grew up on.
I love books that offer a porthole into another culture, and I wanted to take my readers on a culinary journey, as well as crafting a heady tale based inside the Montserratian community in London. I also explore the concept of love. There are so many different kinds of love, so many barriers to giving and receiving it, infinite possibilities for joy and disaster. I’ve played around with this theme, but I suspect that a thorough understanding of love is probably a lifetime’s work. There are many themes in my book, but these are three of the biggest.
Has any of your friends/family seen themselves in the book?
They haven’t, and I have to confess, I’m glad about that. The character who bears the strongest resemblance to anyone I know is Lemon. He has many of my late grandfather’s attributes. He was a great teller of stories. He could have you in fits of laughter, or shock you to an extent it was impossible to speak. Sadly, he died about seven years ago. I think he might have recognised some of his traits in Lemon, and though he would never have admitted it, he would probably have been quite chuffed.
Your agent remarked that there were ‘no white people’ in the book. How do you feel about that comment now?
My agent has always been passionate about my novel. Her observation was entirely correct. I was the one who had failed to notice that detail. But then I deliberately limited my characters to those who had an integral part to play in the story. It just so happens that they were all Montserratians or of Montserratian descent, which given my cultural heritage, might not be enormously surprising. For this particular tale, every character is perfect. Given a chance to write my novel over again, I would not make any changes to my cast.
What was the strangest thing you had to during the research for the book?
I visited City of London Cemetery, studying the graves and stones, the immortalised intensely personal engravings, trying to get a feel of being there, and my bearings. It was both profoundly sad and incredibly beautiful - and slightly surreal, as I wasn’t actually visiting anyone. I’m an excessive daydreamer, but I was present for the duration of this visit. It was so moving.
What is your favourite part of the book?
I love Lemon. Of every character I’ve ever created, he is my all-time favourite. I love the dialogue, with its quirky unexpected shifts. I love chapter 12, where over ten pages, so many details of the story are downloaded, and where there is the greatest contrast of passion, beauty and tragedy. I also desperately love the paragraph that reigns in the significance of the coats.
With which character do you most sympathise?
Funnily enough, I come down on the side of the women; Jinx, her mother and Lemon’s wife, Mavis. Each of their lives has been relegated to the realm of ‘making do’, salvaging what they can from the rubble left over. I think many women’s lives are like that, their personal desires left to idle, while everything else, the children, the men, the daily demands of life, come first.
Please share a carnival experience that you have had?
I went to the Notting Hill Carnival with a group of about eight friends in the late 80s. We spent hours dolling ourselves up, and about a half hour after we arrived, the heavens opened and drenched us. It then rained non-stop for the rest of the day.
Having accepted that we now - as did everyone else – looked like drowned rats, we went on to enjoy the least posey, most fabulously enjoyable, wild, wet, musical celebration of our lives. It’s one of my favourite memories.
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