The writer explains to John Mullan how Small Island was driven by a wish to write about her parents’ experience as immigrants, and that of the white British who met them. You can download the mp3 version of the conversation here. Download mp3
Andrea Levy explains to the book club that the motivation driving Small Island was a wish to better understand both her parents’ generation – her father being among the generation of West Indians who arrived in England on the Empire Windrush – and the experience of the white English getting used to their new neighbours.
She says that during the research for the book, she was very struck by the differences between the reception met in wartime Britain by black American and Caribbean soldiers: how the former, living in segregated barracks, were met with immediate hostility; while the Caribbeans only began to encounter discrimination in the late 40s as the Windrush generation settled in England.
The novelist also talks about Small Island’s structure, which moves backwards and forwards in time around the pivot of 1948 (and how only American reviewers were able to get the hang of this). The structure, she explains, was only constructed after she had finished writing the book, weaving together bits of the story written at different times. The title itself, she says, was something she only found after the novel was completed.
The craft of writing, meanwhile, she says was a skill she learnt from watching TV rather than reading books.
For the original article and access to the audio go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/audio/2011/jan/31/book-club-podcast-andrea-levy