Kit de Waal
As she walks out of her marriage, a woman remembers the day her husband rescued a boy from drowning. A blind man on his wedding day celebrates the pursuit of love. And a young man leaves prison with only one desire – to see his son again. Revisiting some familiar characters from her acclaimed books, as well as new ones, the author and advocate for working class voices in literature spans the decades and the country in this collection of short but engrossing vignettes.
Tell us about the form of Supporting Cast. Would you like to see them on the stage, where they would seem to sit comfortably as monologues or scenes?
Yes, I think most of them would work well on the stage. The Wedding Speech of Big Tom Fallon has already been recorded for Radio 4 and many of the others, particularly those in the first person, would be great monologues. I can’t wait to hear the audiobook as I’ve handpicked some of the narrators.
Can readers who haven’t read any of your previous books come to Supporting Cast first?
Yes, Supporting Cast is a standalone collection and you don’t have to know any of my other work to read it and understand it. Obviously, if you do have a recollection of some of the characters from a previous life you would know what they were doing then but these stories are just about normal people doing normal things.
Have these shorts from supporting cast members added a new dimension to your existing books that they featured in?
I think every character in a book is important and has a life off stage. They don’t just serve a purpose in your novel and then disappear – not to me anyway. Some of the characters from my novels were just not finished with me, nor I with them, and it’s been a joy and a luxury to be able to write about them again.
The stories are set between the 1950s and the present day – what are the constants for your characters across the decades?
The constants for these characters is that they all want a kind of peace because that, I think is the human condition: this longing for stasis and lack of drama. There are the big highs and lows of life – birth, death, celebrations, funerals, marriages, high days, holidays and dark days – but actually our lives are lived in the gaps between those things, in the many, many days of normality when nothing big happens. And on those days we, most of us, want to be content with the people and in the places we love.
The characters of Byron and Castro are black prisoners in the UK and the US. There is a spotlight on racism in the police since the killing of George Floyd, Do you think the BLM protests can effect change?
I think every single moment of activism and resistance has the power to effect change. The Black Lives Matter movement is a moment in history and so, of course, is important. But way after the spotlight turns away from it – as it inevitably will – there will remain the need to keep at it, calling people and institutions to account and still saying our lives matter.
With your advance for My Name is Leon you set up a writing scholarship and have since gone on to be a voice for working class writers. Have you achieved what you set out to?
I have only partly achieved what I set out to do. The scholarship has been fantastic and has made a difference to a few writers. Common People has made a difference to a few more people but there are still lots of working class writers who need a hand to navigate the world of publishing and a hand up the ladder. There’s lots more work to do.
How has coronavirus and lockdown impacted on you as a writer?
The lockdown hasn’t impacted me over much apart from the low level anxiety I have for the world, for my friends and family, and for everyone working so hard to keep us safe. It has also made me extremely angry with this government although it has to be said, I was angry before the virus and I’ll be angry after!
Photo: Sarah Lee
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