Author Q&A:
Moses McKenzie

An Olive Grove in Ends

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Moses McKenzie’s debut novel is a coming-of-age story set in inner-city Bristol. Sayon Hughes, a young man of Jamaican heritage, dreams of creating a new life but finds himself continually pulled back into the world of crime by his affectionate but lawless family. Lyrically written and peppered with well-observed slang and dialect, the book paints a vivid picture of the community around the vibrant Stapleton Road area of the city, where McKenzie grew up and still lives. Born in 1998, McKenzie wrote this novel aged 21. 

What were your reasons behind wanting to tell this particular story and what was the path to publication was like?
I wrote An Olive Grove in Ends as a love letter firstly to my little cousin, and secondly to the area itself, Easton, in which I was raised. The path to publication was pretty smooth, Alhamdulillah. I submitted three manuscripts to literary agents before An Olive Grove in Ends, which were each rejected – as they should’ve been. I submitted for Olive Grove in December of 2019, signed with the Ampersand Agency in January of 2020 and we signed with Wildfire in that same summer.

Despite his desire to escape, Sayon seems unable to break free from the world he was born into. What are the factors holding him, and people like him, back?
The factors are socio-economic and racial – although the book doesn’t much delve into race, more so class, the two umbrella issues are inextricably interlinked and permeate every facet of capitalistic society, a society to which Sayon and his forebears belong and that they have survived.

What role does religion play in Sayon’s life and in the novel as a whole?
Religion, as a product of our innate concern with God, and religion being more precisely Christianity and Islam, is the novel’s crux. In Sayon’s life it serves as both his shackles and the hammer with which to break them. I imagine I’ll always write on God.

How hard was it to make the voices in the book sound so authentic? 
It was very easy, to be honest. Everyone I’m around speaks like how they do in the novel – whether in Patois or Somali or with the Black British vernacular.

Tell us a bit about the real Stapleton Road and how it’s changed since you were a kid.
My bredrin’s pops had a record shop on the topside of Stapes growing up. It was called Genesis and was painted with Garveyite colours. Now
it’s a plant shop in which I’ve only ever seen white people – that’s perhaps the most concise way of articulating the road’s change.

What has the response been to your book among the people you know and grew up with?
The response has been all love. I’m eternally grateful for the people I have in my life; they’re special.

Who were your writing influences when you were younger and who are you reading now?
Maya Angelou’s literary autobiographical series and James Baldwin’s essays have been my primary touchstones since writing. These days I rarely read fiction, but when I do, it is often Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I mostly read religious explorations, texts on pre-colonial African history and Black sociological works.

What are you working on now and what are your plans for future publications?
Right now, I’m adapting An Olive Grove in Ends for the small screen, editing my second novel and reading for my third. I plan to build a body
of work that stands shoulder to shoulder with the greatest.

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